By Juliet de Jesus Alejandre
Fifteen hours on the road. Our bodies and spirits were anxious to arrive to this place that’s been calling us for the last few weeks. We met our guide Mike Klonsky at the Prairie Knights Casino lobby in order to ride together into the campgrounds just outside of the Standing Rock Reservation. Slumped into the hotel lobby sofas, protestors sat charging their phones and laptops. The temperature outside was about thirty degrees colder than in Chicago—they looked so cold. We didn’t care, we were ready to go join the Water Protectors.
As we soaked up the people, the smells and sounds, an elder, turned to our group and asked, “Where you all from?” We heard a couple of others answer this question reciting names of reservations and tribes. We paused and felt the weight of her question. On the one hand her question assumed we were relatives, fellow members of the ancient peoples of the Americas. That familiarity felt good—like a welcoming. We also felt loss. Our silence spoke of colonization. Spoke of broken family stories. Partially we were here to recover a part of ourselves, of our past in this fight for a future that centers our humanity and relationships to the earth and to one another.
Through the Brown in Chicago Project, Latinx youth are sitting down with family to document our family migration stories and to explore the role of race and racism in our lives. With great care they are recording the names of their ancestors, the towns they lived and migrated from, the dates they walked the earth. DNA test results show that our Mexican students have between 60-90% Native American ancestry. Though because of colonization none of our young people have thought of themselves as a part of the indigenous diaspora before now.
We also traveled here because in this fight to stop oil companies and the government from decimating the homes and sacred burial sites of the Standing Rock Sioux, we see our own fight. In Chicago, our young people are waging their own battle against the further displacement of Latinx families from the gentrifying neighborhoods of Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Hermosa. Capitalism is killing our communities, exploiting our natural resources and disregarding our ties to the land and one another. The resistance put up by the community at Standing Rock is spiritually and culturally fueled as well as legal and political, and so is ours. We met our people at Standing Rock.
Photo Cred: Arely Morales