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Running to Heal 

A fundraising walk commemorates the life of cancer victim Consuelo Aguilar

Mario Aguilar is amazed at everything his daughter, Consuelo Aguilar, was able to accomplish before she died in 2009 at the age of 26.

The Tucson High Magnet School graduate lived and breathed everything having to do with ethnic studies while she was in high school, where she took Mexican-American studies classes and started the Unity Festival, an annual event still run by students that celebrates all cultures on campus.

Inspired by her high school classes, Consuelo went on to study Mexican American studies at the UA, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees, doing her thesis on the treatment of illegal immigrants by the Border Patrol.

"She had such passion," Aguilar says about his daughter. "I remember her constantly going to workshops when she was in high school, and more in college. She was able to do so much in her life. We are so proud of her."

On Sunday, April 3, that passion and commitment will be honored at a run and walk commemorating her life, starting at 7:30 a.m. on the UA campus. Registration is $25, and all proceeds will go to a scholarship for undergraduate and graduate Mexican-American studies students.

Although it's been two years since Consuelo died of cancer, Aguilar says he and his wife, Artemisa, continue to hear from people who tell them how much their daughter helped them or meant to them.

"It's helped my family to know she helped so many people. That seems to be a common denominator, that she was always helping," Mario Aguilar says. "We didn't know until after her death how many people she helped. She filled the (San Agustin) Cathedral (at her funeral)."

The scholarship fund the Aguilars hope to see created would be for Latino/a students interested in going into Mexican-American studies.

"(Paying tuition) is one of the things she struggled with. It would be awesome as her parents to help someone else to keep her legacy alive. We want this scholarship to also bring hope to future students who have dreams, just as Consuelo once had her dream," Mario Aguilar says.

Those who support ethnic studies are eager to keep her memory alive, including Roberto "Dr. Cintli" Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the UA in Mexican-American studies and a journalist who writes a blog called Dr Cintli (drcintli.blogspot.com).

Rodriguez was arrested on May 12, 2010, with a dozen others, including several ethnic-studies students, at the state building in Tucson, where they protested the signing of HB 2281—which banned ethnic-studies classes in public schools—and then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne's visit to Tucson that same day.

While wading through the legislation, Rodriguez says he discovered relief through a series of barrio runs organized by Tucson's Calpolli Teoxicalli, a Nahua indigenous community. He also took part in a run between Tucson and Phoenix in 2009 with ethnic-studies students and supporters.

"... (A)bout 50 to 60 of us ran from Tucson to Phoenix in 115-degree heat. We did it in an incredibly hostile environment—not the desert, but the political climate—in defense of Ethnic Studies," Rodriguez wrote in an essay on his blog.

"That run, led by three ceremonial staffs, was powerful and transformative. One of the staffs is dedicated to Consuelo. The day we arrived at the capital, we won, though the sponsor of the anti-ethnic studies bill vowed to kill ethnic studies the following year."

Rodriguez told the Weekly that the runs helped him discover the spiritual and healing properties of running.

"When we are doing our stuff—protests, marches—it is very political. When we run, we don't have an opponent," Rodriguez says. "How many banquets and protests can you go to? Why do we run? We abhor injustice, but love humanity."

Calpolli Teoxicalli has organized 13 barrio runs each year since 2004. Teoxicalli's Chucho Ruiz says running creates an energy that's healing and positive.

"We have set neighborhoods we go through, predominately on the west and south sides of town," Ruiz says.

The runs are open to everyone who wants to join the Teoxicalli families, which includes residents in each barrio—from babies to elders, he says.

"They're not like marches or organized runs, but more like meditation," Ruiz says. " ... We do them for peace and dignity for our communities, to heal gangs, violence and addiction—all negative aspects of a community—and acknowledge the beauty we have. Now with these laws (SB 1070 and HB 2281), we run and create healing, pride and confidence."

Ruiz says the staff that Teoxicalli dedicated to Consuelo was taken to her bedside when she was in the hospital. It was also at her funeral, and then on the run from Tucson to Phoenix.

"It's definitely going to be part of this run," Ruiz says about the April 3 event. "It's Consuelo's staff."

Mario Aguilar thinks about what life would be like for his daughter if she'd survived her fight against cancer. He says she would have continued to be an outspoken supporter of ethnic studies. He also thinks she would have eventually gone to law school to become a civil-rights attorney.

"She could do anything. I am still amazed at everything she accomplished," Mario Aguilar says.

"One summer, she interned in Washington, D.C., and Raúl Grijalva invited a group of students to a party at the White House. She sent me a text that they were having drinks on the White House balcony. I think about that more today. I never got to the White House. In retrospect, I am so glad she did so much and that, yes, she even got to the White House balcony."

More by Mari Herreras

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