On the 16th and 17th of October, we had the absolute privilege of spending our entire days learning from the founding and contributing members of an organization called “Casa Carmelita” based in El Paso, Texas. No more than 20 yards away from a primary entry point to the U.S.-Mexico border, Casa Carmelita can be described as a home and community for trans migrants who are in the process of becoming documented United States citizens. We were initially greeted by someone named Juan Ortiz, a founding member of the house who is heavily involved in direct action and community organizing. Juan talked with us for the entire day about issues relating to immigration and the carceral archipelago that causes nothing but pain for Black and Brown communities in America. As a group we learned about the extensive discrimination against trans and LGBTQ+ immigrants, with acts of trans abuse accounting for a majority of the violence within detention centers across our country. The suffering that the over militarization and policing in El Paso has caused was made abundantly clear to us, especially when we walked within a neighborhood where the border wall was quite literally the residents’ backyards. Juan also did not stop his teachings at the U.S. side of the border. We learned about a sister organization called “Casa de Colores” that is based in the city of Juarez, Mexico, founded by a collective of trans women which houses and provides resources for vulnerable migrants. U.S. intervention in Juarez has made the city an incredibly dangerous place to live, especially for trans women, so there is a large amount of work to be done in supporting the people of the area. Another person who worked with us was named Jennifer Apodaca, who explained with Juan that their organization is not there to judge whatever reasons or justifications people may have for immigration. Casa Carmelita operates under the belief that migration should be a human right, and especially based on skin color and gender identity, this right is disproportionately stripped from certain people. With the profound input from other speakers we met named Karina Brecera, Cami, and Sochil, our discussions with the staff of Casa Carmelita taught all of us the true importance of grassroots, intersectional, community engagement where the voices of those who are directly impacted are placed above all else.
When we weren’t having discussions and asking questions about the geopolitical, cultural realities of the Borderlands, we learned the specifics of how to mix paint from a man named Francisco “Frank” Delgado. We spent almost the entirety of Sunday working on murals and different painting projects around the house. This hands-on work highlighted for all of us, once again, how pivotal art can be in the process of social justice and revolution. Our days working with Casa Carmelita were filled will laughter, incredible insight, amazing food from local restaurants, therapeutic reflection through art, and obsessing over the house’s dog named “Frijol”.
Carmelita Torres was a Mexican woman from Juarez born in 1900 who would cross the border every day in order to work as a maid in El Paso. Tired of the constant humiliation and perverse “cleaning” treatments with pesticides and gasoline from border patrol, she one day refused the abuse and incited what is now known as the El Paso Bath Wars. Casa Carmelita is named after this brave woman, who was 17 at the time, in order to recognize and share her story of civil defiance. Carmelita is a representation of the fight against injustice and oppression that is still needed to this day, and we are all so thankful to have helped continue her story.
For the past four weeks the Tufts Civic Semester cohort has been taking Mexican baile folklórico (folkloric dance) every Monday at Moving Arts in the city of Española. Moving Arts is an organization dedicated to building community and cultivating leaders through art and the preservation of culture. Our dance classes were instructed by Salvador Ruiz-Esquivel, who is the executive/school director and co-founder of the organization. Every class we switch from our trainers and crocs into our dance shoes with metal soles, which has been very exciting as they only elevate the performance with their sound. Traditionally, men do the dance with machetes while women wear long, brightly colored skirts. Fortunately, we have been able to play with the role of gender by not separating our group into two and all dancing together with machetes or in skirts.
As Moving Arts deals with much more than dance, we were also able to take a cooking class there with Laura where we made vegetarian Mexican pozole, blue cornmeal muffins, and vegan buckeyes. The meal was absolutely delicious! Dancing with Salvador has been such a wonderful experience as he has been able to share a part of his culture with us. Our last class was truly emotional for all of us, as we are grateful for the organization Moving Arts, and inspired by all the community work that they are able to achieve through the visual, graphic, and culinary arts. We are also super grateful to have worked with Salvador and truly appreciate his patience and kind words throughout our lessons. We are sad to be leaving Truchas and the surrounding communities, and hope to learn from organizations just as amazing and community-oriented as Moving Arts.
On Friday the 24th of September, the Tufts Civic Semester cohort visited the Tesuque Pueblo Farm on our quest to learn more about seed sovereignty and agriculture. Tesuque (also known as Taytsúgeh Oweengeh in Tewa) is the southernmost Tewa Pueblo. We spent a lot of our time learning from Emigdio Ballón, one of the leaders at the farm. Emigdio is originally from Cochabamba, Bolivia and has been running the farm in New Mexico for about 15 years. While talking with Emigdio we got to learn a lot about Seed Banks as well as look through the Seed Bank that the farm had. It was fascinating to see the variety of melon, quinoa, cucumber, and corn seeds that were being held at the farm. It was also nice to know that anyone in the Pueblo was allowed to use the seeds for their own personal benefit.
While discussing the importance of conserving seed, as “Seeds are the Future,” Emigdio also talked a lot about health in general and the importance of eating well because “Your Food is Your Medicine.” Sometimes we forget how sacred our bodies are and the importance of treating and feeding ourselves well in order to successfully turn outwards and engage with our community. After all, how you take care of yourself is how you take care of the environment.
After doing a lot of reflection and discussing with Emigdio, we were able to get our hands dirty and help out with the farming. We used hoes to dig holes around fruit trees in the orchards so that the holes could be filled with compost and manure to help the trees grow.
The visit to the Tesuque Farms was like that of no other. It caused us to think more critically about the way in which we take care of our bodies, as they are precious and deserve to be treated as such. Moreover, the physical labor that we did allowed us to have a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for all the difficult work that farmers do in order to grow crops. We are definitely looking forward to returning to the farm and doing some more work to support the Tesuque farmers in any way we can.