The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


September 8, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


The Miracles of Guadalupe: A Heritage of Helping

Generations of Mexicans have viewed the Virgin of Guadalupe, México’s mestiza patron saint, as a blessed miracle maker. Yolanda López, the 79-year-old Chicana artist who died this past week, saw the strength and power to work miracles in everyday Mexicana working women. She reimagined them all as Virgins of Guadalupe.  


Guadalupe de la Cruz takes after her miracle-making namesake. Shes lived in Florida all her life, in an area opened up for homesteading not long before the Florida East Coast Railway started extending to Key West in the early 1900s. The construction passed through the homesteading. They called the worker camp there, naturally enough, “Homestead.”


To qualify for a homestead back then, you had to be a citizen. To be a citizen, according to the US Naturalization Act, you had to be a “free white person.” So Homestead — for whites — meant free land and a stable base for family prosperity. For Mexicanos, on the other hand, Homestead has always been a place to work for other people, with ever changing immigration rules that left family members divided, against their will, between the US and México. And for immigrant youth seeking asylum during the Obama and Trump years, Homestead meant detention in physically and mentally toxic overcrowded holding facilities.


But Guadalupe de la Cruz does not accept unfair rules. She became simply outraged when her undocumented friends in high school who had come to the US as little kids could not gain admission to college, and de la Cruz would dedicate herself to the fight for immigrant rights. Against all odds, her determination would later help win the release of thousands of children from the Homestead detention center.


The artist Yolanda López, in her lifetime, made visible the ordinary Mexicana women like Guadalupe de la Cruz who every day make something out of nothing on behalf of others. Qué milagro! What a miracle!


Guadalupe de la Cruz serves as the program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Florida. In 2019, she played a key role in building the youth-led movement that shut down the notorious Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children. Her fight won’t stop, de la Cruz vows, until all such detention centers shut down.


Your own family, in microcosm, tells the story of so many Mexican agricultural workers. How has US immigration policy affected your family?


My father came first to Homestead Florida, more than 40 years ago. My mother and three of my siblings came later, all undocumented. My parents then had three more children, including me, so we three are citizens. After the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act’s passage, my parents applied — and were approved for permanent residency. But they never did apply for citizenship.


My older brothers did have residency and work permits, but they fell out of status, with two now in the process of obtaining legal status and one deported. He tried to rejoin our family, but was stopped at the border, held in a detention center for a year, and then deported again. Hes still in México and barred from re-entry. So our family includes every category: citizens, permanent residents, undocumented, and deported.


Homestead became the location of the biggest immigrant youth detention center in the country. What kind of conditions did teenagers face there?


Homestead’s detention center opened under Obama in 2008 to house unaccompanied 13- to 17- year-old migrants. Some kids came with relatives, but were separated and labeled “unaccompanied” anyway. A for-profit company ran the center, and, under Trump’s zero tolerance policies, the center saw a huge surge, from 1,200 kids to 3,600. Some had to be put in tents. About 22,000 young people eventually passed through this place.


We had trouble finding out the real living conditions inside. The center’s officials denied entry to members of the local school board and even members of Congress.

Later, shortly after the center shut down, allegations of sexual abuse including by staff — started coming to light.


What strategy did you follow to get the detention center closed?


The center sits next to a military air base with constant noise and a Superfund site as well. Working with EarthJustice, the group that represented the detained youth, we emphasized the intersection between migrant and environmental issues. We spotlighted the toxic environment threatening the health of the kids.


What role did young people play in the protests?


Before I joined the AFSC, I organized at a local nonprofit that advocated for immigrant rights and provided some services, including evening classes. When the big wave of minors began coming in, we found that they were required to be in some type of school to apply for asylum. But the public schools routinely denied them entry due to admission requirements their parents couldn’t meet or didn’t understand. For example, they had to show Social Security numbers and vaccination records that they often did not have. Some indigenous migrants didn’t speak Spanish, let along English!


Formerly detained youth became organizers through a combination of education and advocacy. First, we helped them gain an understanding of how the immigration system really works and how that system affects young people. Then, at press conferences and rallies, we centered the voices of kids who had been detained to act as advocates for other similar youth, to demand their freedom and the Homestead detention center’s closing.


Using art allowed our young people to express messages that they could not express with words. Activities like yelling “no están solos” and playing music from outside the detention center fence, writing letters to those inside, and even standing on stools so they could see each other over the fence provided a needed human connection. Our youth demonstrated love and gave hope to the kids inside.

The Center was going to reopen under Biden. What happened?


We organized again! Biden then backtracked and asked for “other options.” But were staying vigilant. We’re demanding healthy environments and expediting the uniting of detained youth with their sponsors. We’re also demanding transparency on what happened to the children inside and social and emotional support services that focus on the traumas the youth have faced.


And we want a ban on private for-profit facilities. But we see all these demands as stop-gaps. The only humane solution: shut down all the detention centers, permanently.


The Virgin of Guadalupe Comes of Age

Our México Solidarity Bulletin visual arts commentator, Victoria Hamlin, takes a look back at the career and contributions of one of the most influential Chicana artists of our time.

Chicana artist Yolanda López used her art, over the course of six decades, to challenge demeaning stereotypes of Mexicanos and women. She died September 3, 2021.


I first absorbed the work of Yolanda López back in the sixties and seventies, but not until years later did I realize just how much the way she and other Chicana artists pushed social and cultural boundaries had affected me. Her Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe — an homage to the history and resilience of women of Mexican heritage — struck me as at once confusing, funny, and powerful.


This work brings the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as pictured here at the immediate right, into the 20th century. Nothing sentimental or pious here. And what joy bursts forth!


In her Women Working series, López lifts working class women out of invisibility and portrays them as worthy of our attention and admiration.


For one work in that series, López used as a stand-in for the Virgen an image of her mother working at a Naval Training Center sewing machine. López would later point out one of the problems with the ubiquity of the Virgen de Guadalupe. We have, she explained, “no real imagery of Latinas at the work that we do.”


López used her grandmother for another image.


“The Virgen de Guadalupe is always this beautiful, young thing,” she noted. “There is no depiction of her as an older woman. I was conscious about this and so thats why I did my grandmother.”  


The work of Yolanda López contributed to my own quest to figure out how to be a woman of a new kind.  Me — and so many more of us. Yolanda López, Presente!


The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego will be showcasing an exhibition on the art of Yolanda López starting this October 16. The show will run through next April 24.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Mary Beth Sheridan and Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul, México decriminalizes abortion, a dramatic step in world’s second-biggest Catholic country, Washington Post. The vote comes as a powerful women’s movement is transforming México, where women now make up half of Congress.


Juan Montes and Santiago Pérez, México’s President Revamps Welfare, Handing Out Cash to Millions, Wall Street Journal. López Obrador’s government has lifted overall welfare spending by about 20 percent over the previous administration, including payments to eight million elderly, apprenticeships for a million out-of-work youths, and money for a million university students and farmers.


John Ackerman, El suicidio del PAN y los retos de la 4T, La Jornada. El pacto entre dirigentes del PAN y el partido neofascista español VOX implica el fin de cualquier fantasía con respecto a la supuesta “vocación democrática” de este partido opositor, creado en 1939 para combatir las políticas revolucionarias del General Lázaro Cárdenas del Río.


The End of the OAS? Mexico Leads Movement to End Almagro’s Term, Orinoco Tribune. The U.S.-dominated Organization of American States, says Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard “cannot continue to be an instrument of intervention.” 


Ariela Ruiz Caro, Latin America: In Search of Lost Sovereignty, CounterPunch. Two recent events have activated the possibility of relaunching Latin American cooperation and coordination: AMLO's speech during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States confab and the newly Peruvian foreign minister's inaugural address.


Quadri y Calderón estallan contra Sheinbaum por mover estatua de Colón, Polemón. La Jefa de Gobierno de la Ciudad de México, Claudia Sheinbaum, ha informado que la escultura de una mujer olmeca sustituirá a la de Cristobal Colón, ubicada hasta ahora sobre Paseo de la Reforma.


Mexican Authorities Attack Caravan of U.S.-Bound Asylum Seekers, Democracy Now! The caravan consisted mostly of people from Haiti, Central America, Cuba, and Colombia who’ve been blocked from leaving Chiapas while their cases are getting processed.


Mary Jo DiLonardo, México Bans Animal Testing for Cosmetics, TreeHugger. México becomes the first North American and the 41st nation worldwide to ban the practice.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


Web page and application support for the México Solidarity Project from NOVA Web Development, a democratically run, worker-owned and operated cooperative focused on developing free software tools for progressive organizations.