Antonia Alvarez needed a hand getting to her feet on Monday morning.
She was sitting in a small tent by the Viking statue outside the Minnesota Capitol, the sun bearing down out of a clear sky. She hadn’t eaten since April 23.
This was her final day of a 15-day fast for immigrants’ rights. Amid her small trove of equipment under the tent -- next to a case of water and a few jugs of Pedialyte -- was a white smock she wanted to put on before she was photographed. The lettering on the front read, “We are People of God Not Criminals.”
Alvarez, who lives in the Silver Lake mobile home park in New Brighton, is co-founder of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a faith-based nonprofit created to help change the immigration system.
All of this is extremely personal to her. She is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Three of her children rely on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to stay in the country. Her youngest, 13, is a citizen, but worries about her mother.
“I love you, and I don’t want to see the day when they come for me and nobody’s there to help me,” Alvarez tells her.
Her platform for the fast is varied. She wants undocumented immigrants to be able to have a Minnesota driver’s licenses, as they do in a handful of other states, so they can have some form of identification.
She also wants them to have safe and affordable housing so they don’t end up where many did after the only mobile home in St. Anthony Park closed and the affordable apartments pitched to replace it were cut from the Lowry Grove project. They’ve been campaigning for those lost homes to be replaced ever since, often relying on friends and families for a place to live.
She wants more money for schools and less money for prisons, so fewer immigrants end up in jail and miss out on the opportunities education would afford them. She wants the Dream Act, so families like hers don’t have to be worried about parents and kids being separated by detention or deportation. She wants “dignity.”
She thinks Minnesota, a place that fought against slavery and welcomed Hmong refugees, a place that cares about people, can find it in itself to give it to them.
“I love Minnesota,” she says.
The fast has been hard, she says. Yesterday, her blood pressure had been through the floor, and there was concern that she’d have to go to the hospital. But after drinking more water, she felt better. Or as “better” as one ever feels after not eating for two weeks.
This is not her first fast. A year ago, she’d gone to Washington, D.C., to protest the discontinuation of the DACA program. That involved a 12-day fast. When she was handed food at the end, she only managed a few spoonfuls.
There are seemingly easier ways to get a legislator’s attention -- letters, phone calls, marches. But it’s not as easy for Alvarez, a person without a vote, to change a lawmaker’s mind. So she asks for help.
Hundreds of people have stopped by her tent to see what her campaign was about. Some took fliers and marched them into the Capitol.
“I’m out here, but you can go inside,” she says. “Most people going inside are citizens. They’re constituents. We don’t have representation right now.”
A few folks from the Capitol stopped by her tent -- Reps. Fue Lee, Karen Clark, and Frank Hornstein, Senator Patricia Torres Ray -- all Democrats. But that’s not enough, she says. There are hundreds of employees in the building.
“Only these people are not on the same page,” she says, pointing over her shoulder at the Capitol. “They don’t want to listen. But the community understands.”
Alvarez was looking forward to breaking her fast after 4 p.m. with a few spoonfuls of vegetable soup. Two hours later, she had an open house to go to, where she and others would review plans for an affordable housing complex. In her book, that’s a victory.