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Victor Gaytan Duran visits a money transfer business on a Friday afternoon in north Houston. At a small counter inside he is about to send cash to Mexico.

“It’s worth it,” he said in Spanish. “My parents are always waiting for this little bit of money.”

Duran immigrated to the U.S. in 1993 and has a powerful reason for being here. As powerful as a volcano.

That volcano is Ajusco, just south of Mexico City in the district of Tlalpan. Its rocky terrain is the highest point near the city.

In the 1980s Duran and his family tried to settle in the Ajusco zone. At the time, his family and others were trying to occupy and live on the land there.

The anthropologist Miguel Díaz-Barriga of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley says of the Cerro del Ajusco conflict, “the objective was to pressure the state to provide land for the self-construction of housing.”

And, Duran said, one night at Ajusco in 1988, the government pushed back — on him.

“Two agents came out with their guns and said to me, ‘hey, we are looking for this guy; have you seen him?’”

The guy they were looking for was Duran. They said his name, but didn’t know what he looked like. They didn’t know they were talking to the man himself.

“I replied, ‘no, I don’t know him. He might be over there.’”

Duran decided he had to run.

The agents were granaderos or riot police, sent by the local government to remove illegal settlements in the Ajusco zone.

“That was the time when I felt the most danger,” Duran said. “Because those people we consider guardians of the law were carrying guns.”

One day, Duran said, the granaderos returned to remove the people and houses in the Ajusco zone.

“My sister said to me, ‘I don’t want them to benefit from my personal belongings.’”

Duran asked her, “What do you want to do?”

His sister said, “Burn down my own home.”

“Maybe that was the overwhelming feeling of the community,” Duran said, “who preferred seeing their house burned down instead of just losing it to the local government.”

A few years later, it wasn’t only the Cerro del Ajusco conflict that brought Duran from Mexico City to the U.S.

“My motive for coming into the United States was…not because of government persecution, but for the necessity of being able to have a place to live.”

For this reason, Duran entered the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

“When I got here into the U.S. I was a simple dishwasher,” he said.

Duran no longer calls himself an activist. He’s 51, he works as a cook and he sends money home to his aging parents. He’d like to be able to keep doing that.

He asks, if all undocumented immigrants like him are detained and deported, “who’s going to clean the dishes? Who’s going to cook? And who’s going to cut the grass?”

“If we have immigration reform, everyone will win,” Duran said. “Because we will be able to come out of the shadows.”

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