Originally Posted on Citizen Orange
When the hills of Los Angeles are burning
Palm trees are candles in the murder wind
So many lives are on the breeze
Even the stars are ill at ease
And Los Angeles is burning
It’s strange. Of all the recent happenings in Southern California and around the U.S., wildfire probably make the most sense.
While seven fires continue to tear through thousands of homes on the West Coast, Boston Red Sox fans are doing the “Papelbon Jig” on the helmets of riot police on the East Coast. That’s O.K. though, because a columnist in this morning’s Boston Metro writes “let it burn” of the California wildfires. Meanwhile, Governor Spitzer is back-pedaling on his heroic drivers’ license stance and Tom Tancredo is retiring (tip JTD). Compared to all of this, wildfire is sanity.
(Picture taken by Lisa Hornack / Boston Herald)
There’s three things I want to convey about the California wildfires: Fire knows no borders and neither do Mexican firefighters, forgotten migrants are the real victims of the wildfires, and anti-migrant hate has reared its head, yet again, in the form of a hurtful fake news article. I will, of course, finish the post with the best way to help out.
Bomberos Sin Fronteras
As some of the largest fires in California history began to blaze, 60 heroic Mexican firefighters crossed the border from Tijuana and Tecate to help out. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports:
“Firefighters are firefighters; it doesn’t matter if they’re Mexican or
American,” said Marco Antonio Sanchez Navarro, Director of Tijuana Fire and Civil Protection.
“The fires are taking a lot of homes of not only Americans but Mexicans who live in the US,” added Sanchez Navarro…
“The bomberos rock!” said Fire Engineer Wendi Miller of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
“They’re hard workers and they’re part of our family,” said Cal Fire captain Lori Windsor. “You can count on them.”
This while anti-migrant advocates regularly insult Mexico and clamor for a border wall.
I found this story through Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican, who has been providing some of the best coverage and analysis of the California wildfires. It’s a story that highlights the sort of cooperation and unity that we should be fostering across the globe, and it stands in stark contrast to the division and hate of anti-migrant advocates. Even more important the AFP story highlights the inequities associated with the collaboration between these firefighters (unlike the AP story).
“It’s a new experience,” said Luis Jimenez, 29, who 15 years ago began fighting fires in Tijuana as a 14-year-old trainee.
“They (the US firefighters) have a lot of equipment they can use —
water tanks and helicopters — so they don’t put their people on the
Mexican firefighters must do more with less equipment and often must do it faster than their US colleagues.
Since virtually all US homes and buildings must have insurance coverage
and also fire sprinklers, US firefighters can let structures burn
completely to keep a fire from spreading.
But it is less common in Mexico to have insured homes with fire sprinklers, especially wooden houses in poor city districts.
“We have to risk more because if a house in Mexico is burning, that may
be the only thing the family has,” said Jimenez, explaining that
Mexican firefighters must attack a blaze quickly to protect a building.
With no extra pay for their California firefighting work this past
week, Tijuana’s bomberos earn an annual salary of 13,200 dollars, less
than one-third of many US firefighters’ entry-level pay.
The difference is seen in their lodging here: American firefighters
arriving from outside San Diego County have been staying in hotels
while the Mexicans have been in tents near the inmate firefighter area.
The bomberos rest in sleeping bags, not on cots but tent floors. One of the Mexican fire trucks now in San Diego
actually was bought used from a US fire department — a warning at the
truck’s rear still states, in English, “Keep Back 300 Feet.”
Firefighter Adolfo Ibaceta came to Tijuana many years ago from his
native Chile, hoping to enter the US. But that dream did not happen so
he joined the Tijuana department. Now on American soil, Ibaceta said he
volunteered, “for the experience and the technology.”
These firefighters represent the inequity that is the root of all the problems associated with migration. It is lack of opportunity, not lack of security
that everyone should be focusing on. Give migrants the opportunity to stay in their own countries and they will do it gladly.
The Dead, the Unseen, and the Unheard
Seven people have died as a result of the wildfires. Four of the dead, of course, were migrants. Kirk Johnson and Jesse McKinley of the New York Times report that the reason for this out of control disaster is U.S. fire policy:
Mexico has smaller fires that burn out naturally…California has
giant ones because its longtime policies of fire suppression.
In essence, four migrants died from out of control fires that resulted because of the U.S. government’s policy of protecting wealthy California homes that are increasingly built in the danger zones. And I haven’t even gotten to the unseen.
New America Media has an excellent piece on a whole subset of migrants that are completely ignored in the context of the American Mirage. No one knows what is happening to them during these fires. These migrants live in “Majority World U.S.A.” and are suffering from poverty that even the poorest in the U.S. have trouble relating to.
It has been estimated that there are more than 1,600 agricultural
workers and day laborers living in the area in makeshift settlements,
according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless in San Diego. This
is probably a low estimate of those affected by the fires because it is
impossible to know exactly how many workers live this way. Described as
“rural homeless,” they scrape by without electricity, a water supply,
or sanitation systems in order to be close to the farms where they
Even worse is that some farmers didn’t allow some of these laborers to leave. This from the New York Times “Glare of the Fires Pulls Migrants from the Shadows”:
“There were Mercedeses and Jaguars pulling out, people evacuating, and
the migrants were still working,” said Enrique Morones, who takes food
and blankets to the immigrants’ camps. “It’s outrageous.”
Though seven have been counted dead, I wouldn’t be surprised if more dead migrants are added to that count. Most of the suffering and death, however, will probably never be counted. I don’t think most people even want to look.
The unheard are the migrants that contribute to U.S. society but don’t have a say. They are the voiceless. In this environment migrants are susceptible to a lot of harassment. According to reports from on the ground, there will be checkpoints for those returning from the fires. From, the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium:
Since Monday, October 22nd, SDIRC
members and allies have witnessed and received reports that immigrant
evacuees have been forced to work through the evacuations, been ejected
from and denied entrance to evacuation centers, been intimidated by law
enforcement and minutemen while attempting to access much needed relief
supplies and services, been threatened with immigration enforcement,
and in at least one instance been apprehended and deported.
In an incident that was reminiscent of Katrina, where black people were “looting” and white people were “finding” supplies, six migrants were arrested for “stealing relief supplies”, along with numerous other questionable actions.
Some agents were working alongside local police when six undocumented
immigrants were arrested Wednesday outside of Qualcomm Stadium, one of
the main fire relief sites.
Those arrested were reportedly seen stealing relief supplies consisting
of fold-up cots and bottles of water from Qualcomm. Police Sgt. Jesse
Cesena told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “they were stealing from
the people in need.” The police turned the immigrants over to Border
Ironically, Dr. Leo Estrada, professor of Urban Planning at UCLA,
believes the undocumented workers shouldn’t worry. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) won’t be conducting raids anytime soon, he
In fact, he predicts, immigrant workers will be needed in
reconstruction efforts after the fire. More than 410,000 acres of land
have burned, and clean-up efforts will be critical. “With more than
1000 homes being demolished,” he notes, “contractors will be looking to
immigrant labor forces to demolish, cart away, and rebuild houses.”
“We saw it New Orleans,” says Estrada. Undocumented immigrants from
Mexico and Central America were among the largest groups employed in
rebuilding the city after Hurricane Katrina.
“At the time of reconstruction, nobody bothered them. It will be
interesting to see,” says Estrada. “They will be bringing back a labor
force they have been trying to get rid of.”
All of this and I haven’t gotten to the even dastardly anti-migrant incident that I’d like to advertise:
Last weekend, people started to get a CNN news article in their inboxes bearing the title, “Separatists claim responsibility for California Wildfires”. The news article states that MEChA (Student Chicano Movement of Aztlan) claimed responsibility for starting the fires. One sentence of the news article that stood out to me was “no suspects have been identified, though they were probably brown.” It wasn’t until I came across this blog post that I noticed the URL was spelled cnnheadLIEnews. I will post the entire article below so as to record it.
The article is down now after heavy opposition I imagine but people were able to pick up that the URL was registered to.
Bleachboy Heavy Manufacturing
701 Arbor Creek Way
Nashville, TN 37217-5053
Boy, Bleach firstname.lastname@example.org
Nashville, TN 37217-5053
All of that information is bogus, of course, except for the email address and the phone number. The phone number goes straight to the voice mail box of Don Moore, and a quick google search of “Don Moore bboy” reveals some of what this characte
r has been up to, although I couldn’t find anything to suggest it was anything more than a prank.
Still, it is important to emphasize just how harmful this incident was. I can’t imagine how many people read the article and assumed it was real. MEChA is not a separatist organization, it is an “organization that seeks to promote Chicano unity and empowerment through education and political action”. Worst of all, it just taps into this climate of fear that keeps getting ratcheted up in the U.S. I continue to be surprised by anti-migrant hate.
I encourage people to use these forms to urge CNN to act swiftly and harshly against the person who set up this website using these forms:
Border Angels Unawares
There are a lot of worthy organizations in Southern California in need of assistance, but I recommend assisting one, Border Angels, which has been doing good work since 1986 keeping countless migrants from dying (unfortunately not enough). I’ve contacted the founder of the organization Enrique Morones and he sent me this quick note:
Thanks we desperately need funds, we are an all volunteer human rights organization…fires have devastated many and the migrant community has been greatly neglected…please send checks to BORDER ANGELS and write fire victims in memo thanks
P.O. Box 86598
San Diego, CA 92138
I will past the hoax article below:
Separatists claim responsibility for California Wildfires
ORANGE COUNTY, California (CNN) — Radical Hispanic separatist organization MEChA (“Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan”) is taking responsibility for setting the wildfires in California, confimed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Firefighter Luke Perisin sets a backfire Wednesday against the Santiago Fire in Live Oak Canyon, California.
California officials received a letter earlier today containing photographs of individuals holding Molotov cocktails, then throwing them into dry brush. The faces of the individuals appeared to have been digitally distorted.
Also included was a rambling manifesto, stating that the reason for the act of arson was that “Aztlán belongs to indigenous people, the Chicanas and Chicanos of Aztlán. We are sovereign and not subject to a foreign culture.”
Orange County Fire Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion told CNN that the pattern of wildfires definitely indicates arson.
“The reason we think it is [arson] is because we found multiple points of origin,” Concepcion said. “… Our investigators have confirmed that this is, in fact, arson.”
Concepcion said evidence indicated the arsonists wanted the fire to grow rapidly.
A $70,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible for setting the fire. No suspects have been identified, though they are probably brown.
The state established a toll-free arson tip line at 800-540-7085. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said anyone convicted of arson would be dealt with harshly.