Note: AFSC led the "Love knows no borders" nonviolent direct action in which over 30 faith leaders were arrested on Dec. 10th, 2018. Wendy Barranco, the author of this piece, was one of the arrestees. In response to the migrant caravans and the violent response from the current administration as well as attacks on migrants including with tear gas the week before, this action called for the protection of the right to migrate and for asylum and to end the militarization of the border. On October 28th four of the arrestees, Wendy, Brittany DeBarros, Rae Abileah, and Rev. Jorge Bautista decided to plead "not guilty" to the charges of "noncompliance to lawful orders." The federal court sided with their defense and found them, "not guilty." To read more about the action from other participants, read, "Why I got arrested at the border" by Lucy Duncan or watch this Now This! video.
My name is Wendy Barranco and I am calling you to action. I was born in Mexica territory located in what you may know as present-day Mexico. At the young age of three my mother migrated to the north in search of economic opportunity and survival, the first in her family to do so. At the age of four I joined her. I grew up in the inner city of unceeded Tongva territory, which you may know as Los Angeles, California. It wasn’t until I joined the Army at the age of seventeen, with my mother’s authorization, and left that it became clear to me that I was deemed a “minority” to this colonizer country. At the time I joined, I was a “permanent resident;” after waiting more than ten years and expending a substantial amount of money for a poor working-class family. I was trained by the Army as a combat medic and subsequently deployed to occupy Tikrit, Iraq in what I now know were the imperial and business interests of the most dangerous white supremacist capitalist nation exporting violence globally, the United States of America.
Before I deployed though, I thought to become a “naturalized citizen;” my logic at the time being that I wanted to receive full military honors should I die in war. In hindsight, this was a very smart move because as I now know, this hypocritical country has a long history of deporting military veterans as far back as the Vietnam era according to my undergraduate research.
When I returned to Turtle Island from Iraq, I was 20 and could not even have a “legal” drink. This Indigenous and Latinx migrant, like many other “minorities,” was good enough to wield a firearm and kill other “minorities” overseas but definitely not grown enough to imbibe.
It’s important to note that Indigenous peoples serve in the U.S. military more than any other racial demographic per capita. To be clear, we, people of color, Indigenous, Black, and Brown are good enough to kill and be cannon fodder for forever wars overseas while simultaneously being less than and subject to murder by the judge, jury, and executioner known as the police at home.
I have grown and evolved much in the years since I’ve returned. I can unequivocally say now that while I once naively thought I was one of the “good guys” for “serving my country," I know for certain that my enlistment was the socioeconomic draft of this colonizer country. The U.S. is not the "good guys” and we have arguably rarely, if ever, been the "good guys.” True history will reflect that, and oftentimes its the history not taught in our schools.
What the military did give me is hard-earned confidence, disabilities, experience, and survival skills at the expense of great trauma in many cases. In the years since, I have organized in my community, for my people, for us, and I have never been more certain than I am now, that I’m on the right side of history.
On December 10, 2018, I and hundreds of ordinary people, including clergy, veterans, and organizers, walked peacefully down to Friendship Park in San Diego, California, bordering Tijuana, Mexico. A public park, as the name implies, has historically served as a reunion point for families on both sides of a colonialist border to gather, see each other’s faces, share words of encouragement, hold religious services, and coexist temporarily. We were met by CBP officers and we peacefully assembled. Over 30 of us were arrested for exercising our right to peacefully assemble and protest a colonial border. Four of us have subsequently decided to plead not guilty. We cannot in good conscience bow to the misnomer of a “justice” system that actively facilitates and is complicit with a fascist administration to put vulnerable and defenseless people in cages and camps simply for seeking survival. For seeking life.
Seeking survival is a basic ecological principle; it is everywhere around us and you and I exemplify it. Many of the people migrating and seeking asylum have been on this continent since time immemorial; their/our lineage on these continents goes back thousands of years. Let me state that again — THOUSANDS of years. The people in cages on this so-called "land of freedom” are Indigenous peoples. The people in cages on this so-called "land of freedom” are African diaspora peoples. The people holding the keys to the cages are colonizers. The problem is not the migrants. The problem is the colonizer.
It is an especially cruel, hypocritical, and rich irony that a colonialist government and country founded on Indigenous genocide, forced displacement, violence, land theft, rape, and exploitation is now exercising presumptuous legal and moral authority dictating the terms of migrating peoples whose lineage predates said colonialists. And as if that wasn’t ironic and cruel enough, a colonialist government and country that also went so far as to enslave African diaspora peoples and base its entire economy for generations on Black exploitation, violence, rape, and murder claims authority to dictate the terms of migrating African diaspora peoples as well.
But I have great news: I am (un)afraid it is not up to this colonialist country how I or my peoples move and survive. I am not asking for permission. I do not equate or conflate what is legal with what is morally right. The systems of laws written by colonizers have never served the interests of the colonized. If it is the morally right thing to do then we have every right to do it. Migration is an inalienable human right.
And so I call to you fellow comrade, rise up! Disrupt! Be bold! Be creative! Make good trouble!