Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) and I hope all had a great Holiday season. I would like to again thank everyone who have generously supported me, the YAV Tucson Borderlands program and Frontera de Cristo over my time on the border. One of the things I am most grateful for in this year is the wonderful community I have on the Douglas and Agua Prieta border. It has been such a blessing to meet so many wonderful people who make Douglas and Agua Prieta feel like home for me. Like many people I have come from far away to be on the border, but so many people have opened their lives to me, shown me hospitality and accepted me like family.
The month of December has been one of the busiest months for me as they have been filled with many posadas. For those who are not familiar with posadas it is a celebration in Mexico to remember the journey of Mary and Joseph who were forced to leave their home and could not find a place of shelter or refuge when they arrived to Bethlehem. It is a tradition when people open up their house and show hospitality to others just as Mary and Joseph were in need of hospitality during the birth of Jesus. Sharing this time with people on the border has been a very special experience and a great celebration of the blessing of community that I have on the border. However, it has also been a time that has really allowed me to reflect about how I show hospitality and acceptance to others, especially strangers, foreigners and immigrants like Mary and Joseph.
The struggle of Mary and Joseph with Jesus as immigrants has really impacted me this year because I find many similarities to the current immigration crisis on the border today to, especially when I am looking at and praying for crosses of immigrants who died in Cochise County and there are many people with the names of Maria and Jose (Maria and Jose mean Mary and Joseph in English). So while this Christmas season was a time to celebrate all the blessings I have, it was also a time to reflect on the tragedies of immigration I have confronted on the border.
Volunteering at the Migrant Resource Center along with my job of teaching English classes this year, I have meet many immigrants and learned about their lives and the pain they have suffered as immigrants. There are many ways people find themselves at the Migrant Resource Center, but for all the U.S./Mexico border is a cruel reality that separates families and prevents people from finding a safe haven and better opportunities. I don’t think I could describe an average immigrant at the Migrant Resource Center because they are all very unique individuals with special life stories, but I have found that many have an inner strength that allows them to laugh, smile and hope despite their pain, separation from family and uncertainty in their lives. Many times at the Migrant Resource Center there are many limitations in how much we can help migrants other than connecting them with the resources like shelter, food and locating family members. But, I have found volunteering at the Migrant Resource Center gives me an opportunity to listen to the stories and know the lives of immigrants.
One of the most painful things to see is immigrants talking about how they are separated from their children and families. One of my favorite people I meet was a young man about my age who was with a childhood friend from his hometown in the state of Puebla. As these two young adults were my age and loved to talk and laugh we quickly became friends. He immigrated from his hometown in Mexico to New York City when he was a teenager to look for better opportunities. There he started a new life (probably became the friendliest New Yorker in the city) and had a son. However, when I meet my friend he found himself in a very difficult situation as he had returned to Mexico for family reasons and now was separated from his two-year old son who was living with his sister. As he was a person of strong faith in God we had a conversation about our faith in God that showed me how much we were so similar and yet so different. As both young adults who share a Christian faith we talked about how God gives us strength and hope in life challenges and our desire to follow God’s will in our lives. However, the questions I ask about God’s will in my life are so different than the questions my friend was asking.
I have been blessed by God with a great family, childhood, many skills and talents and a great education. The question then for me has been how can I serve God and others and make positive changes in a broken world with my gifts, education and passions. It is a question I think many people ask, but a question not everyone has the privilege of pursuing. I feel my friend was also very smart and gifted, but his question about God’s will in his life makes me realize how this world and our societies can be so different and just unfair. As he had already tried and failed twice to cross the border, he was beginning to question God’s will in his life. Was it God’s will for him to try and cross the desert to be united with his son in New York City? Or was it to return to his home town, but at the cost of being far from his son without knowing when they would be reunited. Either option does not seem very ideal to me as I could see the sadness and pain in my friend’s eyes when he talked about being separated from his son. But, the fear and difficulty of crossing the border again for the unlikely chance that this time he could successfully cross to be united with his son was also becoming an unrealistic dream. Either way I don’t think a God that loves us deeply and united people like myself and my friend under the life of Jesus Christ has this purpose of division, death and inequality in mind for the U.S and Mexico border.
However, after living on this border in the communities of Douglas and Agua Prieta I think God has shown me a small taste of the beauty and love he has for this border. I was thinking about this when I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life over the mountains just west of Agua Prieta. The Sonora desert is a great example of the beauty and sacredness of God’s creation, but people and governments on both sides of the border have turned this beautiful creation into a nightmare and place of death for so many immigrants. I have also seen the beauty of when communities and people meet across cultures and countries united by God’s love, a border and care for their fellow human beings. However, like many places in this world this purpose and beauty can be distorted by drugs, lack of job opportunities, violence and poverty on the border. The good news is that God has always been present here on this border working in the lives of broken and flawed people whether they are from Mexico or United States. And he will always be present on this border and desert working with us to create and preserve the beauty and love he has for this border.