Tlokenawake is a precept in Nahuatl that guides and inspires Daniel, a Los Angeles-based activist and all-around humanist. "It means loving others unconditionally. We have an obligation to take care of each other," he told me on a Tuesday afternoon while I sipped coffee and he tamed dragons with his words. "For the world to be balanced, for a human being not to be less than human in the eyes of another, we must struggle with pride, dignity, and love, and take risks for the well being of all."
Daniel knows what he's talking about. The oldest of four, he is familiar with responsibility and risk-taking. Just a few days back he was arrested in front of the ICE detention center by LAPD officers during a civil disobedience action against continued enforcement of immigration laws, among them 287g agreements, "Secure Communities," and the criminalization of immigrant communities. He was one of fourteen who, arms interlocked, blocked several streets, including the entrance to the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles during the morning rush hour.
I met Daniel recently on our way to Arizona. He was one of 56 CHIRLA bus riders making the personal decision to go as "undocumented" citizens to lend their support to thousands of young people demonstrating in front of the capitol in Phoenix. The day after our arrival, Governor Brewer signed the bill into law unleashing a titanic response from anti- and pro- immigrant activists alike. Daniel's closest relatives, 15 members in all, have called Arizona their home for more than a decade. As is the case with most other immigrant families living in the United States, Daniel's uncles, aunts and cousins are "honest, hard workers, with many friends in the neighborhood, and activists by nature."
"The day SB1070 was signed, I was frightened," he recalls. "Not for me, but for my family. My little niece, who is used to walking to school, was so afraid of the new law she would not even come out of the house for a whole week." Daniel remembers that when he was younger, his teachers admonished him for speaking Spanish. "I thought we had struggled past those days to live in a different world, but now you need papers to even be considered a person worthy of any respect," he says, referring to the new law's requirement that anyone stopped by police must show proof of being in the country legally.
Daniel recalls that at one point in our nation's history, men and women of a certain color were considered only 3/5 of a full person. He also recalls that in 1942 thousands and thousands of U.S. citizens were rounded up in concentration camps simply because they were Japanese and suspect. "And only until recently, women and blacks were not allowed to vote. Those laws were in the books too, but they were unjust laws."
This Aztec warrior's quiet demeanor is no match to his roar on why social justice is worth fighting for: "There are those who are okay with being comfortable. People I know, my own family, is struggling to survive right now within a racist environment in Arizona and the moment we lose sight of our ideals and don't do something to change what is unjust, we fail to honor our own destiny, which is to live with dignity and respect."
As to the issue of immigrant integration: "The American Dream often excludes anyone who is different," he says. "For example, our ancestors used to treat gays and lesbians with respect. They were welcomed and regarded as specially gifted and powerful. The western concept of family does not welcome us as gays and lesbians and that's how I see undocumented immigrants being treated by the rest of society - if you don't have a green card, if you speak English with an accent, if you look 'foreign,' you are not worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You are nothing."
I caught up with Daniel during the May Day rally downtown Los Angeles. He was brandishing a large rainbow flag and a poster that read "We Are All Arizona." Why march when things are getting so much worst for immigrants, I asked. "I think we are moving forward, even if one step at a time. Our community cannot lose hope and we will not give up. I for one, am committed to continuing to march, rally, protest, pray, whatever we need to do to one day be free. Isn't that worth fighting for?"
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