Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I haven't felt humidity like this since a little over a year ago. Its the kind that comes on days when the world wakes and keeps its blinds of clouds drawn. The sun is shining, but the only effect is a subtle change in the feel and hue of the air. The moisture suspended within it seeps into your house, your belongings, and even the skin on your bones. Its especially invading mine as my body acclimates to this San Antonio, TX morning. I'll tell you about it a little. I'll write quickly and in the moment, something I have not done in the past, because as I sit here on this aloe vera green porch on a white swing looking down on a new community, it's the only place I want to be.

With this understanding of being in the moment comes a slight apology and admittance of past mispractices. This blog is contrived, which means in this context- a projected facade of carefully spun truths. I've carefully selected my words, stories, imagery, and even blog color and layout to make myself look like some kind of social activism hero. The truth is that I am, well in some ways at least. I have enough good intentions in mind to pave the whole road to hell and back. Thus far they have led me to put my first step out of college onto an illogical limb of flimsy career choice instead of onto the somewhat sturdy first rung of the corporate ladder. I'm disregarding the unspoken advice of many, which has said to me in nonverbal gestures such as slight nods and neutrally pronounced "hmm's" of acknowledgement that I will soon rue the day I signed the contract to be a "volunteer" (insert gasp here). The rest of the truth is that I am still learning how to live and participate in the truth that I have discovered. Its foundations in my lifestyle are not nearly as deep as some of my posts read. So, I apologize, and extend the peace offering of more reality and less "spin" in my writing, beginning now:

I am deeply in love with people at the moment: communities, families, organizations, and social networks. I tend to obsess about things and themes for 2 weeks to a month at a time. When I was younger it was aggressive inline skating, comic books, girls, fishing, books, yo-yo's, or soccer. Now these stints of time seem to be centered around personal, internal projects. Currently, I am learning about human interaction and its significance in the world in which we live. While this has been on my mind as of late, it is certainly not the first time. It has surfaced in my interests/obsessions in many different forms for sometime now, such as a desire to study the formations and interactions of people, organizations, and networks in my college career.

I have said that I believe that we are all in this together, that my liberation is bound in the freedom of others, and that we are all collectively tied. With the recognition of this belief come my first steps in its practice: community, community, community. Learning to live in love and harmony is difficult. I can't even do it with myself. But I am finding that the more I try the more connected I feel to the people around me, and consequently to the one that created us all. I cannot hug God, help him find a job, ask him how his day is going, or make sure I do all my dishes in his house on my night of the week. However, there's a few folks in my life that I can love like that, in a real, tangible way. It is the way in which I feel God transposed his image of love and relationship in community onto us.

My new thoughts on community and relationships with those in my daily life extend themselves in a very natural way to create a foundation for my work in Tucson. While I came here to live on the crest of the Immigrants' Rights Movement, a wave that is apparently still a few miles from shore after the recent election of Jan Brewer, I have begun to realize that movements are based in the long term organization of communities. If I want to play a significant part in any kind of movement or fight for freedom, then I must first spend some time beneath the soil, establishing roots in my community and getting to know the environment in which I hope to grow. Furthermore, the Immigrants' Rights Movement is just one battle in a war against inequality and the oppression of the human spirit. I hope that the overarching theme and movement of my life is involved in the much broader promotion of love and unity amongst people of all backgrounds in a variety of different struggles and work.

Jacob Owens
San Antonio, TX

Sunday, October 3, 2010

¡Viva La Libertad!

The world holds us temporarily in bondage; we are all slaves. The commonality: freedom is a mentality, not the absence of physical oppression; it is a contagious, revolutionary state of mind. (Based on 1 Corinthians 7:21-25)

This posting is an intentional, much awaited, well-processed expression of observations and mental milestones that I have come across in my first month of work at the Southside Day Labor Center. Please forgive confusions of tenses. My schedule as of late has not been conducive to one-sitting writing sessions.

For the past month, as Spanish speakers say, I have risen myself at 5 am, showered, dressed, made coffee, fried eggs, and checked before groggily clambering atop my bike and making the 3 mile commute to the Center. The general pattern of my day goes like this: I bike into the parking lot where the day laborers gather to hear various styles of entertaining "good mornings". "Bwiiiiiiinnos Diyas Jacccoooobo!! (The best rendition of good morning one could hear)" or "Ey, Ey, es David Bisbal!" (The men think I favor this fellow. For the sake of humor, please follow this link). I ride up to the locked public facility shed/bathroom where all the equipment is kept and fidget with my 18 keys like a new janitor. I take out the bucket for the raffle and hand out the chairs, cones, and vests to the men. We set up by 6:30 when one of the men yells to the others, "La riiiifa, la riiiiiifa!" The raffle begins and the men jockey for position around the table while their numbers are called and their order is decided on the work list. After the list is made, the first four that were called from the raffle, those first on the list, put on vests. These vests are worn with the intent to keep order, to signify that only they may approach the trucks of incoming employers to negotiate employment. However, jobs are few. Varying from two to ten, pickings are slim every day. Therefore, most are desperate. The incoming truck of a "patrón" is usually met by a teeming gaggle of workers. At first I thought this looked like mayhem, which it is in many ways. But it's also a built business culture that is widely accepted by both parties. Haggling wages, skill bragging, and shoulder shoves are part of the game. The only real problem is that many "jump" the list, disregarding the voted upon system. After three days of observing practices at the center, I just decided to hop right into the fray with my clipboard in hand. I was determined to establish order and fairness. I expected some contact, but the waters were more gentle than they appeared, and the workers are, more than less, far too kind. They are happy to have someone that they know gently enforce the list in an unassuming manner. I now speak with each patrón, take their name, which job they need, and jot down their license tag number as they drive away. The vests from those who leave go to the next on the list and the day continues.

About two weeks in, I came in to work to find a Mexican flag and a fake metal seal of México hung above the center's gate. The men explained to me that September 16th was México's Independence Day. We celebrated. The men borrowed a grill from a man down the road, stuffed it full of wood, and burnt it down to the coals so that we could cook ten pounds of carne asada, a few pounds of chicken, and toast some La La's tortillas. We feasted like the boys in the Lord of the Flies, cranked up a local latino station, and sipped guanabanana juice in the shade. With the lamentable absence of dance partners, we resigned to talks of the history of México.

México's Independence Day is different than ours in a couple ways. Of course, fireworks still blast in every town south of the border and people and parades clog up city intersections, but the main differences in my eyes are indicative of cultural differences. Two are evident. One, the men explained to me that they do not plan El Día de la Independencia festivities. I heard nothing of Mexican delicacies and independence day celebrations as I sat with the men on tuesday, the day prior. However, on Wednesday it took only the idea of one fun-loving, patriotic fellow to spark the celebration of the whole group. The men explained to me that a good party requires spontaneity. Every day spent with these guys teaches me more about what being present in the moment is about. Celebrations are planned to enjoy life and one another, but that same enjoyment is only truly experienced in the moment. The second difference has to do with the event celebrated. Those that reside within the established boundaries of the U.S. celebrate the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Second Continental Congress. The day by which a committee of influential men such as Thomas Jefferson had drafted, presented, and corrected the declarative document. The American Revolution was in full swing, and the thirteen colonies banded together underneath the Declaration. The Mexican Day of Independence celebrates a very different time, a precise moment. It was 1810 and the oppression created by the colonial Spaniards and their mother country that was pulling the strings was heavy. 290 years after the first conquest of Hernán Cortés, marriage among the races had created a number of different blood-mixes, and consequently, a natural type of caste system. The people were stratisfied from the upper to lower classes by their separation from the blood line of Spain, which created an restless tension among the classes. Therefore, it is no surprise that the primary spark of the rebellion was Hidalgo, a member of the "second-rate" Criollo class. In the early morning of September 16th, he made a speech that is now reenacted in front of Mexico's capital every year (Here's this year's bicentennial celebration of the event, watch it around 2:50). Like President Calderón in the video, Hidalgo stood in front of his church and made the famous Grito del Dolores (Shout of Grievances). Slightly modified for the bicentennial celebration, Calderón says:

Long Live the Heroes that gave us our Fatherland!
Long Live Hidalgo!
Long Live Morelos!
Long Live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long Live Allende!
Long Live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long Live National Independence!
Long Live the Independence Bicentennial!
Long Live the Centennial of the Revolution!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!

Their freedom was realized before the ten year war even began. It was reclaimed the moment that they declared themselves free and adopted the mentality of freedom. The fight that followed was of natural consequence, but freedom was already achieved.

I favor this sense and definition of the concept. Don't get me wrong. I love my sparklers, star-spangled banners, and grill-outs. But should we be celebrating the moment we documented our independence on July 4th, 1776 or should we celebrate April 19th, 1775, the morning Paul Revere took the message of freedom by horseback to colonists from Charlestown to Concord? Because it was then, as men dressed themselves, gave their wives farewell kisses, and mounted their horses to join the fight and spread the word, that independence was decided. During that night, the oppression that weighed upon the colonies was met with resistance, a unifying and intoxicating truth that flowed from soul to mind to body.

Human beings collectively, not just citizens of the States, call this freedom. The struggle that comes afterwards and the methods that are used are issues that require peaceful discourse, but freedom's true moment of birth is a commonality, right? Let's not change the date of Independence Day to April 19th, but let us understand freedom and celebrate it together (maybe even a little more spontaneously).

I am grateful that my new work place is an environment where this celebration can occur daily. My culture and skin superficially separate me, and I will always be the "blanco, guero, gringo," or white boy to them. But we are all human and the basis of our relationship is a mutual interest in the rights and wellbeing of one other.

No charter of freedom will be worth looking at which does not ensure the same measure of freedom for the minorities as for the majority. -Gandhi

May we know freedom,

Jacob Owens
Somewhere between Tucson and Phoenix, AZ

Friday, September 10, 2010

No Bread in the Kingdom- A Night and Day in New Orleans

So my first day on the job at Southside Day Labor involved an unplanned flight to New Orleans for a National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) conference. I was told to pack a bag, because one of the day laborers (jornaleros) that was supposed to attend had been MIA for a week. He didn't show. So I grabbed my daypack and took the flight from Tucson to New Orleans with my new boss Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian, and jornalero and new friend David. Six hours and three time zones later (AZ doesn't do Daylight Savings), we arrived in New Orleans to get a jet-lagged night's sleep before a full day of conference meetings, panels, and presentations. I love spontaneity, travel, and passionate groups gathered around a central cause, but I felt a little overwhelmed. I came with the expectation that members of NDLON would be meeting to discuss "how-to"s, best industry practices, and stories of success that exemplified the efforts of the network. However, day labor organizations are only the platforms in this group of activists; they are the short term fixes that provide immigrants with the means to support themselves while more long term plans are formulated. These long term, big picture plans seek to turn the tide away from a U.S. majority mentality of ignorance, to the creation of a national awareness of immigrant realities and attrocities. Conversations today centered on peaceful activism, civil disobedience, and stances that refused to let immigrants experience helplessness.

So when I say that I was overwhelmed, I mean that my narrow-minded, noble desire to help my new jornalero friends by finding out the best day labor marketing strategies was violently placed into a new perspective. I need not work solely to help supply the jornaleros with "bread alone". The true goal, the solution, is so much bigger. The individuals that surrounded me today were leaders attempting to catalyze a movement. They cited Martin Luther King Jr. and other influential leaders like pastors citing the Gospels: "Truth crushed to the ground will rise again."

I'm honored to be present and I vow to be a part. When I return to Tucson, I'm going to get back to contacting local construction and business alliances to attract employers, but I will now have the larger, burning picture of a movement in mind, one that spans the frontline states and is growing through the grassroots of others continually. When these issues of immigration finally do boil to the surface, and marches, civil acts of disobedience, and exposed hatred become commonplace, the faces I have seen today will be the ones pleading, chanting, and protesting through televisions screens across the nation. I don't know yet if this course of action is my part, but I do know that I am a part and that you can be too. Support the movement at or support a YAV here in Tucson (Call me 828-231-5386). The kingdom is everywhere. The kingdom is here.

"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." -Matthew 4:4

"And he said to them, 'I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.'" -Mark 9:1

Time for some gumbo and with luck a little jazz,

Jacob Owens
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 9th, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Liberation Bound

"If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
--Lila Watson

"It is for freedom, that Christ has set us free..."
--Paul (Galations 5:1)

There are two things that I see each and every time I look at the face of any human being:

1) Life: Eyes blink. Facial muscles contort, contract, and relax. Grins widen or tears fall. In the face of any human being, animation shows us life.

2) Imprisonment: Wrinkles show signs of aging. Dark rings under the eyes show signs of fatigue. When a young vibrant child falls off their bike, their eyes wring out tears that seem to convey the message that something is awry and that we were not made for this world in its current state.

Our faces link us together. They are the universal human commonality. In them we see the dichotomy into which we were born: life imprisoned. We attempt to protect ourselves from this reality with every conceivable measure of comfort, security, and use of resources. However, the question that I offer is can it be escaped? Can we ignore the suffering of others, individually grab our bootstraps, yank them to the heavens and expect to fly and save ourselves? I think not. Since we are all in this together, we must face what afflicts us together, understanding that it cannot be eradicated from all if it remains in even one.

I signed up to be a Young Adult Volunteer in Tucson, Arizona because I have made the choice to live in the spirit of freedom. I will not entertain the idea that we as citizens of the United States are entitled by God to the resources we have. Nor will I live as if handouts and charity are the road to human harmony. Instead, I will expend my energy on enabling others to live freely outside of the system and ideological stronghold that coerces us into focusing on monetary wealth, capital gains, and heirarchies of power.

On the 8th I begin work at a day labor organization at Southside Presbyterian Church (known for John Fife and the Sanctuary Movement). My objectives pertain to enabling workers (documented or undocumented) to provide for themselves and their families. However, my dream is to hone the strengths of able men, reunite families, and help forge a fraternity of freedom. As I periodically write on this page, I invite those that feel a link to the human condition to experience what is happening on this border with me. I hereby promise to write in the spirit of truth, always making an attempt to preface my personal thoughts and feelings, so that we may observe and learn together objectively. Please, join me. Respond, disagree, and commiserate. Support me with what resources you can, especially your thoughts and prayers.

May we know freedom,

Jacob Owens
Tucson, Arizona
September 4th, 2010