To celebrate its fifth birthday, Lucha returned to its roots on Friday night.
Four of the club’s founding members returned to talk about the event that sparked its creation—the 2006 incident in which students rushed the Roone Arledge Auditorium stage to protest the presence of Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, which calls for volunteers to patrol the border between the United States and Mexico.
Speakers Karina Garcia, CC ’08, Martín López-Santoyo, CC ’09, Johanna Ocaña, CC ’10, and Rudi Batzell, CC ’09, were among those protesters. On Friday, the four panelists said that they were left feeling disappointed by the backlash from the incident, as many people on campus spoke out against the protesters on the grounds that they had violated Gilchrist’s First Amendment rights.
“It turned into a hostile environment very quickly,” Ocaña said, insisting they had a right to protest.
“Lucha” is Spanish for struggle and stands for the atmosphere from which the club was formed. Five years later, the group has focused its attention on justice issues ranging from immigrant and queer rights to unfair labor practices in restaurants, and members have taught residents in Harlem and Brooklyn what to do when approached by police officers.
“We’re not a one-focus group. People have this misconception that we’re just focused on Latinos,” said Amanda Torres, BC ’12 and vice chair of Lucha.
In the last year, Lucha members protested against local restaurant Saigon Grill’s alleged labor violations and were vocal against bringing the Reserve Officers Training Corps back to the Columbia campus. They have also held Immigration Weeks every year, hosting multiple events focused on issues such as immigration law enforcement and sexual assault.
Friday’s Immigration Week closing event featured paintings by Oscar López Rivera depicting the plight of people risking their lives to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. and the conditions for those forced to seek refuge in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. Shoes and flip-flops, many in children’s sizes, were strewn about a chair with a flyer claiming there were 5,607 deaths near the border between 1994 and 2008.
Poets Kiara “Kai” Towns and Safia Elhillo presented poems about Towns’ encounters with domestic violence and what Elhillo called “ethnic-girl problems”—a playful way of introducing serious poetry addressing feelings of diaspora.
Panelists also offered advice to audience members, emphasizing the need to keep activism alive.
“It’s the young people. They’ve been the heart of movements all over the world,” Garcia said. “It’s exciting to be an activist right now.”