Woman Who Sought Sanctuary Goes on Tour

September 15, 2010

Download Story
Flor does public speaking events around the country.

Flor Crisostomo came to the U.S. to support her children back in Mexico. She worked in a pallet factory for six years in Chicago's southwest side. But in 2006, she got swept up in a national roundup of undocumented immigrants by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials.

CRISOSTOMO: I didn't imagine that Flor would bring out that anger. It was a big change, it was a huge blow to my dignity as a woman and ultimately as a human being. I got up to struggle. I always say the U.S. government committed an error. First of all the arrest took me out of the darkness under which over twelve million undocumented people live. The arrest gave me a face, it gave me a voice and it made me really strong.

Crisostomo defied the deportation order.She lived above Adalberto United Methodist Church in a two bedroom apartment for nearly two years. Her days became routine; wake up, shower, eat, meet with guests. She created and sold traditional jewelry to provide a living. But last October, she decided it was time to leave the church.

CRISOSTOMO: My physical condition was changing. It had been almost two years. I needed to breathe fresh air or at least new air. And so I decided with the help of friends and family that it was time to fly. I had learned enough and it was time to start a new path.

Flor is touring the U.S., visiting immigrant farm workers and various cultural spaces. She's timed her most recent appearances around the bi-centennial of Mexican Independence Day this week. She is trying to raise awareness of issues facing indigenous people here as immigrants and in Mexico.

CRISOSTOMO: When I lived with my family in Oaxaca, my life was different and when I migrated to the city of Guerrero, my life changed completely because I was a little girl, chubby and dark-skinned, and I might have had boogers running down my nose. I didn't use shoes, I didn't use sandals. We used to sit on the floor with my mother to eat. We didn't use a table. We get to Guerrero, and it's a different life. 

She still remembers her first day at school.

CRISOSTOMO: I enter school and the first thing students tell me is why are you so ugly, you're so dark.  One thing comes out wrong, you say something stupid, or you make a funny gesture, immediately they tell you you're….  so Indian. It's something that has persisted for a long time. All the ugly, all the negative, all the things that come out bad are always related to Indians. These people have a total misunderstanding.

The same holds true here in the U.S. today. Crisostomo says indigenous people don't have a strong enough voice in the immigration debate.

CRISOSTOMO: Rarely is it considered that there are more than half a million indigenous people and that many of these indigenous people don't even speak Spanish. So when we're talking about new proposals, an immigration law or immigration reform, they have to defend themselves through a translator to communicate at least through Spanish. They speak Mixtec, Zapotec. There are different Nauhua tongues that are set aside from the debate. We want to contribute to this debate and representation overall.

She says she knows her tour is risky.

CRISOSTOMO: We know that my future in this country, my stay here is practically hanging on a thread. The moment they detect me or get a chance to arrest me, it's possible it will be jail or deportation.

Crisostomo hopes to stay as long as possible. If she's caught, Flor hopes instead of being detained she'll be deported. She says that way she will be with her children.

Voiced by Cate Cahan