Building a Culture of Migrant Solidarity in New Orleans: An Interview with Amor Y Solidaridad


With the mainstream American media’s focus on the most recent migrant caravan, the proposed wall along the border with Mexico, and the federal government shutdown, it could be easy to lose sight of the reality that there is a long history of migrant caravans crossing the borders between the Americas. Many who recently arrived from Central America are petitioning the federal government for asylum from the terror of narcotrafficker death squads, which the U.S. government had a large role in creating. Others have been here longer, living at the margins of immigration status, without official documentation or permission. Either way, one thing is clear: for those of us who seek to destroy the border, robust mutual aid for immigrants living among us is absolutely necessary.

Here in New Orleans, several autonomous groups have come together to offer material support to Central American immigrants and defend them from attacks by immigration authorities, police, and other fascist groups. Amor Y Solidaridad is a collective house in the seventh ward composed of queer and trans migrants who last year joined the Viacrucis migrant caravan. Walking and hitchhiking through Honduras into Mexico to the border with California in Tijuana, they surrendered themselves in search for asylum. After spending months in a detention facility in New Mexico, they arrived in New Orleans last summer and now host weekly barbeques at the house that shares the name of their collective.

For many recent Central American immigrants seeking asylum, access to local comrades who are able to formally sponsor them through their asylum application process allows them to continue living here. Being released from an immigrant detention facility is partly contingent upon American citizens with no arrest record and a verifiably stable source of income coming forward to take responsibility for feeding and housing the asylum applicant, supporting their legal and health needs, and promising the federal government to do their due diligence to see them through the legal asylum process. Clearly, these requirements all present a huge barrier to many in our community who may want to sponsor immigrants. However, through the model of collective solidarity, Amor Y Solidaridad has managed to distribute a lot of these needs so that no one individual ends up taking on the entire sponsorship process. Showing up how you are able, sharing resources and reinforcing a culture of support around immigrants in your own community contributes to, as one of member in the collective put it, “breaking down the border in a subtle way, little by little.”

How to materially support immigrants once they get past the border is a question we need to engage with more seriously. When talking to some of the people in the Amor Y Solidaridad collective, it becomes increasingly clear how fundamental the most basic acts of solidarity have been throughout their journey. Friends of friends offering places to sleep; people on the street offering meals, benefits to help raise money for rent, donating bikes for transportation, herbs and assistance with medical care, translation services, letters of encouragement and support. As many comrades from across the continent travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to take direct action in support of migrants and against the border, it feels crucial to remember that the kinds of support migrants received while traveling through Central America continues to be necessary once they arrive in a community to fight for their legal right to remain. Queer and trans immigrants not only face the legal barriers to employment in this country but the same kinds of patriarchal barriers that they faced at home, making community-generated material support even more life-sustaining for them.

Simply put, we do this work in order to chip away at the authority of the border, a border that was created by colonialism and is continually reinforced through military and police apparatuses as well as the myth of legitimate citizenship in an occupied territory. In so doing we undermine the authority of this nation-state that was built upon slavery, genocide, and imperialism. We can contribute to this effort by providing mutual aid for those brave people who did not let an imaginary line tell them they would be condemned to a living hell or an early death.

 


 

The following text is an English translation of an interview with N and Z, two members of the Amor Y Solidaridad house and collective.

N: I left Honduras at the end of January of this year, motivated to leave by discrimination, violence, and lack of opportunities. This made me have to leave my country, aside from all the crime that there is – all the illegal drug trade, the corruption of the police, their collaboration with narcotraffickers. So that was the motivation to leave my country. I came up with una amiga, asking for rides from the roadside. Well, in this journey I suffered through hunger and cold, I walked for miles and miles, I got to the border with Guatemala and then to Mexico City. We got to Ciudad Hidalgo, and we stayed a few nights in a hotel with what little money we brought. After a few nights we left for Tapachula, and when we got there we stayed a month with a friend and her lesbian girlfriend. They were really there for us and lent a hand whenever they could. But life in Mexico wasn’t really that great either in terms of all the corruption and drug trafficking. I had to get out. Being a trans girl you had to end up selling your body because there was no other opportunities for safer work or anything like that.

So on this journey we learned about the Viacrucis migrant caravan that was set to leave Honduras on March 25th, to go up to Mexico. So we joined up with it, since we suffered through the cold, sleeping on the street or in parks, under bridges. And the people in Mexico, a few of them showed us solidarity by bringing us what little food they had. Through all that, we ended up arriving in Hermosillo, and then Tijuana, where we presented ourselves at the border. They put us in a cold room where we stayed for five days, until they took us out and started moving us to the detention facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And there we remained, locked up for three whole months. And then a few people from here, who were connected with Diversidad Sin Fronteras, were able to get us connected with a series of sponsors – we were given one sponsor for each of us. At that point we were able to get out of detention, under the promise that we would continue through the asylum process, which we are currently fighting out here.

It’s been really hard for us. Because the truth is we don’t have work permits. How are we supposed to survive all on our own? And we’re able to go through the asylum process because the people here in New Orleans have taken us in, have treated us really well, and continue to help us. And with all the corruption of the president here, people are starting to see the same kinds of bad political direction that’s happened in Mexico and Honduras.

It’s true that we could say that what we all want is an opportunity for a better life. And the truth that I’ve always held is that God didn’t make borders. Men created them and imposed them. And so learning different languages, you can learn about where you are. So a friend can have a better life and more opportunities, and be accepted just as one is.

 

Z: More than anything, it’s about trying to break down these borders. We want equality more than anything apart from being part of the LGBT community and being immigrants. That which in another country they see as something ugly. So it would be good to try and form alliances, or implementing a method to be effective for immigrants, and be in accordance with the government, and that they don’t disrespect us, but we don’t agree so much with the laws they have about these things. So getting to an agreement with the people or the government so that there can be opportunity for us. We would be breaking it down in a subtle way, because we’d be winning in two ways – that the government accepts certain needs that we have, but more than anything putting these ideas together to be able to break down the border little by little.

I believe that the perspective of those of us who came as part of the caravan, is that more than anything what helped us along the way was letters of encouragement, because it’s a road full of chaos, cold, heat, hunger, sleeplessness. There were times when we were detained that we did not want to keep going. Or, go down to the border to volunteer but it’s a really serious commitment. Because you go there, you get to know what’s going on, you meet people and you live through what immigrants have to go through… not just an image in your head. And then you come back home, you return with that pain, with that mentality, and then you start doing other work, forming something that can help and make life easier for immigrants—asking yourself how can you support the immigrants here, getting donations and building alliances. It can open some doors.

 


 

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Illustration by Genesis de las Olas

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