Images from the Freedom Ride

Images from the Freedom Ride - Day 3

Early Morning Ride to Buffalo

Community Forum in Buffalo

Rally at Adam’s Mark Hotel in Buffalo

Laborers photo shoot

CITA Rally near Rochester

Public Forum in Rochester


Chicago Freedom Rides - Day 3

by Teo Reyes, September 29
Cleveland -> Buffalo -> Rockport -> Rochester

Today was an interesting day. The Sin Fronteras bus spent the night in the gym of Sagrado Corazon, We got an early start with the kids playing basketball at 6:00 am and headed off to Buffalo, NY at 7:00. Buffalo is the city where a few months ago the Building Trades organized press conferences to brag about how they had called immigration to round up undocumented workers. We were to be hosted by a coalition that included these same folks – they had somehow been convinced to change their tune, but we were also asked to tone down our presence a little bit – not chant so much in Spanish, for example, since this coalition was a work in progress. In essence, we were asked to help bring these folks along and not put them off from the get-go.

The Buffalo event was driven by the Coalition for Economic Justice, the local JWJ folks, and they were able to convince these one-time enemies to get involved. We were welcomed by Dan Boody (President of the Area Labor Federation), who pledged to support the struggle of immigrant workers. I was told that he had run TV ads calling for more migra raids, so if his change of heart was genuine - wow.

When we crossed into New York we were joined by State Troopers that escorted us to Buffalo, and it lead to some funny jokes. The previous morning we had opened our bus ride with an open mic for jokes and one of them was of an atheist who brought meals to an elderly woman. The atheist was upset because the woman always thanked God for providing for her, even though he was doing all the work. The punch line is that the atheist tells the woman – “God had nothing to do with this, I’m getting you these groceries,” The woman then prays to God: “Thank you God, for forcing the Devil to provide for me.” Anyway, a few statements were made that recalled the joke: Gracias a Dios, que mando al Diablo para protegernos. Even though we had been told the state troopers were there to provide an escort, we prepared to maintain silence if it was anything else, State troopers were the ones who demanded Julieta and her fellow day laborers show green cards on her fateful trip in August, but luckily we didn’t have to worry about that this time.

Our bus pepped up our riders who were charged with winning over any not-entirely-convinced hearts that might be receiving us in Buffalo. Julieta Bolivar and Elvira Arellano both spoke, as did Emma Lozano. They all did a brilliant job. Julieta’s and Elvira’s statements are included as posts, but Emma spoke about how her family was made up of solid union organizers from Texas, and how they had seen their co-workers deported and separated from their families. She emphasized that her family didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. Before they spoke, we had the honor of hearing Karima Amim, an African storyteller, who told the story of a slave who became a free man as soon as he was convinced in his heart that he was free.

After the community forum we marched to Adam’s Mark Hotel, a union busting, immigrant hating business according to the word on union street. We rallied and picketed, before getting on the bus to Rockport.

Our first stop in Rockport was a ten minute photo-op with Laborers Local 435, before we all headed to a rally and press conference with the local labor council and with the Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas, CITA. The rally was energetic but was followed by a very moving exchange between the Freedom Riders and the farmworkers, members of CITA, who attended the rally. Many of the farmworkers had just come from the fields picking squash and cabbage, and were in their work clothes. Several of the Freedom Riders were brought to tears when they heard that they sometimes only made $80 a week in the fields. One union brother from IBEW spoke passionately about the need for them to stick together and draw on the support of the community. Elvira told them that they needed to speak out – that only by speaking out would they find justice. After the rally was over and Riders were being herded onto their busses, Sin Fronteras brought the farmworkers together with the Virgen de Guadalupe and asked Father Mike from Waukegan to do a special prayer for them. Everyone prayed together then did a collection for the farmworkers so they could eat well that night. Over $300 was collected from the Sin Fronteras bus and the other two busses did their own collections as well.

Another group of farmworkers had arrived earlier and had skipped work that day to greet us. They offered their blessings to the Freedom Riders and everyone hugged goodbye. The Freedom Riders said these rides were for them – the farmworkers, and the farmworkers said they were heartened by the Freedom Rides. They were shy about chanting when they first got there, but were chanting loudly by the end of the meeting. It was an enriching meeting for everyone. El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.

After the rally we headed for a dinner and public forum at the Colgate Divinity School in Rochester, where Martin Luther King, Jr. had once studied. The mayor of Rochester greeted us and spoke forcefully on the need for immigrant rights and the righteous goals of the Freedom Riders.

One of these days I’m going to write of the work of Sin Fronteras and the Comunidades de Base, and the different struggles represented on all the busses, but I’m doing the best I can to post as much info as possible in a limited time.

Oh yeah! I talked to some of the folks involved in the Cincinnati Freedom Ride event plans, and they said that the Director of the Central Labor Council told everyone they had no alternative – either stay downtown and break the boycott, or cancel the Freedom Ride event. The local folks were sorry about the missed opportunity, but were glad that the Freedom Riders had honored the boycott. One person told me: “ they made the right decision. This creates a good opening for better relationships between immigrants and the African American community – it shows we are on the same side of the struggle.” That unity is definitely the case with the Chicago Freedom Riders – or as Sin Fronteras would put it: Latino y Africano, luchando mano a mano.

Open Letter from Freedom Rider Julieta Bolivar

September 14, 2003

To whom this may concern,
I hope that when you get my letter you are feeling very well. But also I hope that your family is too. My name is Julieta L. Bolivar; I am Bolivian, which is in South America. I have 3 children, one beautiful girl named Miriam O. that is 13 years old, and 2 charming young boys named Ivan A., 10 years old and Jesus O. that is 8 years old.
If you may not know my life has changed since last year on August 2002 because I am in process of DEPORTATION to my native country of Bolivia. On that day my family of four and 5 other people were on our way to a Day Laborer National conference taking place in New York. On our way we had a problem. Because our tire had exploded in the middle of the highway. So then, we drove to the edge of the highway to change our tire. But we couldn’t. A moment later came a State Trooper named France. We all thought that he was going to help us since we were in a very lonely place. We were so happy when we saw him because we thought of all the help he would give us. But to our surprise he did the opposite. Instead of asking if we were all o,k, He saw the tire and knew what had happened to us. And right away he started to command saying “SHOW ME YOUR GREEN CARDS!!” Like me and two other people didn’t have our “green card’s” we couldn’t show it to him. Instead I took out my State I.D. from Illinois and he said that all the ID’s that were made in Illinois were fake; not real. I could tell on the look on my children’s face I knew that hey were very scared, but mostly with fear. They were very scared because they did not know what was happening and why I was getting arrested and handcuffed. I saw the hugging each other crying, but repeating to me what was happening and why I was getting handcuffed and put into the police car. They arrested me like if I was a criminal and like I had done a serious crime. But only crime that my partners and I did was not having the “green cards” that he had asked us to take out and show to him like he had asked us to. Just imagine for a moment, the fear that my children were facing because we were getting separated for that moment, since the state trooper said that I had to go with him to the police station and that my children would have to stay with the people that I hardly knew. I hardly knew them because we were all coming from different places and organizations that were in favor of defending the rights of the Immigrant workers. When I got to the police station, 2 people from the Immigration were already there waiting for us to take us with them. At that moment they had no clue that there were children and a women involved in this situation. I was so desperate that I wanted to see my children and know how they were after all that happened. And then I asked the lady from the INS if I could see my children. She said that it was impossible for me to see them. Like she said that was impossible I asked her why? And she responded saying that I was arrested and that I had to come with them. I asked her again how could I see my children and what I had to do to see them. And then she told me that if I wanted to see my children I had to sing the Voluntary Departure papers. I didn’t think that twice and I immediately I asked her where I had to sign. At that moment she didn’t have the papers with her. So she called the office if the INS and asked for them to send the Voluntary Departure papers by fax. I don’t remember how long I had to wait for the papers to get to the police station because I was so desperate and so nervous of what was going to happen to my children and thinking to myself if I would ever see my children again!! As I am writing this letter its like living this terrible moment again tears are still coming out. Finally when the papers got to the police station I signed them immediately. In the papers I put that I wanted to see a judge and a lawyer so I could stay with my children here where they were born. That’s why in the name of my 3 children I ask you to consider and support me in this situation so I could stay in this country where I also consider it mine. I consider it mine because I have lived here almost 17 years. I have worked hard to support my children and be there when they needed me. I have been active in different committees like schools, communities and organizations. And everything that I do is voluntary. I have learned English so I could help my children and other people. And that’s why people like me should have the opportunity to stay here and continue their life’s next to their children and not get separated. Because the children will not be better off with anyone else than with their mothers. That’s why I ask you not only for me but also for the people that already live in this country all their lives taking care of their families, to support the LEGALIZATION FOR ALL IMMIGRANTS FROM THE SOUTH, WEST, EAST AND ALL OTHER COUNTRIES. Because we are all humans and we should work together as a family. Because we do not come here to hurt anybody. Instead we come to work and help the economy.

1. Let us have legalization
2. Do not let anybody, but especially families get separated
3. Give the opportunity to the entire Immigrant children to have the right to an education because they are the future.


Sincerely and with all respect,
Julieta L. Bolivar

Open Letter from Freedom Rider Miriam Bolivar

To whom this may concern,
Good afternoon/Morning, my name is Miriam O. Bolivar and I am 13 years old. I am citizen of the United States. I was born in Missouri. I also have 2 brothers named Ivan A, Bolivar and Jesus O. Bolivar they are both also citizens of the United States, they were born in Illinois. One of the things that the United States have given me is my family and life and I am thank full for that.
But as you may probably heard here in the United States they are going to the different airports like O’Hare and arresting people because either their Social securities do not match. But also, arresting different kind of people on the highways because of not fair reason. All these reasons are going to separate 99% of families. As you may probably know you wouldn’t like to have your family separated because some legal documents that they don’t have, would you?
I have had a close up relationship with a lady that was about to be deported on the 9-18-03 but Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez made her stay because she had a United States citizen child that was born here. And that would’ve probably been a big Impact on the child because he was born here and has been here all his life.
Another real close relationship is the one that right now I am facing with my family. And that problem all started because of a tire that exploded. We were on our way to New York for a Day laborer conference with 5 other people who wanted to join, but unfortunately the tire exploded. Then as all people would do, we stopped on the edge of the highway and tried to change the exploded tire. Then a car stopped and offered help, but they couldn’t do anything because the tire had been stuck and there was no way to take it out.
After the car had left and then there came a state trooper named France. All of us were so happy because we thought if a State Trooper had come, they were going to help us. He didn’t! Instead he said “SHOW ME SOME GREEN CARDS!” My mom and another 2 men didn’t have their “green cards.” The 3 people got arrested and accused with immigration and on their way to Deportation. After they were all handcuffed, they were put in a police car and took to the police station. My mom asked to see us, her children but that right was dragged away from her because they told her that the only way she could see us was by signing the Voluntary Departure papers. And like any other mother would do, she didn’t think it twice and singed the voluntary departure papers.
She had a limit of 30 more days here in the United States. But she fought so she could stay. Until now she is still fighting because she was here already 17-18 years and has not done any crimes, the only crime that she has done is working and not having the Legal Documents. She also has 3 United States citizens’ children that have done all their life here and do not know what it is to go to the country that their mother came from.
It will hurt me dearly if my mother has to leave. And as you may probably know... “THERE IS NO LOVE LIKE A MOTHER’S LOVE!!!” so please here in your state, make the best of it that families won’t get separated because of some papers. Let their family stay united and not like scattered people with broken hearts that all their lives are ruined. Because everybody has the right to be loved and to give love to their family. PLEASE help me and my family stay here in the United States and not get separated because of some papers that my mom doesn’t have. Thank you for your time.
Miriam O, Bolivar

Somos Sin Fronteras

by Beti Guevara
sing to the tune of We Are the Union

Si preguntamos quienes somos
Somos un Pueblo
Sin Fronteras

Queremos Amnistía
Todo para todos
Queremos licencia
Todo para todos

Queremos que los niños
Estudien sin problemas
Sin problemas
Que estudien nuestros niños

Nuestra virgen
Anda con nosotros
Y su hijo Cristo
El Salvador

No somos criminales
Solo trabajadores
Trabajamos muy duro
Y nos tratan como perros

Toda América
Luchando mano a mano
Juntos logramos
Todo para todos
Todo para todos
Sin condiciones

Si preguntan quienes somos
Somos un pueblo
Sin fronteras.

Images from the Freedom Ride

Images from the Freedom Ride - Day 2

Mass at St. Anne's in Detroit

Rally with FLOC in Toledo

Public Forum at Sagrado Corazon in Cleveland


Chicago Freedom Rides - Day 2

by Teo Reyes, September 28
Detroit -> Toledo -> Cleveland
First the breaking news! Another important step in building an African American - Latino/Immigrant alliance occured today. The Immigrant Freedom Rides cancelled their appearence in Cincinnati, scheduled for tomorrow(?) because a lead union organizer there refused to honor a boycott of downtown Cincinnati called by the African American community after police brutality set off violent resistance a year or so ago. The Cincinnati organizer refused to move people to a union hotel outside of the boycott zone - the ultimatum, downtown stay or no event - and so the folks on the Freedom Ride busses opted for solidarity and cancelled. I'll write more details as soon as I have them.

We celebrated mass this morning at St. Anne's Church in the Mexican neighborhood of Southwest Detroit. The Freedom Riders were welcomed by the local parishioners, for whom today's mass was a truly conscience raising experience. The folks on the Pueblo Sin Fronteras bus were very glad to go to mass, and that it was in the Mexican barrio.

We headed off for Toledo right after the march and watched an hour-long documentary: "La Causa - 500 years of Chicano History." It was heavy stuff, but inspiring. The documentary highlighted individual well know and less known heroes as well as the major movements and events in Xicano history - from la conquista to the Treaty of Guadalupe to the struggles of the United Farm Workers and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. The documentary ended with a call for greater unity among different peoples, and was the perfect mood-setter for our arrival in Toledo. As we got off the bus we practiced chanting: "campesino, seguro, a Mt. Olive dale duro!" in solidarity with FLOC's struggle to organize Mt. Olive pickle workers in North Carolina.

We turned a corner and saw a field of FLOC's red eagle flags gathered to greet us. They marched towards the buses as the Freedom Riders assembled and marched towards them. The two crowds met in the middle of the street with tremendous energy and LOUD chanting. Baldemar Velasquez, President of FLOC, and Jack Ford, mayor of Toledo, then led the march to a park for a public rally, lunch, and dance.

The rally was also energetic, and the mayor and city council presented resolutions supporting the Freedom Rides. One of the Freedom Riders, a day laborer and member of the Union Latina spoke about the day laborers struggle to set up a democratic workers center (hiring hall) in Albany Park in Chicago. The day laborers had set up such a worker center to help ensure contractors did not cheat them out of their wages, but they were tricked into a meeting by the city to discuss a permanent home for such a center. While they were in the meeting, the city bulldozed the center the Union Latina members had built.

FLOC members spoke about the need to support the FREEDOM act sponsored by FLOC and the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty. The FREEDOM act would set up a process to legalize undocumented immigrants currently in the country, and provide a mechanism for future flows of immigrants to enter the country in a way that would ensure their rights and dignity. Baldemar closed the rally with a tremendous speech, first in Spanish describing how immigrants are brought here to work the jobs no one else wants, then in English preaching about the need to defend the strangers among us and how Jesus taught us basic Solidarity. He also offered a job picking tomatoes to anyone who thought immigrants were taking their jobs away. Around 70 tomato packers were at the rally and had to leave quickly to make sure they made it to work on time. AFT and UFCW also had visible contingents.

After lunch and a great Rock en español band, we headed to Cleveland for a rally at la Sagrada Familia Catholic Church. On the way we watched Braveheart at the request of some of the younger folks on the bus.

The meeting at Sagrada Familia was also very high energy, and included the participation of two busloads from Dover, Ohio (about two hours away) where the UFCW has filed for an election at Gerber Poultry, an Amish poultry processing plant. The NLRB is sorting out who has the right to vote in the election, and the election will likely take place in two years. Dover boasts a large group of immigrants from Northern Guatemala, and the rally at Sagrada Familia was a sea of yellow UFCW shirts, with UNITE t-shirts also visible. For the Freedom Riders, Elvira Arellano represented as did a political exile from Ethiopia who lived undocumented in Europe for a few years. Cleveland immigrants, with their own horror stories of abuse, and inspiring stories of resistance, also spoke.

I had a chance to learn more about how the Christian base communities are structured, but I'll have to post that tomorrow. It's been a great day.

Personal statement by Freedom Rider Elvira Arellano

Dearborn, Michigan, September 27
Cleveland, Ohio, September 28
Buenos días, mi nombre es Elvira Arellano.

Yo fui arrestada en las redadas en los aeropuertos el 10 de diciembre del año pasado en mi casa de Pilsen por la seguridad nacional de este país. El gobierno federal buscaba terroristas.

Yo no soy terrorista, En mi no encontraras vínculos con terrorismo, en mi solo encontraran a una madre soltera con un hijo de 5 años de edad, que su único delito fue trabajar honradamente para mantener a su hijo y poder sobrevivir en este país.

Un hijo que desde los 20 días de nacido lo tuve que dar a cuidar con una familia extraña que yo no conocía. Era la única manera para yo poder trabajar.

El gobierno federal me puso cargos criminales por haber utilizado un numero de seguro social falso con mas de 11 millones de indocumentados que estamos viviendo en este país trabajando, pagando impuestos y contribuyendo a la economía de este país.

El 20 de marzo fue mi corte ante un juez federal que me dicto sentencia a 3 años de probación. Aun recuerdo sus palabras. Me sentí como la peor criminal – me dijo que solamente yo había venido a este país a violar sus leyes.

Yo no vine a este país con la intención de hacerle daño a alguien. Yo solamente vine como todas las que viajamos a este país. En busca de un buen trabajo y un mejor futuro para nosotros y nuestras familias que dejamos atrás.

Ahora estoy en proceso de deportación – el 18 de septiembre era el día que yo me tenia que ir para México. Gracias a dios y a una ley privada que presentaron el Congresista Luis Gutiérrez y el Senador Dick Durban aun estoy aquí.

No tengo palabras para agradecerles. Solo quiero decirles gracias, y que Dios los bendiga y bendiga a sus familias. La justicia existe siempre y cuando luchemos por encontrarla.

Mi hijo también es ciudadano de este país, pero desgraciadamente su madre es indocumentada y si me voy mi hijo se va conmigo. Por eso estoy luchando por quedarme. Porque quiero un mejor futuro para mi hijo. Porque quiero que goce de las grandes oportunidades que brinda este, su país. En mi país no las encontrara.

Hoy es un día especial. Un día histórico. Hoy vamos a hacer historia. Vamos en un viaje muy importante. El viaje de la libertad para los indocumentados.

Queremos ser libres, libres para poder trabajar sin ser juzgados como criminales. Queremos ser tratados como seres humanos – el tiempo de la esclavitud hace años termino. Pero ahora estamos viviendo pero que en ese tiempo.

Es tiempo de abrir los ojos, no estamos solas. Miren lo que yo estoy viviendo. No esperen a ser juzgados como criminales. Vamos a unirnos. Vamos a luchar juntos y así unidos conseguiremos la libertad.

Hay una propuesta de ley en el congreso que propuso el congresista Luis Gutiérrez. La HR 440 – luchemos porque esa ley pase. Luchemos por la justicia y la libertad. Si se puede.

Response to Those Who Say “Let’s Take It Back to the Good Old Days.”

by Chicago Freedom Rider Reyes of Batey Urbano/ Puerto Rican Cultural Center
spoken at UAW Local 600, Dearborn, Michigan, September 27
Let’s take it back to the good old days
Yes, let’s take it back to
When niggers and spics knew their place
When chinks were lined up
And placed in camps
When women of color were
Fast whores and tramps
When Hoover bugged Dr. King
By placing microphones in his hotel lamps

Let’s take it back to when
The CIA placed hundreds of Cubans
On a certain bay
And let them be slain
And then say
“O we had nothing to do with it,
It was what they,
What they wanted.”

Let’s take it back to
Commie sympathizer witch hunts
Let’s take it back to black lists
Let’s take it back to government control
Segregation because of pigmentation
Let’s take it back to the control of a islands
Population through sterilization

Let’s take it back to when bullets flew
When Kennedy’s brain was splattered
When Dr. King’s skull was opened
When borther Malcolm’s soul left
Cause of conspiracies buried in files and codes

Let’s take it back to small Black children
Being sprayed on the streets of the U.S.
Attacked by dogs
Spit on like Christ was by bigots

Let’s take it back to chemical
Insecticides used to grow healthy crops
And infected my family

My uncles
My grandparents
Who worked for under minimum wage
Like slaves they labored in the sun
To be infected by cancer

Yes, let’s take it back to the Zoot-Suit Riots
Where America’s Navy raped our women
Beat our men all in the name of defense
Yes let’s take it back to
When the only face of beauty was White
When Latino actors were forced to say they
Were Italian
When Mulatto mixed children said they
Were not Black

Yes. let’s take it back to when the only act
On the big screen that depicted
People of color was about
Sex, violence, or ignorance

Let’s take it back to when Bruce Lee
Was forced to wear a mask because
Of his slanted eyes
And millions yelled out to the Green Hornet

Let’s take it back to when Blacks
Could not play in the NBA
Before Iverson, before Jordan and Zeek
Before Magic, before Dr. J, before the Ice Man
Before Wilt and Russell

Let’s take it back to the good old days
When millions of Americans went
Overseas to fight wars
Only to return in body bags
And because they were not White
Could not be buried in the
Cemeteries that they died to keep

Let’s take it back to when
The government introduced Heroin
To the streets of Harlem
To the streets of Los Angeles

Let’s take it back to when jazz was monkey music
Back to Black face
Uncle Tom, yes massa mentalities

Let’s take it back to when masters raped slaves
When Thomas Jefferson had a
Love affair with one of his own
Let’s take it back to the possibility
That Abraham Lincoln was half Black

Let’s take it back to cowards hiding
Behind sheets setting crosses a blaze

Let’s take it back to governmental testing
On minorities to see the outcome of A.I.D.S.

Let’s take it back to the Treaty of Guadalupe
Forty acres and a mule
Let’s take it back to the Red Man
Being infected by small pox from blankets
Given to him by the U.S. of A.

Let’s take it back to no questions
Everything you see reality
Dogma of the age

Let’s take it back to when women were worth
Nothing, unable to vote, baby-making
Cooking tortillas, greens “just lay there”
As I bust time and time again

Let’s take it back to Vietnam
When men and women bled and bled
and bled

That’s why when I hear people say
“Let’s Take it Back to the Good Old Days,”
The good old days weren’t as
Good as they say

Images from the Freedom Ride

Images from the Freedom Ride - Day 1

Chicago sendoff rally

On the bus

Rally at ACCESS

At UAW Local 600

Chicago Freedom Rides - Day 1- (long essay from Teo Reyes )

Freedom Rides, September 27
Chicago to Dearborn

Riding the Pueblo Sin Fronteras Immigrant Freedom bus from Chicago to New York to demand justice, respect, and dignity.

I was invited by Emma Lozano, director of Centro Sin Fronteras to join their bus, so I am keeping a blog of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras Immigrant Freedom Rides experience. This is my first attempt at a blog, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of Mark Dilley, Simone Sagovac, and others who are lending much needed help. As with the Rides themselves, this account is a joint effort.

The send-off was beautiful. Thousands of people gathered at the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago to send off the Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides. Large contingents of working families distinguished by their t-shirts – red shirts for ACORN, yellow shirts for UFCW, orange shirts for LIUNA. SEIU, UNITE, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) were also clearly in force. Sin Fronteras riders had white shirts with an eagle tearing apart a barbed wire fence on the front, Pueblo Sin Fronteras emblazoned across the top and Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Comunidades Eclesiales de Base (CEB’s) across the bottom. The CEB’s are based in Chicago and Waukegan, and likely modeled on the liberation theology Christian base communities that flourished in Central America and Brazil. The back of the shirt had a Virgen de Guadalupe with Viaje de la Libertad across the top, and “Respeto, Justicia y Dignidad” and” Para Todos, “Todo” emblazoned across the bottom – for everyone, everything.

The crowd was tightly packed in a semi-circle around the stage and Freedom Riders, so it was clear the crowd was fired up. Several politicians, union leaders, and community activists addressed the crowd. Flags from around the world surrounded the Freedom Riders seated directly in front of the stage. The crowd behind them waved Puerto Rican, Mexican, Polish, Bolivian, and US flags.

Across the street a small group (ten?) of white supremacists sig heiled, waved Nazi flags, and held up signs imploring the Police to arrest the “illegal Freedom Riders.” They also were fixated on how Mecha – a Xicano student group – hated white people. A strange and inaccurate point to make, since Mecha had no visible presence at this event. But it does continue the theme being pushed in California about Bustamante

Three buses headed out to take their message across the country on their way to New York City. A fourth bus, a bus organized by ICIRR, set off to take the same message to communities across the state of Illinois before heading to New York for the grand finale on October 4th.

The Freedom Rides started a few days earlier in Seattle and Los Angeles, and had already managed to face down Homeland Security outside of El Paso. Immigration has several checkpoints inside the United States on highways that lead from the Southern border, and they are trying to set them up near the Northern border as well (a coalition of groups and individuals has been fighting attempts to set up such checkpoints in the Mexican neighborhood of Detroit).

The Freedom Riders are well prepared for any questions by immigration. All Freedom Riders have a special badge with their name, picture, and originating city. The badge comes with a card that states the following:
To Whom it May Concern: I am a participant in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a peaceful campaign by citizens and immigrants in support of equal rights for all workers. I wish to exercise my right to remain silent. I will not speak to anyone, answer questions, respond to accusations, waive any of my legal rights, or consent to any search of my person, papers, or property until I have first obtained the advice of an attorney. If I am detained, I wish to contact the following person in order to obtain legal advice . . .

If for any reason a bus is detained, all the riders have pledged to give no information and present only this ID. That way, if there are any undocumented riders, they will be protected by everyone’s non-violent resistance. This strategy worked in El Paso, and the riders were released after a few hours. Marisela Garcia, an immigrant and health and safety organizer in Detroit told me that she saw the Freedom Riders on Univision stating they were exercising their right to remain silent. She was thrilled that immigrants across the country saw that exchange and would be emboldened to also remain silent if interrogated by immigration. Two buses were detained and all 90 riders remained strong, even though they were separated and in some cases interrogated individually. The Cardinal from Los Angeles called and asked why they were detaining his parishioners. Eventually someone from Tom Ridge’s office made the decision that the Riders be released to continue their ride.

I also heard that Kim Bobo of National Interfaith Network had unpleasant words with a Homeland Security officer who refused to let her talk to a superior who could make a decision to release the riders. I also had a similar troublesome exchange with Homeland Security after I asked for the name of the person I was speaking with about a Colombian unionist they had arrested and interrogated at the Miami international airport. The trade unionist was on his way to speak at Labor Notes, but instead had his visa cancelled, was held overnight, and returned to Colombia. The official became infuriated that I had dared ask his name, and began interrogating me, asking me for my name, date of birth, profession, etc. He calmed down a bit after I told him I was a journalist. It’s good to know people are challenging their authority, however difficult that might be.

“With or without documents, we’re all equal,” Emma Lozano told the Sin Fronteras bus, explaining why everyone had to remain united and only show their Freedom Rides ID if we were questioned or detained.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras asked its folks not to bring US flags – the other buses will have them, someone explained – and consciously kept the statue of liberty, the official symbol of the Freedom Rides, off of their t-shirts. Instead they took the Virgen de Guadalupe as their symbol of freedom. La Reyna de los inmigrantes, (queen of immigrants) they call her.

The bus ride to Detroit was spent learning about the history of Sin Fronteras, the civil rights movement, and the immigrant rights movement. Every bus has a curriculum planned out to educate Freedom Riders about the struggle of immigrants and the original Freedom Rides in the South. HERE received criticism early on that they were appropriating African American history (the NEW civil rights movement?), but the IWFR seem to have successfully answered these concerns by integrating the riders and paying clear homage to the civil rights struggle. According to Rev. Coleman from San Adalberto Methodist Church, HERE is using the IWFR to build unity between its Latino and African American members – together a majority within HERE.

On the Sin Fronteras bus we integrated the African American and immigrant struggles by watching two movies – Bread and Roses, and Deacons for Defense. Bread and Roses shows the struggle of undocumented janitors in Los Angeles who organize a union. Deacons for Defense is the story of how one African American community in Louisiana formed a self-defense militia to ward off the Klan and secure its rights. During Bread and Roses, the loudest cheering came when everyone was arrested for trespassing and instead of identifying themselves they gave the names of famous revolutionaries. Folks on the bus shouted names of other important freedom fighters from across Latin America, adding to the mix. By the end of the second movie, folks were chanting “Deacons for Defense” along with the actors.

Sin Fronteras has successfully built unity among the Puerto Rican and Mexican communities, joining the struggle of Vieques and Amnesty for the undocumented. Several members of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center are on the bus, and several Mexican members of Sin Fronteras traveled to Vieques to participate in May Day rallies earlier this year.

Michael Reyes, a poet and activist at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center told the bus:
“We understand that our past and our histories have been one of struggle and of resistance and we are together making history. Why would Puerto Ricans or Xicanos support amnesty for undocumented? We take responsibility for each other and are moving towards the future. Even though this doesn’t concern me directly it concerns family members or people close to us. We are looking to the future and seeing that our struggles are one and the same on many levels.”

Betty Guevara, assistant pastor in the San Adalberto Methodist church and organizer for Centro Sin Fronteras, added:
“On behalf of all Puerto Ricans, we are in solidarity because this is a humanitarian cause. If a child dies because of a lack of health insurance, this is a cause for all people. When we have a case like Elvira’s that they want to separate her from her child, it is a humanitarian cause. The people of God have spent many years crying. We all have the same rights and we are not the immigrants. The real immigrants are the Europeans – this land is part of the Americas. Half of the United States belonged to Mexico.

“We are going to beat this empire, this Bush government. It is always willing to collect our taxes but it doesn’t want to give anything back, We are going to make the mountain move this week.

Privately, Betty told me, “I support the Freedom Rides because I work with a lot of immigrant kids and can see the injustice. Kids can’t go to school. Some die right before my eyes. So I’m here as the voice of the immigrant child. As soon as they finish high school they can’t go to the University – they can’t get financial aid because they don’t have a social security number. They can’t get a driver’s license because they don’t have a social security number. They can’t get health insurance because they don’t have a social security number. They don’t have the right to dream in their own land – the Americas.”

Sin Fronteras is also building unity with African American communities in Chicago, particularly the Nation of Islam. Emma told the bus:
“We have important alliances with the African American community. They were brought as slaves. They’ve led tremendous struggles and they were the first to organize a freedom ride like this one. So it’s important that we learn to struggle with them and them with us. They are citizens and can help throw Bush out – and we need them to do that, We have good relations with Louis Farrakhan, Some people say he is a devil – but he is a prophet and he has said that the Mexicans are going to retake these lands, said he had a vision about this. And I think it’s already coming true – we’re everywhere, even in small towns in Tennessee. And in Utah, the undocumented can now get drivers licenses.”

On the bus, workers from Target spoke about how they had worked with Centro Sin Fronteras to get their jobs back after they were fired for receiving No-Match Letters. It started at one store where thirty people were fired, but it added up to hundreds over several stores. After a community boycott and pressure they convinced Target to rehire everyone they had unjustly fired. Other workers from companies such as Party Lite spoke about the same issue and the campaigns they were working on to force those companies to rehire unjustly fired immigrant workers.

A company is not legally required to fire a worker if they receive a No-Match letter from the Social Security Administration. They are only required to inform their employees that there is an issue with their social security number. Most companies immediately fire employees that receive these letters – sometimes out of fear, other times out of a desire to fire folks with seniority and rehire entry level workers or the opportunity to get rid of “troublemakers.” Centro Sin Fronteras has shown that even where there isn’t a union, the community can mobilize and force employers to do the right thing.

The bus arrived in Dearborn in the evening for a rally at ACCESS, an Arab American Community Center in Detroit. About 200 folks were gathered, many in yellow UFCW t-shirts. After energetic speeches, including one by Elvira Arellano – a fired worker arrested under Operation Tarmac for working at an airport with improper documentation – we were led by children carrying a Chinese dragon for a dinner and event at UAW Local 600 – a Local with a storied history of forcing Ford Motor Co. to accept the union after a bloody fight. The event included Mexican and African dancers, spoken word, and the freedom riders.

Earlier on the bus, folks were singing gospel music and chanting, and the chanting carried on throughout the night:
queremos amnistia para tu tia y la mia
cuando? ahora, cuando? ahora,
cuando, cuando, cuando? Ahora, ahora, ahora!
arriba, abajo, la migra para el carajo
boricua y mexicano, luchando mano a mano
boliviano y mexicano, luchando mano a mano
somos un pueblo sin fronteras.

Someone stated, “Who is Pueblo Sin Fronteras? The moment you crossed the border, you joined the people without borders.”