[News] Running Past PTSD (Or My Susto Profundo)

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 10 12:11:51 EST 2009


November 10, 2009

“What They Did to You is What They to do to us in Our Countries"

Running Past PTSD (Or My Susto Profundo)


November 7 marks 30 years since I won my first 
police brutality trial in East L.A. in 1979. 
After all these years, I have now come to 
understand the meaning of resilience. Equally 
important, I now have come to understand 
something that always eluded me; the knowledge 
that the attempt to silence me – was an act of political violence.

I’m not sure why this knowledge eluded me. 
Perhaps it was because all these years, people 
would always ask me if my skull had been cracked 
by Sheriff’s deputies during the 1970 protest 
against the war in East L.A. No, I would always 
reply, with a sense of guilt; it happened while 
covering cruising on Whittier Blvd. on the 
opening night of the movie Boulevard Nights.

It became political when while photographing the 
beating of a young Mexican man – the officers 
then turned on me. They then charged me with 
attempting to kill 4 officers – with my camera. 
All told, my life was threatened and I was 
subsequently arrested, detained or harassed some 60 times.

About 5 years ago, I was invited to be a part of 
a group of survivors of torture and political 
violence. It was the most powerful and healing 
thing I’ve ever done. And yet, I felt I didn’t 
belong because all the other members were from outside of the country.

“What they did to you is what they to do to us in 
our countries.” That was the consensus of the 
survivors, insisting that I did belong there. 
That perhaps is when I began to contextualize 
what happens in the inner city, barrios and 
reservations in this country:  political 
violence, corruption and lawlessness happens “out 
there,” in Third World countries, never here. 
That’s conventional wisdom. But it doesn’t 
explain why this nation operates the largest 
prison system in the world, filled primarily with 
people of color. It doesn’t explain why the vast 
majority of victims of law enforcement abuse are people of color.

Not coincidentally, I am celebrating Nov 7, as 
opposed to that earlier date in March, because 
that’s what I want to commemorate; my victory, not my near-death nor trauma.

This journey can be best appreciated by survivors 
of traumatic brain injury, and Post Trauamatic 
Stress Disorder, or as I refer to it: susto 
profundo. It can also be appreciated by those who 
have dedicated their lives to treating those like 
me – whether they come from Asia, Africa or East 
L.A. – or anywhere else where human beings are routinely dehumanized.

I could recount the chilling details of what 
happened to me 30 years ago, but what I have 
finally learned is that it is both unnecessary 
and harmful to the spirit; survivors of torture 
or political violence generally, should give 
political analysis, not excruciating details. 
Instead, I choose to offer a few stories. One has 
to do with how running prepared me for my 1986 
lawsuit. Every day I ran up and down hills in 
L.A. Each day I would run further so I could be 
stronger than my enemies. By the time my trial 
rolled around several months later, I had become 
invincible: nothing or no one could defeat me. 
With the courageous representation of my 
attorney, Antonio Rodriguez, we won. It was an 
unprecedented victory primarily because I am 
alive (He also represented me again six years 
later when we again triumphed in a lawsuit trial in 1986).

This running came back full circle this year when 
around 50 young people – including myself – ran 
from Tucson to Phoenix because legislators were 
threatening to eliminate the teaching of ethnic 
studies in Arizona. We were supported 
enthusiastically by our communities and joined by 
the Yoeme and Otham nations.  When we reached the 
state capitol, the legislators were amazed that 
we had run through the merciless desert in 115 
degree heat. The bill was dropped, though they 
promised to eliminate Raza Studies next year.

Afterwards, one of the runners commented: “We 
came to fight this bill, but in the end, we came 
to know ourselves
” That too is what happens when 
survivors fight to create a better humanity.

In all these years, one of the most rewarding 
things for me was helping to heal other survivors 
of political violence. It took place in 
Washington D.C. several years ago. I had written 
a column in which I described the healing of 
Sister Diana Ortiz – who had been tortured in 
Guatemala – with roses. While I read this column 
in public, my wife, with the assistance of 
children of survivors, not only placed those 
roses upon her body, but also, upon all those 
survivors who had come to urge the U.S. 
government to abolish torture. Later, we also 
gave the White House a spiritual limpia 
(cleansing) at 3 am, though little good that did.

A psychologist in the field of trauma, Bessle Van 
der Kert, made an observation several years ago; 
he noted that survivors heal when they find a 
greater passion for something other than their 
trauma. For me, this is my research on 
Centeotzintli or sacred maiz. It is a many-years 
story, but it involves the search for origins and 
migrations. At a certain point, I was told by 
elders from throughout the continent: “If you 
want to know who you are, follow the maiz.” 
That’s what I do now. In the process, I learned 
that the stories I had been looking for were 
right in my own home
 from my own parents who are 
86 and 81
 the stories they had told me when I 
was growing up that became the basis for my 
dissertation: Centeotzintli: Sacred maize – a 7,000-year ceremonial discourse.

To be beaten is dehumanizing. To be treated as a 
suspect population and to be told to go back to 
where you came from is violating. To be denied 
one’s human rights makes us less than human. To 
fight for one's rights is rehumanizing. To find 
one’s roots – one’s connections to that which is 
most sacred on this continent – to that which is 
many thousands of years old and part of one’s 
daily life – is affirming and it is to find one’s humanity.

Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the 
University of Arizona, can be reached at 
<mailto:XColumn at gmail.com>XColumn at gmail.com

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