Caging poor people: Occupied Land Truth Tour through Southwest Turtle Island
Written by jm on 07/13/2019
by Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia
“I’m not sure where they are taking us, but I
am praying it is safe,” said Marta as she sat in the back of the Greyhound bus
near the bathroom along with over 20 other families who had been “escorted” by
Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies onto the bus me and my sun were taking to El
Paso. When I tried to ask what was going on, the bus driver barked at me – that
we’d better get on the bus, “Now.”
This was just the beginning of what I called
the Occupied Land Truth Tour, and we were already witnessing that the Greyhound
Bus corporation had gone into the amerikkklan business of transporting
houseless indigenous refugees to plantations called detention centers.
“We are from Guatemala. We are hoping to join
our family here, but we don’t know what will happen,” said Marta, her voice
trailing off as the bus driver eyed us in his giant rear-view mirror.
“Those illegal aliens have it good, playing
soccer and getting free food …” Before readers jump to pink skinned white
people spewing this Trump-like hate, be warned, this and a long list of racist,
classist hate-filled comments came from a series of melanin rich Raza, Indigenous
and Black working class men and women my sun Tibu and I encountered on our
Occupied Land Truth Tour through Southwest Turtle Island last week.
I launched this humble #TruthTour because the
scarcity model violence of conservatorship to sweeps to the theft of belongings
of unhoused people from San Francisco to St. Petersburg and the border violence
against indigenous unhoused people crossing the colonizer borders are all
rooted in the settler colonizer culture of this occupied land. To explain that,
I’m slowly working on my newest book: “Klan Vibes and Settler Colonizer Lies: A
Decolonized Travel Guide Through Occupied Land.”
I’m working on this new book because we all
need to see clearly through the emergency we are in with homelessness,
gentrification and borders all over Turtle Island and to do that we need to
understand where and how it came about and that, like I often say, there is
nothing new under the settler colonial sun. As well, it was my dream to prove
the deep ways our struggles are connected and intentionally disconnected and
the ways in which poor people’s struggles across Mama Earth are also so deeply
connected with Mama Earth’s destruction aka climate change.
Scarcity models, land and resource theft, historical
revisionist lies, racism, classism, hate and shame for poor peoples are what
informs the worlds of service provision, borders, politricks, laws and even
care-giving in the U.S. Why? Because that is how you keep capitalism,
land-stealing, resource hoarding and extraction going. It is also how in cities
from Las Cruces to Los Angeles, service providers, police, politricksters and
government agents have “logically” progressed to putting unhoused people from
both sides of the false colonial borders in outdoor cages. Yes, I said cages.
In this difficult journey, what we didn’t
expect to find is the deep ways that people of all colors, cultures and classes
who have pieces of paper which say they are so-called “citizens” of this
occupied land not only ascribe to the hate, unquestionably believe the histories
of theft and washed genocide, but defend them. I guess this is what academics
call hegemony, but for myself and my sun, it was like having a horror story
“Homeless people are just lazy, and these
illegal immigrants are criminals and lazy,” said an Indigenous, Afro-Latinx
Three months ago as part of the Poverty Scholarship Book Tour, POOR Magazine
family of homeless and formerly homeless poverty skolaz had witnessed with our
own eyes outdoor cages on the sidewalk filled to the brim with unhoused U.S. “citizens”
in the occupied Seminole territory known as Florida. The cages for unhoused U.S.
“citizens” (whatever that means) weren’t created by police; they were created
The Truth Tour was focused on uncovering the
roots of the hate that so many of us houseless folks deal with every day in
amerikkka, so although we had only the money my part-time elder care job paid
which allowed us a Greyhound bus ticket and some cheap motel rooms, we decided
to visit the location of the other caged people – this time in the Southwest.
“This area is controlled by us and we are
trying to keep a sterile environment,” said the annoyed border agent. On our
first day in El Paso we went to the areas where children, families and elders
were incarcerated in outdoor cages.
On the first leg of the tour on the Greyhound
bus from Mesa, Arizona, to Las Cruces, New Mexico, we witnessed several refugee
families surreptitiously being transferred from a sheriff’s cargo van into the
back of our bus. When I tried to film it, the bus driver demanded I get on the
bus, even though Greyhound states clearly that you have the right to document
the transfer of illegal aliens. Yes, it does say that.
baby born in detention center dies in mother’s arms
On our way into the occupied Pueblos, Zuni,
Apache and Pima territories, aka New Mexico and Texas, the sightings of
violence began to pile up: A professor had walked into an open gate under the
bridge that connects Juarez and El Paso and “found” hundreds of refugee
children and mamas and families sitting in an outdoor cage, in the 100 degree
weather. Folks had been there for days, weeks, months, without any way to
shower or acquire medical care or healthy food.
After his finding, which was literally a few
days before we arrived, a court case was filed and ICE was pressured to move
folks, hide folks or further intern folks, but more secretly. Who knows where
they went, but when we arrived, there was a small line of folks left under the
bridge and a whole battalion of police cars lined up in front of the fence
where people used to be or could still be – locked gates and guards protecting
the entrance and a windowless building which had three air holes emanating
screams and what sounded like hundreds of dogs barking.
“I heard that you were keeping my fellow human
beings in cages out here. Would you like to comment?” I asked the ICE officer
when we arrived at the secret gate, which I walked up to.
“This is government property. You have to
leave,” the gun toting, taser having ICE officer said, caressing his gun and
taser at the same time, and repeated, “You have to leave now.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to comment,” I
pressed on even though he began to walk way too close to me.
“You need to leave now,” he repeated with a
“Those illegal aliens need to come here
legally,” said Not-Revolutionary Jesus, who we met in an Uber. He was a
melanated Raza, Indigenous, disabled man spewing Trump love with every palabra.
Come to find out he, like almost everyone we met, was filled to the brim with
colonial love – internalized racism and plantation prison admiration.
He had offered to drive us to the “bridge”
where they were holding indigenous families in cages and the whole time, he
continued to spew racist, ablest hate. “Those homeless people just need to get
a job. It’s called lazy; that’s why they aren’t working.” And then using the “fake news” card right out
of Trump’s deck. “They aren’t holding families in cages. You can’t believe
everything you see, cause that would be inhumane.”
Me and Tibu showed him the pictures in the
local media, published for all to see, but he wouldn’t believe it. Then he
called his son in law, a Customs and Border Patrol agent – of course, almost
everyone we met worked for them or used to work for them or the police – and he
confirmed what we said was true. And then Not-Revolutionary Jesus just got
quiet and said, “Oh.”
missionaries and poverty skolaz
“We don’t want any of the immigrants
contaminating the homeless and the homeless contaminating the immigrants,” said
the executive director from the one homeless shelter that exists in Las Cruces,
New Mexico, who went on to explain that this was the rationale for their
decision to stop providing beds for homeless refugees from the other side of
the false borders that ran through that city.
Tibu and me were trying to be peaceful and not
lose it at this moment. He went on to refer to unhoused folks as “The Homeless”
and indigenous refugees as “The Immigrants” throughout our conversation, i.e,
defining us by our lack of access to a roof or “papers” as though that was all
we were. Which of course we challenged them on which left them looking somewhat
confused and annoyed.
This scarcity narrative about how there isn’t
enough for everyone to go around ran through the entire town. The
poltricksters, wealth hoarders, non-profiteers and middle class media had done
their job well. Everyone we spoke to, from a series of painful bus, cab and Uber
drivers to service providers to unhoused people themselves, kept repeating the
hegemonic narrative that indigenous homeless refugees (so-called migrants) were
“taking” this plethora of imaginary services, stealing all of the only 50 beds
that existed in this town, food and fun from the “homeless” on this side of the
border. (Disclaimer: I’m making the homeless connection no-one here did.) This
poor against the poorest story, and straight up racism, fatalism and
amerikkklan belief narrative ran deep through this town and every other one we
visited on our humble Occupied Land Truth Tour of Southwest Turtle Island.
“Our problems here aren’t so much the police –
although they do tell us to move all the time and take our stuff, we are
usually able to get it back – it’s the people who are supposed to be helping
us,” said Sadie, one of the unhoused poverty skolaz who we spoke to when we
crossed the street to walk over to the health clinic and location of lunch
service at The City of Hope.
“Ever since the immigrants came, they have
charged us $7.00 for a bedbug ridden bed to sleep in,” said Mary, another
unhoused poverty skola. “They say they helping the poor. They aren’t helping us;
they are collecting money from us and about us.” And again lest you think the
last speaker was a wite houseless skolaz, think again. Houseless and housed
folks of all colors were hating. The new Jim Crow is alive and well in Southwest
Turtle Island and its poverty and paper that separates you, follows you and
But how do these lies lock in so well: false
borders, false poverty, false profits, crabs in a barrel hate? Let’s go back in
Cactus bodies writhed and shouted, screamed
and cried, danced and sang a song with no melody accompanied by imaginary
drums. A song filled with prayers of ancestors and unwritten herstory of
genocide. They were silenced but not static. And each breath of hot desert wind
carried their messages far up into the sky and over the afternoon sun.
To understand the violent present, you need to
look into the violent past or at least the lies that keep the past in place.
Which is why the Truth Tour began with the history un-packing – determined to
visit as many anthropology museums, archives, memorials, gift shops and “ghost towns”
as we could fit in the short time we were there.
We drove up through occupied pueblos and Pima
territory cacti and held their stories in our hearts. And with each turn of the
road we got closer to the magic the colonizers called “superstition mountain,” a
huge series of peaks and valleys leading up to a jagged top. It had a different
view from every side and it seemed to be so close it was almost around you.
At its base was a place the settlers called
The Lost Dutchman ghost town, essentially a temple to the violent krapitalist
industry of extraction, aka an old mining town. At the base of the Lost Dutchman
with the requisite bank, jail, church and saloons. Oddly enough, as is the case
today, there were literally three to four saloons on every block, the bank was
the cleanest, nicest building and the church was at the peak of it all – holding
the lies in place.
As is always the case, the land stealers and
colonizers washed the pesky genocide, slavery, racism and land theft right out
of their hair. As is always the case in the settlers’ monuments to the removers
and killers and murderers and rapists. In the little museum there was barely a
mention of First Peoples of that land. Rather there was a series of pictures of
Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Cody and all the actors from 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s Westerns
who played them – John Wayne, Robert Redford etc. There was a vague mention of
the “cliff dwellers” in the Superstition Mountains.
The oddness of course was the flagrant hypocrisy,
using the revolutionary known as Jesus to enslave and destroy and steal and
hoard, the very things Jesus was never about. Claims of truth, honor and
honesty that lined the walls of their spaces, including a weird “cowboy code,”
which was on the outside of the church stating among other things – “No Killing,
No Stealing What Isn’t Yours and No Coveting” – proving that in herstory as
now, they had to believe that indigenous peoples were not human like them, or
they couldn’t get away with the atrocities
We also visited Mesilla in New Mexico, yet
another site of washed herstory. In this “quaint,” well-preserved town there
was barely a trace of the original peoples of that territory But there was
plenty of fetishized and stolen iconography such as “Indian” visual arts and
crafts by white women appropriating Zuni imagery and selling it for hundreds of
dollars in art galleries, war bonnets on the wall of the gift shop like they
were trophies from the heads of First Peoples and endless pictures and stories
and images of the settler colonizers like Billy the Kid, who were lifted up for
their involvement in gun culture and criminality against each other.
Earth was burning … The mountains were crying
Along the way the Greyhound bus route went through
towns and reservations and Mama Earth showing the by-product of pillage and
rape, and trauma and treaties and extraction and destruction. Including the
ongoing struggle to preserve the Apache stronghold and the sacred site known as
Oak Flats located near Globe, Arizona, as anyone who knows
the story of that fight knows.
This poverty skola had the blessing of praying
and walking on the sacred camp ground in 2015 when we traveled there. “This is
sacred ground and the corporations want to destroy it like everything else here,”
said Duke Romero to POOR Magazine back then, The struggle and resistance
continues today like it has for 100 years.
Meanwhile the mountains surrounding and below
Oak Flats cry in pain and leak white mucous filled tears, with a pipe hooked up
to the mountain so the fracking could continue. Every single mountain in that
area is stripped down to its bones by extractive industries with pipes leading
out of its backbone spewing an endless stream of smoke.
We cried and prayed as we rolled through past
those tortured mountains, holding Mama Earth as we do our mamas in our hearts
Sadly this smoke wasn’t the end of the smoking
mountains we encountered. As we entered El Paso, we witnessed not one but three
inexplicable fires, which we later found out were more corporate destruction
and yet another fracking plant.
with washed history
Our last stop on the #TruthTour was at an
anthropology museum called Chamizal – yet another collection of washed removal
(not what they called it). It’s a museum inside a huge park that lauded all the
wonderful moves by “explorers” and white scientists and developers and
politricksters to lock in another piece of paper (treaty) that gave thousands
of miles of indigenous territory to both Mexico and the US, causing the removal
and displacement of literally thousands of homes and people from the area
surrounding the Rio Grande.
In the Park District-funded museum that me and
Tiburcio visited, there was literally one vague reference to the First Peoples
removed by both of the colonizers and one line about the happy removed people
who, according to this archive, had no story, no face, no part of this paper
Unidas del Chamizal
“We live on the border in the El Chamizal
neighborhood, one of the poorest neighborhoods of El Paso, and the City acts
like our neighborhood and our school and our children don’t matter, said shero
warrior for the people Hilda Villeagas from Familias Unidas del Chamizal, who spoke to us on PNN-KEXU radio about their fight
against a 100 year old poltrickster supported a recylcing plant that had a huge
fire when we were in El Paso, the second in less than a month.
“We have been fighting for our lives and our
children’s safety for years and we aren’t going to give up. PNN-KEXU vowed to
stand by these warriors for justice and support them in any way we can.
day in this stolen land
“None of these people claiming anyone isn’t an
‘American’ was born here, so what are they even saying? It’s so wrong. We are
all connected; none of us are better!” said Jacob, the last Texas resident we
met on our last day in El Paso. He was a member of the Chippewa nation. He
overheard us talking about everything and chimed in with healing words that
gave us hope. Me and Tibu looked at each other in shock, someone who actually
saw the truth.
Yes, we are all connected whether we are from
this side of the false border or the other.
or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is the author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up
Homeless in America,” published by City Lights, and co-author of “Poverty
Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth,”
just released on poorpress.net. To reach Tiny, go to her website, www.lisatinygraygarcia.com.
Source: San Francisco Bay View