Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Friday, September 26, 2008

O'odham and American: New film is portrait of post 9/11 America

'I am an American,' documents post 9/11 racism, discrimination and patriotism in US

By Brenda Norrell 
Censored News

TUCSON -- Cynthia Weber's new film, "I am an American," screened tonight in Tucson. The film is a portrait of post 9/11 America, revealing the lives of migrants and Minutemen; patriots and political refugees.
"I am an American," shares the voices of US servicemen who were honored to be Americans, and others who either fled America or were brutalized and criminalized by systematic hatred and racial prejudice. Fathers, mothers and children tell their own stories.
"It does show the faces of true Americans. We are not all white, elite people," said Ofelia Rivas, Tohono O'odham and founder of O'odham Voice Against the Wall. Rivas is featured in the film and her comment came after screening the film for the first time Friday night.
The film profiles range from Katrina victims pondering their status as refugees in their homeland, to a Chinese Muslim army chaplain prosecuted as an enemy combatant.
Shanti Sellz, humanitarian lending aid to migrants on the Arizona border with No More Deaths, describes her arrest for helping save the lives of migrants.
With these voices, the film documents the post 9/11 hysteria which resulted in prosecution of the innocent, the inhumane police and court actions and US violations of human decency. However, it also gives the Minutemen and a proud soldier, fast tracked to citizenship, a voice.
Weber, a US citizen who makes her home in England, showed the film as a fundraiser for Derechos Humanos, No More Deaths and O'odham Voice Against the Wall. The screening was at the Armory building downtown.
In the film, Ofelia Rivas, interviewed at her home on Tohono O'odham land, describes the violations of human rights and dignity carried out by the US Border Patrol on a regular basis. Rivas describes how many O'odham, including herself, were born at home and do not have birth certificates. She also described how an agent pointed a gun at her head and demanded she identify herself as an American citizen.
Rivas said O'odham want others to know this: "We do live on both sides of that border and we do continue to cross."
During the screening, Rivas spoke on how the US/Mexico border wall has become a barrier for ceremonies and violated the religious rights of the O'odham, who have lived in this territory since time immemorial.
After the screening, Rivas said it is good that this film is carrying the O'odham voice to England and elsewhere. Rivas said the film shows the diversity of people in America.
"Maybe people can see what is happening to the original people," Rivas said in an interview with Censored News.
"It does show the faces of true Americans. We are not all white, elite people."
Although the US claims to guarantee the rights of its citizens on paper, Rivas said that is not always the reality.
During this election year, there is a great deal of attention on voting. Rivas, however, said it takes more than just casting a vote to bring about a change. She said people must stand up for their rights and take action.
"We can't just allow this United States government system to push us around any more."
Crossing the US/Mexico border, which divides O'odham communities, is now more difficult than ever; traditional O'odham find it difficult to find help anywhere.
"We have not received any kind of assistance from the Tohono O'odham Nation as traditional people," she said in the interview.
Rivas said the O'odham traditional crossing has been cut off by the US vehicle barrier constructed by Homeland Security. Now, the elders returning form ceremonies are subjected to harassment by the US Border Patrol. Now, O'odham must travel long distances to border crossings. The agents always consider O'odham elders as "suspects," as drug dealers or smugglers. The elders are fearful and must repeatedly endure rude agents.
"It is not a good situation when we have just been to ceremonies."
Rivas said the earth is going through a healing now and there has been a lot of rain. She said there are many changes, including changes in nature.
"If we don't follow our traditional ways, we are in for a lot of problems."
"I just encourage people to remain strong."
AUDIO: Listen to Ofelia Rivas react to the new film:
--Click on link below
--Click on file name "Ofelia Rivas" in white box
AUDIO: Cynthia Weber's describes the origin of the film:
About the film, "I am an American" by Cynthia Weber
Interviewed in the film:
-Iraq war veteran Guadalupe Denogean, who became a "fast-tracked" US citizen
-Iraq war resisters Phil McDowell and Jamine Apointe, who are seeking political refugee status in Canada
-Peace activist Fernando Suarez del Solar, who refused posthumous US citizenship for his soldier son Jesus who was killed in Iraq
-Undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano, who until July 2007 was in sanctuary in a US church fighting deportation so she could remain with her US citizen son Saul
-The founder of the Minuteman Civil Defence Corps, Chris Simcox, who organises civilian patrols along US borders
-Human-rights activist with the No More Deaths group, Shanti Sellz, who with Daniel Strauss was arrested for transporting undocumented immigrants to a hospital
-Indigenous-rights activist Ofelia Rivas, who is fighting the construction of the US-Mexico border fence that will divide her nation
-Indigenous-rights activist Jose Matus, who heads the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders project
-Hurricane Katrina evacuees Greg and Glenda Avery, who have at times been treated more like "refugees" than US citizens in their own country
-US army Muslim chaplain James Yee, who was detained by the US government as an enemy combatant.
Weber says, "What I hope my films express is how these US Americans live their differences in an often less-than-tolerant and increasingly disunited nation."
Art installation: Sept. 29 to Oct 17, 2008

PHOTO 1: Ofelia Rivas, Tohono O'odham, founder of O'odham Voice Against the Wall, talks with Cynthia Weber, producer of the new film, "I Am an American." Photo Brenda Norrell. Photo 2: Shanti Sellz, No More Deaths humanitarian/Photo "I am an American." Photo 3: Ofelia Rivas at the border vehicle barrier constructed south of Sells, Arizona, on Tohono O'odham Nation land in 2007. Photo Brenda Norrell.

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