Correspondence from Tucson: Communists and the Immigrant Upsurge

Revolution #044, April 23, 2006, posted at

We received the following from a Revolution distributor:

March 31--As in cities across the country, students in Tucson walked out of school this week. On Wednesday, March 29, several hundred mostly Chicano and Latino students from four schools marched through downtown. A handful of students from one school started planning it the night before. Plans spread quickly to other schools via cell phones and text messages. The next day more than a thousand walked out -- from at least 18 schools!

We grappled with how to fully support and cherish this upsurge, while at the same time providing communist leadership, particularly by getting the students to engage with Avakian's works and the need for communist revolution. While there was so much that was inspiring and exciting in these marches and rallies, almost all of the students kept their vision of what needs to be done within either nationalism or the killing confines of bourgeois democracy.

We missed the first day—the students were spread out in small groups and we couldn't track them down. The next day we heard they were downtown at the Federal building. As I drove by the rally, I realized that the 50 papers I had on me was not going to be enough. Hoping the new shipment was in, I zipped over to pick them up. Jackpot! An extra shipment of 100 Spanish papers—someone was thinking ahead!

I couldn't park near the rally, so I hoofed it several blocks carrying 250 papers. As I got closer, I could hear the chants of "Viva Mexico" and "Aquí estamos, no nos vamos!" Workers in nearby office buildings could be seen waving and cheering. Mexican flags were everywhere.

When I got there, I grabbed the 100 Spanish papers and headed into the crowd. I got out maybe 5 copies when a student glanced at the headline and excitedly asked if she could have a copy. I gave her one and asked her if she could help get them out. Her response cracked me up: "Well, duh!"

I gave her a stack, and immediately, several other girls came up and asked to help. They dove into the crowd, going in all directions. The response was electric: students came up to us, reaching out for papers and grabbing copies to pass on to their friends. Revolution spread out like a wave into the crowd. It was beautiful.

Within a minute, all 100 copies were out. A quote from Mao flashed through my head: "A single spark can start a prairie fire." Most of the students quickly opened them up to read the main article: "¡El porqué de la lucha de los inmigrantes… y por qué tenemos que apoyarla!"

Shortly after, two RCYBers who snuck out of work arrived with 50 more papers from the previous week. These, too, were immediately swallowed up. We then grabbed up the English copies and got most of those out as well.

The YBers had to get back to work after a while, but I spent the rest of the rally talking with the students. Several times students became excited when I told them that I was interviewing them for Revolution (by then, just about everyone had a copy), and they would grab a friend they said had something particularly important to say.

Later that day, I heard that a reporter from NPR had attacked the high school students walking out all over the country, saying "they don't know anything." And others were claiming that they were just ditching school, that there wasn't any political reasoning behind it. It was clear this was a load of crap. I heard students talking about how the U.S. has always violated the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (which the U.S. forced Mexico to sign after it had stolen 1/3 of Mexico's territory, including Tucson). I heard them talking about the role immigrants play in supporting the U.S. economy, and the U.S. domination of Mexico. I even heard one student talking about how Chinese immigrants were treated during the building of the railroads in the U.S.

The Students Speak

These students know a lot —it's just that what they know is not welcomed by the ruling classes and their intellectual camp followers. Some said they didn't know much about the proposed law when they walked out but learned a lot by talking with people in the marches.

Many spoke passionately of their parents, of how hard and selflessly they have worked and the struggles they've had to wage just to survive. Most of the students I talked to were citizens, but many of those said their parents were not. They spoke of how they were out in the streets for them, for their aunts and uncles, and for anyone else who was vulnerable to the kinds of fascist laws the Bush Regime is fashioning.

Besides the unfairness and discrimination of the HR 4437, a constant theme was the daily harassment and discrimination the students experience. A student named Danielle said, "They think we don't look educated. Every day, they try to make us feel guilty about who we are, to feel bad just because of where we're from, like we're nothing." Her friends nodded enthusiastically. One said, "And they really don't like it when we're out here like this. They want us invisible, picking up their shit. No chance!"

Karen, a community college student, said, "We've got to unite around defeating this law. And that's what we're doing. Look around—it's not just Mexicans out here. It's white kids, Black kids, everyone."

Others spoke of the hypocrisy of people from a nation of immigrants treating immigrants like criminals. There was discussion over whether the law will pass. Some said it would, saying that "the people behind it don't care about us, about how many of us are out here."

One man in his twenties said if it passed, "it'd cause a lot of problems." He said that if it was passed that all Mexicans should go on strike, both here and in Mexico. "Think about it—no food being picked here, no clothing being made in sweatshops, no car parts coming up from Mexico, none of the work done by us. You think the U.S. economy would last a day without the work we do?"

Hector, a senior in high school who helped organize the rally, said the people behind the law "know we don't agree with them. They know we know this law's unfair and that we won't accept it. But we ain't gonna stop."

A brother and sister, half Mexican and half Iranian, talked about how the media presents a distorted vision of both sides of their family. "People need to be educated about who we really are and what we do. Not these lies they tell every day."

One of the few non-students said she brought her stepdaughter because "I wanted her to learn something about actual democracy, not that crap they're teaching her in school." She had recently moved to Tucson from Indiana and related a story that tells a lot about what kind of society the Bush Regime is working to create. She still had Indiana plates on her car and based on nothing more than that, a squad of cops stormed her house one morning, guns drawn and barking orders.

They demanded to know if she was transporting "illegals" to Indiana and questioned her at length. I was impressed by her resolve, as she told the cops, "I'm not saying a damn thing until you put those guns down. I've got children in this house!" More and more cops showed up until there were more than a dozen going through her house, terrifying her children. Eventually they left, without so much as an apology. She said there were cops following her throughout the day. And the next morning when she went out to walk her dog, a cop followed her around.

Studying Bob Avakian at Night

Later that night, I had a discussion with two youth who have been studying Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and Bob Avakian's contributions. I told them of the rally, particularly the image of hundreds of proletarian youth with copies of Revolution in their hands. They could hardly contain their excitement. One of them, who hadn't yet helped to get the paper out, practically demanded that I call her the next time something like this is going on.

We happened to be studying Bob Avakian's article "The New Situation and the Great Challenges" that night. One spoke of how that piece blew her away, how it lays out the basis for everything that's going on right now, of how what is happening with this upsurge around immigrants is not understandable without grasping what Avakian lays out in that piece.

When I first talked with her a few months ago, she was rather cynical about the possibilities of political action. Now she points to another piece we read, a short excerpt from Bob Avakian speaking about Damián García, and says, "that's what I feel now, that's where I'm headed."

We grappled with how to fully support and cherish this upsurge, while at the same time providing communist leadership, particularly by getting the students to engage with Avakian's works and the need for communist revolution. While there was so much that was inspiring and exciting in these marches and rallies, almost all of the students kept their vision of what needs to be done within either nationalism or the killing confines of bourgeois democracy.

Additionally, the powers that be are not taking this sitting down. Each day, the students were surrounded by scores of cops, supposedly for the students' "safety." On Thursday, one school sent buses to give students a ride back to school, but when they were dropped off, every student was given detention. When this was tried the next day, the students refused to get on the buses.

On Friday, the Tucson Citizen reported that "School officials concede they cannot stop the momentum behind student walkouts to protest legislation on illegal immigration. Instead, they are trying to redirect students' energies to activities in controlled school environments."

The mayor held a meeting to try to do this, and the police and other officials openly talk about the need to control the students. And concern is being expressed over what might happen on April 10th, when a culminating march and rally is planned. The time-tested strategy of suffocating popular upsurges with "practical" and "reasonable" actions (plus a big police presence) is being quickly put in place.

In our discussion, we concluded that the current struggle around the immigration issue was of tremendous, even historical, importance, but that it could easily be subsumed within "politics as usual." There is a crying need for this upsurge to break through such limitations and move towards the kind of struggle that not just immigrants but people around the world desperately need. We weren't entirely sure about how to do this, but we did know that the key was connecting these masses with Bob Avakian and the methodology and inspiring vision of communism he is bringing forth.


The morning of the rally, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by a number of intense contradictions, both personal and political. But the combination of those wonderful students and the wave of Revolution that passed through them, and those youth who are taking serious steps to take the responsibility for changing the world on their shoulders, did a lot to change my perspective of things. And to paraphrase a friend of mine, "We're communists. We eat intense contradictions for breakfast."

Friday, the students were out again, in larger numbers and, if anything, even more militant. We were able to have more conversations, getting into the article in Revolution, and getting a bunch of contacts of people who want to help get out the paper at future events.

This struggle is reverberating all over the city. A member of the RCYB who works at a paralegal office downtown said that all the Chicana secretaries who have to go the Courthouse all the time have been coming back with huge smiles on their faces, talking about the kids demonstrating and how proud they are of them.

There are times when the struggle for a better world makes your heart soar. This is one of those times.

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