If Phoenix human rights activist Lydia Guzman has ever had a lazy day in her life, we haven't seen it. Guzman, who heads two vital immigrant rights organizations, Respect/Respeto and Somos America, is usually a blur of motion. You might hear her voice on Spanish-language radio, urging listeners to call Respect/Respeto about being racially profiled. Or you might get the seat next to her when she's at the Legislature keeping an eye on hateful, anti-immigrant bills being considered there. And if Arpaio's doing a raid of a local business, collaring mothers and fathers and other regular workers at candle-making factories or car washes, Guzman will be there, too.
You might catch her on the evening news, talking about the hunger strikers in Joe's jails or the MCSO's atrocity du jour. But you won't catch her for long. Part of her duties at Respect/Respeto is gathering "testimony" of civil rights abuses and racial profiling. So she spends a lot of time on the phone with moms weeping because one of their grown children has been nabbed by the MCSO for being in the country sans papers, or interviewing crying children who've lost their moms and dads in the same manner. Often, she ventures into the jails, like to Estrella, to visit with Hispanic women who allege injuries at the hands of Arpaio's detention officers.
Guzman also cries a lot. The tears flow when she sees others recounting the pain or abuse they've endured. As you can imagine, it's emotionally draining, less a job than a calling. Something she has to do. Ask her what she wants for her birthday, and she'll tell you, "Joe Arpaio indicted and the 287(g) program ended." She's a selfless individual. But, hey, she ain't no saint. She can cuss up a storm when she's pissed. But she never forgets to give you a bear hug when you bid her goodbye.
Earlier this year, Guzman was elected president of Somos America ("We Are America," in English), a patchwork quilt of local organizations that came together during the 2006 pro-immigrant marches and demonstrations. The organization's prime directive is "to mobilize for social justice and equal rights for immigrant communities in Arizona." In other words, Guzman has her hands full. Again. Here's hoping she remembers to take a vacay once in a blue moon. Because one thing's for certain in "Ari-bama": the suffering and injustice will be here when she returns.