By Monique Teal, USSA National Field Director
Before leaving for AZ, I was anxious and convinced that I was unprepared for what I anticipated to be a torrent of anger centrally located in the AZ desert. The flight into the state did nothing to assuage my fears, as within minutes of taking off, a very angry (old, white) man proceeded to yell at me until the flight attendant told him he was upsetting passengers. This incident was all I needed to justify my apprehension and distaste for the state. It also set me up to mentally prepare for battle. I assumed that the man on the plane (and the folks in the news) were the norm in AZ and my 21st century political carpet bagging was not going to go over well with folks who were convinced they were the only ones deserving of rights. The same night, another (straight, white) man accosted myself and a current student (and bomb activist) about how youth didn’t know anything about politics, that black people had a chip on their shoulders (especially me apparently) and the undocumented people (illegal aliens in his vernacular) deserved any profiling they got. And much worse. We fought back through dialogue and two hours later realized that this “gentleman” was never going to get it because he didn’t want to get it. Day one and I despised AZ.
Fast forward to this moment. In the last two days I have met some of the most extraordinary activists (and some organizers) and people. From the family that has taken me in for the week to the students who actively and publicly challenge heteronormative culture and throw sign making parties while they discuss current events, intelligent and compassionate people, folks whose love of the people and passion for social justice envelops everyone around them, have surrounded me. It's impossible to not feel better in their presence. Strangers have accepted me into their homes and lives and have been so gracious, it is overwhelming and I find myself overcompensating. I met a student who has been in the US for 15 years and is about the graduate; however, she has to worry about what to do when her visa runs out in two years. She has already been denied residency twice. I reconnected with the Trail of DREAMs students and was able to steal a moment to hear about their latest travels- all while holding hands. I was introduced to a Pima Community College student who helped organize high school students to protest the anti- ethnic studies bill. With everyone person I meet, and every space I enter, I am overwhelmed by the amount of love for each other and communities so many folks have- and how easily and regularly it is expressed and embraced.
So quickly, I have already learned a lesson about the spirit of a place. It isn’t held in hate. At least in AZ, students and organizers overcome the brutality of a few by releasing love. Tomorrow, I join them. Together we will defy the criminalization of immigrants and the attack on people of color by showing our love as we march through the streets of Phoenix.