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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 5th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 22 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 22

Mothers walk through the Central Coast to protest immigration policy

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM


REFLECTIONING ON IMMIGRATION
A Trail for Humanity founder and organizer Valeska Castañeda sits on the pavement in front of Santa Maria’s ICE facility, which is currently under construction. She and 19 others walked from Nipomo to Santa Maria on Aug. 4, completing their 200th mile on a trek from Oakland to the border. The group is protesting U.S. immigration policy.
PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

Burning sage meanders into the wind, originating from the center of a circle of stones set on the pavement in front of the skeletal beginnings of Santa Maria’s soon-to-be finished ICE—Immigrations and Customs Enforcement—facility.

Mothers and children are sitting and standing in groups of two or three, randomly scattered around the circle. They’re wearing windblown hair and weary faces; some are rubbing salve on their feet, while others are hanging out in dust-covered socks—their tennis shoes were left wherever they landed.

The road-worn group of 20 mothers and children, and a couple of fathers, are protesting against United States immigration practices and foreign policy. A Trail for Humanity completed its 210th mile on Aug. 4, when they traversed back roads, Highway 1, and Main Street on the way from Nipomo to Guadalupe and then into Santa Maria. Walkers started their trek in Merced on July 22, and at 15 miles a day, are scheduled to complete the journey at the California/Mexico border on Aug. 16.

UC Berkley student and walk organizer Tindy Gonzalez, 31, is walking with four of her children. Two support vehicles are following the group with water and supplies and in case any of the children need a break from walking.

Through A Trail for Humanity, Gonzalez said she is hoping to bring attention to racial profiling policies; the way immigrant children are being treated, and sometimes separated from their families; and how people are treated in detention facilities. She said the support they have received from communities across California have been amazing. Food, water, and shelter have been provided by each community in which they’ve stayed overnight.

“A family from San Diego drove six hours to drop off some tennis shoes and an 18-pack of water,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been really humbling.”

Her friend Valeska Castañeda, 27 and also a UC Berkley student, approached her with the idea back in April. Castañeda had just returned from a trip to Arizona where she worked with various community, aid, and advocacy groups while looking into the effects of HB-2281, which became part of Arizona’s law in 2013 and bans certain types of instruction in the public school system.

Advocates across the country say the law pointedly outlaws Mexican-American, Latino, and Chicano studies. Castañeda concurs with that viewpoint, but while she was in Arizona, she saw way more than she expected to see. She witnessed immigrants who were parched, hungry, and injured from crossing the Sonoran Desert into the U.S. She saw immigration officials pull a kindergartener out of a classroom with the intention of detaining the child. 

“I came back very raw, and my foundation was shaken,” Castañeda said.

Her experiences in Arizona made her want to do something to effect change, but she wasn’t sure what she could do. Then she saw an article in the New York Times that pushed her over the edge. It ran in April and was about an Ecuadoran girl who hanged herself in the bathroom of a detention center after a second attempt to join her parents in the U.S. failed.

“I thought of my own daughter, and I thought of the hopelessness she must have felt,” Castañeda said. “You know, she died surrounded completely by strangers.”

So Castañeda decided to walk, and started to drum up support for the cause. Each member hoofing the trail has an immigration story. Castañeda came over from Nicaragua with her family when she was 1 year old. They attempted to cross the Rio Grande and avoid detection by border agents.

“They caught us either way, but because at that time there was a war in my country, they granted us asylum,” Castañeda said. “I came here as a political refugee.”

The Trail for Humanity made its way into the Central Valley from the outset, but changed course in Bakersfield. They were caravanned to Nipomo and will return to the Central Valley via Lancaster after walking through Oxnard.

“The reason we traveled to this side is because the community was calling us,” Castañeda said.

Organizers in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, and Oxnard hailed the walkers to help on the Central Coast. Pedro Reyes made the call for Santa Maria. He wanted walkers to help train the community’s eye, once again, on the ICE processing facility that’s being built in Santa Maria even though so many in the community were opposed to it.

Although city and federal officials have guaranteed the Santa Maria community that the ICE facility will only be used to process criminals, not everyone is convinced. The media frenzy over the flood of Central and South American children attempting to cross the U.S. border being captured and detained has intensified those feelings.

“We don’t want the issue to go away. We want to remind our city officials that there is discontent,” Reyes said. “There’s going to be so many families that are going to be separated.”

To learn more about the walk, visit trailforhumanity.org/