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Archived: Indigenous Elders Fight for their Home

Elder Maria Garcia is a bundle of energy. She is small brown woman in her 70s, yet she is anything but frail. There’s a lot of fire in her veins. At a hip-hop concert done on her behalf this past weekend, she is as involved as her supporters in making sure everything goes off without a hitch. They have come to support her and her husband, Tohono O’dham elder, Joseph, in their fight to keep their home.

While they are in the process of being thrown out of their Tucson home – where they have lived for some 32 years – they are not vacating their home without a fight.
Welcome to the human face of the world’s financial crisis.

Both Maria & Joseph are respected elders in the community, owners of the famed Tucson institution, La Indita Restaurant. She is Purepecha and he is Tohono O’dham, and the attempts to evict them from their home has sparked an outrage.

Their stand to fight for their home conjures up the idea of Tierra y Libertad or Land & Liberty – an idea of Indigenous resistance, rooted in defense of the land. But this is not happening in Mexico or CentralAmerica at the turn of the 19th century.

The ironies are all there, as are the metaphors and the imagery of Indigenous elders being forcefully removed by their bank. They are taking place as Congress has approved $700 billion to save the same financial institutions that are throwing out thousands of homeowners nationwide. They are happening as the government is about to pour in many more billions to bail out other corporations, but not actual homeowners.

This is the stuff of revolts and revolutions. Before anyone takes the Garcia home they will have to face hundreds of supporters. Symbolically, probably thousands… even millions.

There is no way that their supporters will permit the bank to forcefully evict these respected elders from their home.

As a confluence of history, the eviction of Indigenous elders is hardly the image that this nation wants to project as pressures mount to solve this financial crisis that was triggered by the mortgage crisis. As several members of Congress have noted, the purpose of the bailout was to assist homeowners – not to turn it into an unaccountable slush fund, with little or no transparency.

In speaking to Maria, how they got to the point of foreclosure is somewhat complex, though it involves unscrupulous and deceptive dealings with a series of financial institutions, and most of all, the lack of transparency. The bottom line is that after being warned that they were in danger of being foreclosed upon – and a series of mistakes by the financial institutions – their bank abruptly foreclosed on their home in late October  – despite the fact that they have the money to pay whatever is owed.

Their attorney, Scott Gibson, who is representing the Garcias pro bono, is confident that they will ultimately be able to keep their home.

Having an attorney who understands legalese is a godsend for them, but that’s beside the point. Financial institutions – while being bailed out by taxpayers – should not be attempting to force them from their home – for any reason, “legitimate” or contrived. There is something wrong with a system in which senior citizens – elders anywhere – can lose their homes due to mistakes, misunderstandings or deceptive practices.

Neither are Joseph and Maria your typical senior citizens. They are literally, Indigenous resistance fighters. Many of their supporters, many of them young, look to them for guidance and inspiration and have vowed to defend their home.

Aside from being an integral part of the continent’s Indigenous movement – having met with Comandante Marcos and the Zapatistas this past year – Joseph and Maria have themselves embarked on a noble mission to create an Indigenous health clinic (Jewel of the Sun) in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora. Indeed, their selflessness does not stop at the border. Their goal is to create a clinic where Indigenous peoples can receive affordable preventive care, health education and traditional medicine.

Rather than throwing them out, the bank and government should be assuring them that they never have to worry about their home again. Additionally, they might even consider donating to the clinic. It’s the least they can do. As Maria stated in no uncertain terms: Sinverguenzas! (They have no shame!).

Rodriguez, a research associate at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com Column of the Americas – PO BOX 85476 – Tucson, AZ 85754