Kat Rodriguez, coordinating organizer with Derechos Humanos, a human rights organization, joined one of the Los Angeles Freedom Ride buses in Tucson, Ariz. Here she shares excerpts from her on-the-road journal with PWW readers. At press time the bus had reached Memphis, Tenn.

Sept. 25

The first day, the buses headed for Las Cruces, N.M.

We are honored with the presence of one of the original miners who lived through the saga that many of us have seen in the movie “Salt of the Earth.” On to Chapparal, an immigrant community on the way to El Paso that is organizing to combat a fifth landfill in their communities – already suffering from contaminated water and air.

Our next stop – the Border Farmworker support complex, where we eat dinner with the beautiful people who pick chiles and lettuce in the fields nearby. The center offers food and showers. For the first time I feel the weight of our task of bringing the plight of immigrants to our leaders in D.C. and New York.

Our final stop: El Chamizal Park, adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. I think of the hundreds of migrants being shipped to this very spot, dumped in the middle of the night without money or resources. The rally and candlelight vigil are moving, with a strong presence from the religious community. We honor the lives lost on the border, especially the 93 women who have been tortured, raped, and murdered in Juarez, Mexico, and the agony of the families of the dozens of others who are missing.

Sept. 26

Sierra Blanca, Texas

I will never forget the name, for it is where I first truly understood the power and strength of solidarity; the profound way that runs all the way down to your toes, that gives you goose bumps and a lump in your throat.

On the way to the checkpoint, 60 miles east of El Paso:

We review the solidarity plan, practice total silence, and, quite frankly, pray a whole lot. Once the Border Patrol agents approached the bus, I felt queasy, and fell into a sort of frantic mantra of prayers, deals with God, and wishes.

The Border Patrol agent boarded the bus, and began walking down the aisle, asking the immigration status of everyone. We did not respond, having already launched into “We Shall Overcome” and holding up our badges with the statement explaining that we … have chosen to exercise our right to remain silent. We are boarded twice more by agents, and dogs have passed by the now-opened compartments of the bus. We continue to sing solidarity songs. …

When my turn came to be taken off the bus the agent said, “Country of citizenship, ma’am?” I ignored him, holding up my badge and singing. I was ordered off the bus and marched to the detention center.

I was put in a cell with 13 other women. Some of us cry, others laugh to ease the tensions, and others just sing. We hold hands, hug. We are lined up, read our rights, then one by one we are led off by different agents. My agent is tall, Anglo, and blond. He wears dark glasses and seems more than a little annoyed. He asks my country of citizenship. I do not respond. Then, “Do you speak English?”

I hold my badge up higher and feel the anger in my eyes. He says to another agent, “Take this one, too.”

We are led back to the bus and, after almost four hours, are permitted to leave. We maintain total silence as we drive away, and pull off at the first exit to count riders – and to celebrate our solidarity. Everyone stood together in solidarity, and not one rider strayed from the plan. I realized that these people who were starting to become my friends have now become my family.

Inez Duarte, a University of Arizona student, and fellow Freedom Rider, writes in her journal: “We later found out that many people were flooding Border Patrol with phone calls and faxes, demanding the release of the Freedom Riders. Some faxed the Department of Homeland Security and the President.

Kat and Inez write: “Our thanks and love go out to the many who made calls and sent faxes, expressing outrage at our situation.”

Sept. 27

Austin, Texas

Today, as we headed to Austin to be greeted by a wonderful crowd that offered us food, drink and hospitality, I thought about the incredible amount of work that sits before us, and feel determined to make a difference. We were notified to be on alert in Dallas, as there were reports of counter-protesters. Imagine our relief – and to be honest, amusement – to arrive to a welcoming crowd of hundreds and a pathetic crowd of about 10 counter-protesters across the street. …

Sept. 28

Memphis

An incredible reception in front of the Civil Rights Museum which is the former site of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The rally was a beautiful mix of stories of immigrants from Sudan, Mexico, and Afghanistan, to name a few. We are blessed with the attendance of one of the original Freedom Riders.

The Museum is amazing with diner counters, buses, and an actual bus from the Freedom Rides, which is burned out and charred – a somber reminder of the violence that the first ride invoked.

What can I say about this journey? I mean, I thought I knew what the faces of immigrants looked like, and the formula for seeking justice and peace. Now I understand that the faces of immigrants are ever-changing, yet the struggles they face are sadly the same, and the only formula we have managed to figure out is a healthy portion of solidarity. I think it would be impossible for any person of conscience to walk through that museum and not feel caught up in a tide of emotion that is the desire of the human spirit to seek justice, and the need of human beings to seek peace.

The Boruta family

Polish janitors paid less

For the Borutas, the Freedom Ride is a family affair. Bronislaw and Teresa are taking their daughter and son, Anna and Tomasz, along with Tomasz’s girlfriend Dagmara Gizinska, on the bus.

Originally from Poland, Bronislaw and Tomasz are members of SEIU Local 1 and work as janitors at Northwestern University. With a mostly Polish janitorial staff, Northwestern’s suburban campus pays $4 less than they pay at their downtown facility, according to Local 1 organizer Roman Kawalec.

Bobby Hellom

The power of workers sticking together

Bobby Hellom works at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago.

When the hotel was going to fire immigrant workers because of some new rules from Social Security, he got representatives from every department – about 20 in all, including Latinos, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and U.S.-born workers – to go together to management and demand that no workers be fired.

They won!

Hellom says he is on the Freedom Ride because he knows the power of workers sticking together. Hotel workers in Chicago raised the money for their co-workers to be Freedom Riders with fundraisers and button sales.

Remy Halaby

Seventy co-workers ran and hid

Remy Halaby’s home country is the Philippines. A union negotiator for HERE Local 1 who has worked for the Hyatt Regency in Chicago for 24 years, she recounted a horrifying episode from the mid-1980s. “There was a raid at the hotel. Seventy people, my co-workers, came running and hiding from immigration officers. They didn’t come back to work. They were deported.”

Halaby is “working hard for the sake of our brothers and sisters who are here in the U.S. illegally. Because they have no papers, their dreams are shattered.”

Isidro Munoz

Dreams deferred

Isidro Munoz came from Guerrero, Mexico hoping for a better life, to work hard and then to be reunited with his parents and brothers. After working for seven years in an automobile shop, Isidro got hurt on the job. He was fired. He sued to get his job back, but lost. Now unemployed, Isidro faces discrimination, loneliness, dreams deferred.

“You are an immigrant. You come to this country and what happens? You are living alone, you are feeling alone. You are working hard and you send money to your country. But this is not what we want – money. We want to bring the family here – parents, brothers. We don’t want to be separate,” he said. “Looking for a job is very difficult. Sometimes they tell you about your language, about your color.”

Isidro wants to go to college and become a social worker but there too are hurdles. Isidro said his family pushed him to go on the Freedom Ride. “They are going to pray. Everything we do is for them, too.”

The Bolivar family

Mom to be deported

“My mom is in the process of deportation,” says Miriam Bolivar, her 13-year-old face clouded with worry. In August 2002, her mother, Julieta, was driving from Chicago to New York when a tire blew out on the Pennsylvania turnpike. State troopers demanded Julieta’s green card, then handcuffed and arrested her as Miriam and her two younger brothers, Ivan, 10, and Jesus, 8, were taken away. To re-unite with her kids, Julieta had to sign deportation papers. Now the family is faced with permanent separation. as the children, who are U.S. citizens, will be stranded parentless in the U.S., while Julieta is shipped to her native Bolivia, a country where she has neither family nor friends.

Wilson Adjekum

“I should not live alone”

Wilson Adjekum, 62, is from Ghana and said he feels strongly about the issues of reuniting families and solidarity between all workers and people. “As a worker I should not live alone. I should live with my children. But without valid papers I cannot bring my children here.”

Adjekum also said divisions between people can be overcome. “People say Blacks have taken over or the Spanish don’t want the Blacks to get work. This is not true. We are all one and fighting for a common good.”

Elvira

“Justice exists only when you fight for it!”

On Dec. 10, 2002, the FBI came banging hard on Elvira’s door, looking for terrorists and firearms. All they found was a hard-working single mother with a 5-year-old son. Elvira was arrested and charged with using false documentation for her airport job, where she cleans planes between flights. Elvira said all undocumented workers have false IDs because they need to work to support themselves and their children. She says, “Justice exists only when you fight for it.”

Construction workers

12 hours a day, no overtime pay

Three soft-spoken 19-year-old construction workers brought their union banner to the Chicago Freedom Ride send-off. Doing back-breaking concrete work in residential construction, Juan, Fernando, and Daniel work 12 hours a day, six days a week for $10/hour with no overtime pay and no benefits. The young men are nervous about speaking out, but determined to be heard. Juan reports the company, T&M construction, has fired 45 of their co-workers since they filed a petition for a union election. The company pays the worker in cash, says Carpenters Union organizer Dan McMahon, and sometimes doesn’t even pay straight time for hours worked over eight.

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