Angel Cervantes did not mark his 23rd birthday with cake. Instead, he celebrated the occasion Tuesday with "birthday water."
"It's a birthday I won't ever forget," said Cervantes, one of five college students in their 10th day of a hunger strike at UC Irvine in which they consume only liquids.
The five students, who vow not to break their fast until affirmative action programs in the University of California system are restored and expanded, plan to ignore a deadline imposed by university officials to leave their tent encampment at the UC Irvine administration building by midnight tonight.
The hunger strike at the suburban campus is beginning to exact a physical toll on its five Latino participants. Two underwent tests and X-rays this week at a hospital for severe back pain--aggravated, they say, by the fast and sleeping on mattresses on cold concrete. Another striker with a heart murmur, who is complaining of chest pain, is scheduled to have an electrocardiogram today.
And all five say they exhibit the symptoms associated with self-starvation--headaches, stomach pains, declining blood pressure and heart rate and extreme fatigue. The body's major organs begin to fail after 30 to 50 days without food, according to medical experts.
"My mother doesn't like this. It scares her," said UC Irvine student and hunger striker Cesar Cruz, who uses a wheelchair to go to the restroom because of what he says is weakness from fasting. "But she believes in our cause."
Before beginning the fast, the students signed an agreement with UC Irvine officials to end the strike after 10 days. But with no official response from the UC governing board about their demands--which go beyond affirmative action to include a substantial reduction in student fee hikes--the strikers say they won't stop now.
"The only way to get us out of here is to have us arrested," said Cervantes, a graduate student at Claremont College who joined the protest as a gesture of solidarity. "A hunger strike has no limits."
UC Irvine officials have remained tight-lipped about whether they intend to enforce the deadline.
"I don't think anyone has made a firm decision yet as to what will be done," said Richard Elbaum, the university's director of communications.
The hunger strike was sparked by the UC regents' decision in July to roll back affirmative action programs in the 162,000-student system. That vote prompted walkouts and protests by several thousand students at UC campuses throughout the state earlier this month.
In expectation of a showdown with UC Irvine officials, students from UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara are expected to join the hunger strikers in a rally at Irvine today, say the hunger strikers. And the strikers are calling for a camp-out at all UC campuses.