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‘Bus Station Project’ migrates across the border

‘Bus Station Project’ migrates across the border

Posted on 21 August 2019.

Paula Sassi unloads donated clothing and different gadgets from her automotive for Mimi Pollack (middle) and Birdie Gutierrez waiting at storage facility.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Birdie Gutierrez

CHULA VISTA, California – After President Donald Trump’s administration started implementing its “Remain in Mexico” coverage for asylum seekers, the movement of migrants arriving at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown San Diego was lowered to a trickle.  This posed an enormous query – what to do now? — for the two energetic ladies who had organized the Bus Station Venture offering help and luxury to asylum candidates about to journey to the houses of American sponsors.

“There were two weeks that we went to the bus station and there was only one family (needing assistance) and that was it,” commented Mimi Pollack, co-founder with Paula Sassi of the Bus Station Challenge.  (see earlier articles 1)  and a couple of).

“So we decided to see how else we could help,” Pollack stated.  “Asylees are being bottlenecked in Tijuana, so I started checking out shelters over there as well as organizations on this side of the border that are working with the shelters.”  A mutual acquaintance put Pollack and Sassi in contact with Bertha Alicia  “Birdie” Guiterrez of Chula Vista, a social activist who has been dedicated to helping the poor and the hungry since she was a younger teenager learning at the ft of United Farm Worker Union organizer Cesar Chavez.

Gutierrez  heads a corporation referred to as “Bridges of Love Across the Border” which collects food stuffs, toiletries, clothing, blankets, and other supplies for the migrants now dwelling in shelters in Tijuana while they await their dates for courtroom hearings to determine if they are eligible for asylum in the United States.

On Tuesday, August 20, I accompanied Pollack and Sassi from Pollack’s residence in La Mesa to Gutierrez’s rented storage facility in Chula Vista the place she keeps donated goods pending distributions twice each week in Tijuana.  Sassi and Pollack  brought quite a lot of goods, amongst them clothes, blankets and some diapers, which that they had obtained from direct donations and thru purchases at native storage sales.

After loading luggage and luggage of donated items into the storage facility, the three women and I repaired close by to Zorba’s Greek Restaurant, the place, over a buffet lunch, Gutierrez advised the story of how a famous starvation strike Chavez had carried out in 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona, led her to turn into concerned in numerous anti- poverty and social action tasks, including Bridges of Love Across the Border.

She stated that she was born to a family of farmworkers – her father having been hired in Mexico by farmers in New Mexico as part of America’s bracero program.  Relations employed themselves out as farm staff, accepting work wherever crops have been being harvested.  When she was 12, her household moved to Phoenix, Arizona, “the hardest place in the country to work in the fields.”

In 1972, then 14, she and her mother and father lived close to the Santa Rita Middle in Phoenix, where Chavez fasted 24 days to draw attention to the plight of underpaid and overworked farmworkers, who then have been on strike.  His fast was a nationally celebrated occasion, prompting visits in solidarity from such celebrities as Coretta Scott King and members of the late Robert F. Kennedy’s household.

The fasting Chavez “changed my life completely in terms of my way of thinking,” Gutierrez stated.  “For those who think, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about that?’ well, that’s when it hit me – here was a farmworker willing to risk his life so the rest of us could have something better.  I decided at that moment in my life, if one person could make a difference, then so could I.”

Gutierrez started small, “doing school drives, clothing drives – it became a way of life for us growing up,” she stated.

Whereas Chavez was capable of assist farmworkers, there however lingered in Arizona what Gutierrez described as an environment of discrimination and racial profiling.

She informed of a man with whom she had shared a house. “He was a Vietnam veteran, who had been awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star,” Gutierrez associated.  “He was giving his girlfriend a ride home, when he got pulled over during one of the roundups” organized by then Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  “Arpaio would choose a certain barrio and he would station RV-type vehicles around it, fitted with cells inside – mobile jails – and then he would bring in police, and round up any person of color.  My roommate got pulled over, beaten up, because they wanted to draw blood from him, and he refused. They almost broke his nose.  He kept telling them he was an American citizen.  They were looking for ‘undocumented’ people – I don’t use the word ‘illegal.’  He ended up going to jail. They processed him, and then they let him go.  They dropped all the charges, of course.”

Incidents like that, and others, “affected every one of us,” Gutierrez stated.  “It didn’t just affect undocumented people.  We care about our community We care about our neighbors, undocumented or not.  It affected everyone.”

In response to the roundups, the Mexican-American group (some of them proudly calling themselves Chicanos) began to arrange.  “All of us who grew up in this movement supported each other,” she stated.


Mimi Pollack, left, Birdie Gutierrez, and Paula Sassi volunteer their efforts to help Central American refugees ready in Mexico for U.S. asylum.

Pollack (a Jewish group member who writes regularly for San Diego Jewish World) recalled an occasion when household buddies have been driving from New Mexico by way of Arizona to San Diego “to see us, and were stopped by the Border Patrol.”  The husband was a third-generation American and the wife’s family had lived in New Mexico for eight generations.  However, she stated, the Border Patrol officer demanded to see their papers. “What papers?” they responded. “We’re Americans.”  Their youngsters didn’t even know find out how to converse Spanish.  Ultimately the Border Patrol let them go.

About 11 years ago, Gutierrez moved to California and before lengthy she was urging fellow activists in San Diego to beware that Arizona’s Senate Invoice 1070 – which ultimately was declared unconstitutional by the courts – not be the topic of a replica cat regulation in California.  SB 1070 had made it a misdemeanor for aliens to be without correct documents in Arizona, and approved local regulation enforcement officials who had a “reasonable suspicion” to stop individuals to find out their immigration standing.  In response to Gutierrez, the measure enabled regulation enforcement officials routinely to harass persons of colour.

The social activist also turned concerned in protests in instances during which individuals of Hispanic background have been fatally shot or crushed to dying by Border Patrol brokers underneath suspicious circumstances.  She cited the 2010 case of Anastasio Henandez Rojas, whose deadly beating by Border Patrol brokers was videotaped and became a trigger celebre.  Additionally, she cited the case of Valeria Tachiquin in 2012, a mother of 5, who was fatally shot by way of the window of her automotive by a Border Patrol agent.  In that case, the Border Patrol stated Tachiquin had struck an agent together with her automotive, after one tried to remove her ignition keys.

When Central People began their marches to the U.S. border, Gutierrez stated she and fellow social activists decided they need to create a corporation to render humanitarian help to the migrants.

“The story that got me to turn my focus to this [in May 2018] was that there were a number of trans-migrants (transgender migrants) who came with the caravan.  Right after they arrived there (in Tijuana), they were attacked in the shelter and held at gunpoint.  Then they ran to the Caritas Shelter [run by Catholic Charities], and that night someone took a mattress and put it on the door and lit it on fire.  They literally tried to set the whole building on fire, while the trans-persons and all the children and families were inside there.  I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to help them.’”

The shelter the transgender refugees had relocated to needed virtually every thing – toiletries, garments, diapers – and Bridges of Love Across the Border started accumulating and supplying them.

After ten months, that shelter was receiving help from quite a lot of organizations, a lot so that Gutierrez determined she might flip her attention to other shelters – one particularly started by refugees to assist different refugees.  The group  created its personal diner in Tijuana, the place refugees can get a meal and the place they will find bins of footwear, toiletries, blankets, tents, first assist kits – no matter they need  — while they wait, lots of them homeless, for the opportunity to current their requests for asylum in the United States.

In addition to amassing supplies for the Bridges of Love Across the Border group, Sassi and Pollack have found other avenues to assist the refugees.

Sassi, for instance, types clothes at the Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in the College Town Middle area. That church is part of the Speedy Response Network, headed by Jewish Family Service, which tends to the wants of refugees who are legally admitted to this country.

Typically, stated Sassi, gadgets do not meet the requirements of the Speedy Response Network, and she or he is permitted to donate them to Bridges of Love Across the Border.

Sassi additionally goes to quite a few storage sales, buying some gadgets and spreading the information to sellers about her work with Bridges of Love Across the Border.  She stated it isn’t unusual for the sellers to say, “Come back later, and what we haven’t sold, we’ll be happy to donate.”

Pollack in the meantime has been volunteering as a driver who takes refugee households from the Speedy Response Network’s downtown shelter to the airport, aiding them via preflight procedures and boarding.  Pollack happily presents stuffed animals to these households with youngsters whom she assists.

The Bus Station Undertaking, Pollack says, “is in transition.”  If ever there’s once more want for volunteers to satisfy non-English talking households at the bus station to elucidate about rest stops and bus modifications en route to their last destinations, Pollack and Sassi plan to return along with luggage of toiletries, maps, clothing, and toys.”

These needing to assist Bridges of Love Across the Border are referred to the organization’s Go Fund Me page  and to its PayPal web page .

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted by way of donald.harrison@sdjewishworld.com