The Returning of Freedom
For Elvira and Saul Arellano
by Mario Rocha
August 24, 2007
One year ago today, I walked out of the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail a free man. People continue to ask me to describe that moment and many times, I have unsuccessfully attempted.
What words exist that can capture what I felt as I took my first steps onto the sidewalk that quiet summer day and finally... finally... FINALLY received the chance to squeeze my entire family (which now included a mob of little people – my nephews and nieces) in one single embrace? "Milagroso" (miraculous) is one adjective that comes to mind. "Victorioso" (victorious) is another – my mother, Vicky, has her name rooted in it. If there is one symbol that epitomizes the great victory that I experienced that day, it was of my mother and me holding hands as we crossed the street. I reached for her hand as we made our way towards the car – afraid of not knowing where to go, who to follow, how to be . . . free.
Today, I imagine what young Saul Arellano must have felt as his mother Elvira sat in a prison cell awaiting deportation, as he reached for her hand in his day dreams and midnight reveries. One year after my release, I feel it is my civic responsibility and moral obligation to stand up for Elvira, for Saul, and for every other human being who is unjustly persecuted for simply being who they are – in Elvira's case, for being a mother.
I too have felt the pain of separation. I see image after image of Elvira and Saul, mother and child – but in many ways these photographs are of me and my mother; they are images of all the young people that I grew up with in juvenile hall (and eventually prison) and their mothers; they are images of all the children and their parents who bravely risk their lives in order to secure a better and brighter future for us on this side of the border. They are the images of my generation and our ancestors, who, by breaking an unjust and unnatural law crossed a man-made border, and actually tried to mend the huge and horrific gap between the haves and have-nots, the privileged and the poor.
On my one year anniversary of Freedom, I ask everyone I know to send Elvira and Saul their most positive and hopeful energy. As a former prisoner, I know it does make a difference. There was a time when I could feel the light of hope seep through the cracks of my cell, especially when I found myself in isolation and nearly everyone around turned against me, and some even wanted me dead. It was this transmission of love that enabled me to hold on and not lose my grip. It was this sense of hope on the outside that preserved my sanity on the inside
One year ago today, I stepped out into the world, reborn in a sense. Cocooned in the cage of injustice for ten and half years, from age 16 to 27, I emerged like the monarch butterflies in August, when they begin their southward journey to the place where the warrior spirits rest. The monarchs endure a two-month migration from August to October from the Rocky Colorado Mountains to the green sanctuaries of Michoacan– where Elvira Arellano was born, raised, and began her ongoing quest for freedom and justice. The People of this land belive the returning monarchs contain the souls of lost warriors. Far from lost, Elvira's warrior spirit continues in struggle. Perhaps the monarchs will conspire, this October, with those who lived in this land and nurtured it for centuries before the claws of imperialism stabbed the sacred soil and created a huge hole in the heart of humanity. Perhaps they will plot to reunite Saul and Elvira, the way my mother and I were reunited one year ago today.