(new location info for tomorrow at bottom)

Three years ago, Jessica Colotl was late to her political science class at Kennesaw State when a campus security officer rapped on her car window and told her she was blocking traffic.  He asked for her drivers’ license.

Jessica had been brought to the US by her parents when she was a child.  It was not until her high school friends started showing off their fresh driver’s licenses that Jessica realized what her mother meant when she said there is ningún registro de ellos en el sistema – no record of them in the system.

The security officer told Jessica to go the next day to the campus security office.  She did, and was arrested. After two days in Cobb County Jail and another five in Fulton, a deputy packed up a minivan with men and women under the jurisdiction of ICE, put them in shackles, and told them they were on their way to their “final destination.”  The ninety mile trip due west on back roads ended at Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama.

Jessica spent the next thirty days inside the detention center waiting to be deported. It was during this month that something extraordinary happened.

The ordinary thing at this point would have been to give up. Everyone knew that once someone who was undocumented got to  Etowah Detention, they were as good as gone. But Jessica had been part of a sorority at KSU, and her sorority sisters didn’t know that it was time to give up. They set up a Don’t Deport Jessica Colotl page on FB and started calling around for help. The sorority sisters turned out in force at a May 1 march. Here they are…

Jessica

On May 5, a guard called Jessica up to the front of the cellblock and told her, “You’re going home.”  To everyone’s surprise, the guard meant Atlanta, not Mexico.

Then the extraordinary got even more so. Jessica agreed to appear at a press conference and let the cameras get a good look at her. For many viewers of CNN, this was the first actual, self-proclaimed undocumented person they’d ever seen interviewed.  After all the talk about an invisible swarm of “illegals” taking jobs and “dangerous criminal aliens” lurking around, Jessica’s sweet, doe-like face upset people’s assumptions about illegal immigration.

For the first time since the 1800’s (when the local papers encouraged undocumented European immigrants to settle in north Georgia), the local news reported sympathetically about undocumented immigrants, emphasizing that Jessica was plenty American, but did not have a way to become an American citizen.

Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren retaliated by charging her with giving a false address when she had been booked, then insisted on an aggressive prosecution of the pissant charge.

Yesterday morning, the judge dismissed the criminal charges against Jessica.

But the deportation machinery is a big-‘un.  A few hours later, across the country in Arizona, a group of ICE agents burst into the Maria Arreola’s home and took her and her son away in handcuffs. What had changed between Jessica’s detention and Maria’s, though, is that in the three years since Jessica’s sorority sisters stepped out, thousands of undocumented youths have become politicized and gotten organized. One of those youths is Maria Arresola’s daughter, Erika Andiola. Taking a cue from DreamActivist’s ongoing work stopping deportations, Erika called for help to get her mother out of detention. The response was overwhelming – ICE received upwards of five thousand phone calls in three hours demanding the release of Erika’s mother and brother.

An hour ago, both Erika’s mother and brother were released.

When it comes to just about everything in America, but especially when it comes to fitness, being extraordinary is sold as an individual pursuit. Being extraordinary is all about setting yourself above the crowd: everyone else is ordinary, and you are extra. Doing 125,001 sit ups in 80 hours, for example. Extra indeed.

What Jessica’s story reminds us of, though, is that when it comes to the things that actually matter, being extraordinary is a group effort. Her sorority sisters, as a group, refused to believe that they should give up, and reached out to other groups for help. On a national level, the undocumented & unafraid movement has built its power by insisting that people lean on one another to find the courage to come out as undocumented, and then to fight collectively to win.

At queerfit, we believe that working out is a way of taking care of yourself. It’s a way to increase your individual health and happiness, and that’s really fantastic. But we also believe working out can be more than that. Just as it takes practice to do a good squat, it takes practice to do work as a group. If we need to run these three sandbags from here to there, what’s the best way for us to get that done? We’re practicing trivial tasks that  just may teach us some non-trivial things about ourselves.

This is why we’ve been doing more group-based workouts lately, and hope to move in that direction more intentionally this year. Come out tomorrow to try it out.  We’ll be meeting at an irregular location: 660 Irwin Street, near Studioplex. Look for us across the street on the sloping wall, where we’ll get our workout on by getting ourselves, each other, and heavy things up and over.  And up and over. And up and over. Wear gloves if you have tender hands.

See you tomorrow at 10:00, and keep an eye out next week for a super special announcement re: two new queerfit coaches.