By Arcenia Macedo Sixto
The moment I was able to understand as a child that I was considered an alien in the United States, my heart broke. I wondered why my three older siblings all held those important papers that made them special.
In 1999, my mother began her treacherous journey through disadvantaged and violent towns in Mexico, alone with a 2-year-old baby. She eventually had to connect with a coyote to cross the border. But the coyotes were untrustworthy and held her hostage while I was being smuggled through the border by a young couple who pretended to be my parents. I sat in a car seat unknowingly crossing the Arizona border. Upon arrival at the nearest airport where they met my dad and siblings, we were already home: my dad’s van.
Being houseless for six months living in that van was hell. I learned from my mother’s testimony of it. We spent early mornings and late afternoons at the park because being in our van all day was too depressing. We washed our sleepy faces with cold water from a bucket. We slept and daydreamed in the van as my dad hustled to maintain construction jobs.
When living in a van with three children became too treacherous, we moved between three different homeless shelters in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. The shelters provided warm food, actual beds, and hot showers. Eventually, my aunt allowed all six of us to stay in one room in her apartment in San Pablo. This story hurts because I remember as the years of unsteady housing in San Pablo dragged on, I would have lingering feelings of doom, though I hoped we would find a permanent home.
At last, we found a home in Richmond where we lived for 10 years. It had an abundant lemon tree in the backyard along with a chayote tree. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have the financial capacity to shelter my entire family comfortably.
But in 2014 my family and I were evicted, robbed of our family home. My mother’s inexperience with California renters’ rights left us without a home for a month and we had to stay at a relative’s home. I don’t blame her. I try to find closure from this wound of being evicted by stating the facts that surrounded the devastating event. It was out of my mother’s control as a single mother she didn’t understand English enough to advocate for herself and family. I was in high school with no comprehension of how to fight a corrupt system.
We eventually found an apartment in San Pablo and have yet to be houseless again. These terrifying struggles took emotional tolls on my family and me. Attempting to remain in the Bay Area continues to be a constant struggle because living in Richmond you must endure the Chevron Refinery plaguing your lungs and air. Finding housing in the East Bay has been difficult all my life.
Though I sometimes feel pushed out and overwhelmed with my experiences living in the Bay, I also feel grateful. The Bay has the potential to truly revolutionize the world. The Sogorea Te’ Land Trust is just one example. Urban Tilth has had an immense impact on a green and hopeful future for communities of Richmond. Indigenous and Black knowledge of survival, resistance, stewardship, decolonization, and rematriation are pervaded and amplified in the Bay Area and provoke wild thoughts of living in reciprocity and symbiosis with the land.
I envision homes in the so-called Berkeley Hills with no signs preventing others from picking fruit from fruit trees growing on affluent lawns. Black Lives Matter signs on tidy yards cared for by Brown hands must stand for something by action, not by performative alliance. Blake Garden in so-called Kensington needs to be returned to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. It is managed by UC Berkeley and it’s close to all Kensington residents that have the privilege to enter sacred land that is and has always been cared for by Native people. Additionally, the privacy of the garden promotes societal hierarchy beliefs that those with an abundance of money live in neighborhoods with lush protected gardens and that such said gardens are exclusive for those residents.
Living in harmony with the land would require the dismantling of the idea of private property. Such lands would need to be maintained by Indigenous people and should be accessible to all communities of people who will value and appreciate nature. Accessibility and walkability are in unity against oppression and colonization. City landscapes should be planned in accordance with the earth and humans, not cars and roads. We need equitable transportation that will mitigate climate change. Living in reciprocity with the land would require access to public spaces such as gardens, parks, cultural centers, and most importantly access to free health care. I envision a society where Richmond and San Pablo residents can have an abundance of gardens and trees in their neighborhoods. Where free bus and shuttle services to gardens, libraries, schools, and parks in the East Bay would be a guaranteed option fostering environmental sustainability.
Most importantly, I believe to live in symbiosis with the land we must abolish the police. We must destroy and evict Chevron and big corporations that are killing us and the land. The dependency on oil must be replaced with cycling and expansive sidewalks for people with disabilities to have space to get around. Creating safer spaces in nature for all of society can be achieved by ending the toxic masculinity that exists in the “outdoor industry” along with referring to nature as such. Education should be expanded to include food sovereignty, urban planning, financial advocacy, and decolonization. I believe in the radical idea to imagine a world where we renounce our oppression and examine our plight’s origins to comprehend why we are living in impoverished conditions.
I hope that the homelessness can eventually go away. I dream of the Bay Area thriving with California Native plants and an abundance of food grown locally meant to be shared with one another. I plant seeds in my mind and heart of resilience, change, and harmony. My ancestors were never “illegal” to this land. They managed to survive on stolen land under a colonizer regime. Now as a descendant of resilient Indigenous people my focus is my allegiance to the rematriation of Native land and the transformation of our relationship to the land.