People in cages, Earth under attack in occupied colonial land

Horrors and some nasty surprises on a poverty tour of the Southwest

“I’m not sure where they are taking us, but I am praying it is safe.”

Marta sat in the back of the Greyhound bus near the bathroom, along with more than  20 other families who had been “escorted” by Maricopa County sheriffs onto the bus my son and I were taking to El Paso.

When I tried to ask what was going on the bus driver barked at me — that we 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 the fact that the Greyhound Bus Corporation had gone into the business of transporting indigenous refugees to detention centers.

Greyhound buses carry refugees to detention centers.

“We are from Guatemala, we are hoping to join our family here, but we don’t know what will happen.” Marta’s voice trailed 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,” our bus driver said to me when I questioned him about Greyhound’s role in this evil business.

Before readers jump to imagining 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 like our bus driver, who Tibu and I encountered on our Occupied Land Truth Tour through South-West Turtle Island last week.

I launched this humble #TruthTour because the scarcity model violence of conservatorship to sweeps to the theft of the 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.

I’m slowly working on newest book: Klan Vibes and Settler Colonizer Vibes- 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, as 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 dis-connected and the ways in which poor peoples’ 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 people are what informs the worlds of service provision, borders, politricks, laws and even care-giving in the US.

Why? Because that is how you keep krapitalism, 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 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 says they are so-called “citizens” of this occupied land, not only unquestionably believe the history of theft and washed genocide, but defend them.

I guess this is what academics call hegemony, but for myself and my son, it was like having a horror story narrated.

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 US “citizens”  in the Occupied Seminole territory known as Florida, The cages for unhoused US “citizens” (whatever that is) weren’t created by police — they were created by non-profiteers.

The Truth tour was focused on uncovering the roots of the hate that so many of us houseless folks deal with every day in this country, 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.

On the first leg of the tour on the Greyhound bus from Mesa Arizona to Las Cruces, NM 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.

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 anyway 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 — looked 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.

A guard watches refugees in a detention center. Courtesy El Paso Times.

“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 that I walked up to.

“This is government property, you have to leave,” the gun toting, taser having ICE officer caressed 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 blank stare.

Not Revolutionary Jesus

“Those illegal aliens need to come here legally,” a man who called himself Not-Revolutionary Jesus, who we met in an Uber, said. 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, its called lazy, thats why they aren’t working.”   And then using the “fake news” card right out of Trumps 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”

This scarcity narrative about how there isn’t enough for everyone to go around ran through the entire town. The politicians and mainstream 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” of 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 Southwest Turtle Island.

Superstition Mountain

Cactus bodies writhed and shouted, screamed and cried, danced and sung 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 visits to as many anthro-wrongology 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 was the requisite bank, jail, church, and saloons. 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 the 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, 1960s and 1970s westerns that played them — John Wayne, Robert Redford, etc. There was a vague mention of the “cliff dwellers” in Superstition Mountain.

Lots of museum stuff about Billy the Kid — but not much about the First People who lived here long before he arrived.

The oddness of course was the flagrant hypoCrazy, 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 Killin, No Stealing what’s isn’t yours and No Coveting” — proving that than as now, they had to believe that indigenous peoples were not human like them.

Mesilla, New Mexico

We also visited Mesilla in New Mexico, yet another site of washed history. 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 art 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 as if 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.

Along the way the Greyhound bus route went thru towns and reservations 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 for anyone that 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 as it has for 100 years. Meanwhile the mountains surrounding and below Oak Flats cry in pain andleak 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.

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 destruction and yet another fracking plant.

Our last stop on the #TruthTour was at an anthro-wrongology museum called Chamizal – yet another collection of washed removal (not what they called it). It was a museum inside a huge park that lauded all the wonderful moves by “explorers” and white science and devil-opers 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 Tiburcio and I visited there was literally one vague reference to the First Peoples removed by 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 theft.

Familias 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 recycling 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 safety for years and we aren’t going to give up.”

Her last comment made me think of Marta, who we spoke with on the bus. Was this a safe place for anyone’s children? Was it safer than what she left? Would her children be less likely to be poisoned on this side of the border?

“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, who 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 Po’ folks  are all connected, whether we are from this side of the false border or the other.