Like most people in the United States, I was heartbroken when I learned about the slaying of nine members of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I was overwhelmed by this event, especially due to it's significance within a history of violence against Black churches and Black people. Living on the border, I have begun to fully realize, for the first time, the ways in which our society consistently marginalizes and abuses people of color. On the border, this racism is embodied in unjust immigration policies, racial profiling, and the death, detainment, and deportation of mainly Latino migrants. On the border and in our nation, this racism is embodied in the death and incarceration of countless young Black men, hate crimes, and unequal access to education, job opportunities, and healthcare for people of color. Recently, these injustices have felt almost unbearable for me. As a privileged White woman, I am not as aware of these inequities because I do not have to face them everyday. I merely wake up to these injustices, ever time there is a large national events.
As an educated college student, I naively thought I was knowledgable about these issues as I had learned about institutionalized racism, slavery, and various forms of oppression in classes. But it is very different when you are surrounded and immersed by issues of race. These issues affect you differently when your friend tells to you about leaving a job because they were racist towards her. These issues cut more deeply when you tell someone your roommate doesn't like hiking and they assume it's because she's Black. You start to see patterns when your friend is denied a driver's license and a college education because of his immigration status. It startles you when you realize you haven't had to learn about or protest this because you are White. Our society usually caters to you with you having to do anything.
Amidst these daunting, depressing thoughts and realizations, I have found strength in my YAV community, my church, and the Tucson activist circles. The Sunday after the Charleston shooting, my pastor, Rev. Bart Smith of St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, compared the gigantic monster of racism to Goliath from the story of David and Goliath. We are David and we must be brave, patient, and purposeful as we throw little stones at the beast's head. As Bart held up a small river rock, he reminded us that the monster of racism is not only external, it also resides in the deep, dark cavities of our heart. We must work to cleanse ourselves of our own prejudices as well as working in community.
Recently, I listened to President Obama's eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the pastors of Emanuel A.M.E. Church. It gave me much hope, clarity, and peace. I strongly recommend listening to his wise words. I'd like to reflect of some of things he said.
"Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church. As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”
I deeply respect the AME Church for the longstanding commitment to fight for justice for all people. During my YAV year, I have had the opportunity to worship in churches like Southside Presbyterian Church and St. Mark's Presbyterian Church who try to live out the gospel every day of the week, not just on Sunday morning. They live out their faith by providing sanctuary for migrants, putting water out in the desert, visiting migrants in detention, and advocating for humane policies.
"We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress, an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.
God has different ideas.
He didn’t know he was being used by God.
Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.
The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. [Video below] He couldn’t imagine that."
When I learned about the shooting, the first thing I thought was, "Why? Why would God let this happen this to His people?" Although I do not believe that Dylan Roof's actions were part of a divine plan or necessary for people to come together, I do believe God works in mysterious ways. I was blown away when I heard the victim's families forgiving Roof, just days after he had murdered their loved ones. God's grace and love are boundless and impossible to predict or define.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.... By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.
This has helped me understand my name, Grace, as an action. We can embody God's grace through racial reconciliation, by loving our neighbors, advocating for our neighbors and fighting for a Kingdom-like world alongside our neighbors.
Below are some questions I am still pondering. If you have any ideas or answers please let me know.
Why would God create a world where such horrible things happen?
How can we forgive people while still holding them accountable for their hurtful actions?
How can I, as an ally, express God's grace?
As I am almost about to end as an intern with Frontera de Cristo, and become a 7th grade science teacher this has made me reflect on my life here in the communities of Douglas and Agua Prieta. The truth is that I could not come up with a more beautiful life than I have here in these communities. The opportunity of working and living in such a unique and beautiful bi-national community with such loving people is a blessing everyday in my life that makes me laugh, smile, love and feel the pain of this world. I remember when I first came to the Douglas and Agua Prieta on a border delegation it was both exciting and scary. I think for most people in the U.S. when they come to visit us at Frontera de Cristo these are common feelings. I have found that this feeling of fear that we have of the border and Mexico is misunderstanding that is reflected by what we here from the media, U.S. government and politicians. And while there are problems with insecurity and violence on the border, U.S., Mexico and the world that has created an immigration and refugee crisis in this would, our reaction to these problems should not be fear. I think that is why when groups and people come to visit us at FDC they have taken the most important step and that is not letting fear prevent them from building understanding about issues.
In general, I think most people are curious to understand, learn and love people who live and look different from us, but at the same time we are also afraid of people and places that are different from us. I had to make the conscious choice to come to live on the border and not let fear rule over me. But, instead pursue my curiosity to learn and better understand the issues, people and life on this border. However, it has been the curiosity of people and kids I work with in Agua Prieta and Douglas to learn what it means to love me that is making me stay. I think this is what makes working with the children at DouglaPrieta Trabaja (DPT) so special for me is their curiosity to love and learn from other people. I know many of my students were afraid of me as a white American, but their curiosity to love and learn about other people always seems to win out in them. Because of their curiosity to come to English classes and spend time with me they have deeply blessed and taught me a lot about their culture, difficulties and how to love people. And while I can say from my perspective and their perspective it has not always been easy doing English classes at DPT, their curiosity enabled us to have the opportunity to learn and understand each other better. And my students at DPT have taught me that when we let the curiosity to learn and understand more about people rule over fear this allows us to enter relationships that overtime break down the walls of racism, discrimination and stereotypes that we hide in our hearts.
Unfortunately, I think in the U.S. fear is ruling over the curiosity to learn and better understand people who are different from us. We are continually being bombarded by politicians, media and religious leaders with messages that portray poor people, black and Latino males in ghettos, Muslims and immigrants as people we should be afraid of. For example, when we saw the large number of kids and teenagers from Central America fleeing their countries to the U.S., many politicians, the media and religious leaders used the propaganda of fear to prevent us from better understanding and knowing these children who were fleeing from gang violence, gang killings and extreme poverty. I think this is why we encounter in the scriptures the message of fearing God, because if we don’t fear God we let fear that comes from people blind us from truly seeking God’s kingdom being manifested through people of different races, cultures, religions and nationalities coming together to fight injustices, racism and suffering in the world. So as I depart from the students I have worked with at DPT I will take away from them the practice of being curious enough to learn what it means to better understand and love people across our differences and similarities.
Yesterday, I participated in a Father's Day march for family unity at Southside Presbyterian Church to demand an end to the separation of migrant families due to detention, deportation, and death in the desert. Before I came to Tucson, I did not understand the complex web of immigration policies that tear families apart. After living here for a year, I have heard countless testimonies of people who have been disconnected from their spouses, parents, and children. Many undocumented parents go to work every morning with the fear they may not return in the evening to see their children.
Due to laws like S.B. 1070, police are allowed ask the immigration status of anyone they pull over, arrest, or suspect to be here without papers. If someone cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally, the police call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Border Patrol to process the individual and take them to detention, prison for migrants. In detention, migrants are often abused as they wait behind bars for months, hoping for a court date or bond hearing. If they are lucky and get a bond, they must raise thousands of dollars, which most working class migrants, do not have. For more information, please read this Center for Immigrations Studies report on detention centers.
Most detained migrants do not get access to a lawyer, do not receive a bond, and are deported back to their home countries. There, they must decide whether to create a new life in a country that may be unfamiliar, dangerous, or without jobs, or to take the perilous journey across the desert to reunite with their family in the United States. Many parents hike through the Sonoran desert, risking their lives to be with their children again. In the last 15 years, at least 2,000 migrants have died attempting to crossing the Arizona border alone. For more information on migrants deaths in the desert visit Colibri.
Why do we separate families?
Every person who has died crossing the desert was someone's child.
Every person who has been racially profiled is someone's friend.
Every person who has been sent to detention is someone's mom, dad or supporter.
Every person who has been deported is someone's partner, lover, daddy, papi, mama, mommy, tio, tia, cousin, or sibling.
During the march, we gathered at a shrine for migrants who have passed away in the desert and read this beautiful prayer:
Father's Day Prayer
God our creator, daily we call upon you and remember you as our father who art in heaven. You have known the joy of watching your child grow, of witnessing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus develop as a family or prophets who endured and challenged the oppression of their government. You Father, journeyed with them through the darkness and the light, and in the darkest of moments when your own Son was apprehended, detained, and eventually murdered, you were there in the mercy and compassion of those who worked and continue to work tirelessly to keep alive his memory and message.
As we remember fathers and all those who have embodied such responsibility, we particularly pray for migrant fathers who journeyed thousands of miles with the dream of providing for their children, but who never reached their dream. Many of them remain in our deserts simply as bones clamoring to you and us all for justice. We remember these deceased migrants fathers, we pray for the livelihood of their children and family, and we ask that you continue to make of us instruments of life and not death.
We especially pray for all those crossing the desert as we speak, those dying of thirst, those who have lost their way in the wilderness, those who are enduring brutalities, those who are locked up and treated as though they were not human. We pray for these your people, your holy ones whom you continue to send and whom we continue to reject at the border. Bless them with perseverance, light their path, direct their way, shelter them from the burning heat, and comfort them in their despair. On this father's day, may we remember that we are all brothers and sisters to each other, that I am in fact my brother and my sister's keeper, that you are Father to us all, and that ultimately, we are all migrant families journeying home. May the courage of migrant fathers be also our courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Amen.
Alison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Church, ended the march with a great rallying cry to help us recommit ourselves to welcoming our neighbors and fighting with our migrant brothers and sisters for justice. I am thankful for the active community members of Tucson who come together, time and time again, to advocate for the just treatment of God's people.
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30
These sunny days in Tucson, I’ve been working at CHRPA (Community Home Repair Project of Arizona). It’s kind of similar to Habitat for Humanity, however, instead of building new homes, CHRPA staff and volunteers go into the homes of those who qualify as low-income, individuals with disabilities and those who are simply older and cannot get up on their roof in 100 °F weather (Heck! I have a hard enough time as a somewhat limber 23-year-old!) This is just a brief description. There is more at:http://www.chrpaz.org/
Today was in the 90s and 100s. IT IS HOT! When you step outside, you feel like you are entering a sauna. On a daily basis, we at CHRPA repair swamp coolers (an often cheaper alternative to Air Conditioning), rip out and reinstall toilets, roofs, bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks, water heaters, kitchen and bathroom floors, etc. The list is limitless!
Through my work at CHRPA, I have learned and been humbled to the max as I walk into people’s homes and they have holes in their ceilings and therefore, they cannot use that bedroom. I’ve been humbled as I have walked into countless homes and trailer homes and seen the home owners work alongside us to rebuild their homes…..(even as they are wearing a brace boot/cast to stabilize their broken/fractured/weak knee).
Many people have misconceptions about the people we assist. The reality: one of the women who sits in a wheelchair and who we helped one day said to me with tears streaming down her face, “I hate and don’t want to be a burden.”
I wanted to say something meaningful and full of wisdom like, “You are not a burden. I hope you see that this work gives me purpose and dive each day. We all must have time in our lives when we will take care of each other. I just hope there will be CHRPA staff and volunteers when I’m elderly.” Instead, I just said, “Oh! Don’t worry. You are not a burden!”
Honestly, I was a little baffled and without many words. I did not know exactly how to answer because I saw this same fear that I often have of “not wanting to be a burden.” I saw my reflection in her, in her tear-sodden eyes.
But please, let me take this “burden” which is no longer and make it an instrument of blessing. Once again, I was reminded again about how beloved I am. These words that this woman spoke echoed in my ears the whole afternoon.
This happened one year ago. June 1st, 2014….a day that will go down in infamy. Well, to me it will. For many other Facebook countless friends of mine, they will also have (or have had) a similar day. However, this is not the reality for millions upon billions more people around the world. On my news feed, I am not a minority. In the world’s population, I am a minority. I have been to college. It’s one of the things I admitted more feebly and timidly this past week when I was in Mexico teaching English. (I was subbing for the week while my fellow YAV, James was on the Migrant Trail walk. This is a 75-mile walk done in order to simulate – even the slightest bit – the trek that millions of migrants have taken across the Sonoran desert).
As I sat with my host father after dinner one night, he asked me what I had studied in college. I told him Adolescent Education and Adolescent English and that I was trying to decide this year and discern further if teaching is the career I wish to pursue. I told him that I had experienced how education seemed to be more respected in other countries besides America. Therefore – I also told him – it is not as respected and as a paid-well job in the United States as other jobs (i.e. optometrist, pediatrician, lawyer, etc). These are the complaints I have often heard from my teaching mentors and other family friends back home (New England society) and therefore, find myself repeating these same truths that I have found consistent with my own experience.
Next, my host father asked me how much I would make as a teacher in this new teaching job. (I am staying in Tucson after my YAV year and teaching at a local high school). I told him but I was afraid to admit a number that would be a little more than his wage. When he told me that he made $50 a week. My jaw dropped. “But you have this huge home!” I stated immediately, trying to find something to cover up my inaccurate, naive, and privileged comment about how teaching jobs don’t pay as well as other careers in the States. Well, this might be “true” in America but that would be “rolling in the dough” here in Mexico. Mi padre went on to explain more about how he had built this house and how he did all the foundation, cement, tiling, plumbing, roofing. All of it. Todo. My eyes kind of glazed over as I stayed fixated on his previous comment. But it didn’t even make sense. His house’s appearance did not match his income. How can someone who looks so happy and his house that seems to have so much come from an income that is so low? But that is the reality in Mexico, he told me.
Our conversation died down for the evening. I retreated to my departamento – the apartment off the side that the family rents out to bring in more income. They had let me stay in this whole room to myself. I felt selfish when I realized they could have rented it out this week to someone else other than me. I wish that they had so I would not be monopolizing the space. This reality check came after this conversation – when they moved the previous tenant’s furniture out of the room – so they could make space for me. I mean, that was not the only reason. She was moving out anyways. But they could have used that room. Instead, they wanted me to have it. Their hospitality was unreal. An American would never do that! I wish I was not occupying the room. I wish a paying tenant was there.
All this talk of recognizing one’s privilege – that is often found throughout the YAV year – has been summed up in two occasions:
1) My college graduation. See picture of myself and my three best friends above. Here is the Facebook status I wrote upon the 1st year anniversary of my college graduation:
2) A flashback to my high school opinion’s:
When I was in high school, I used to say to my family and friends, “I love airports! You see all sorts of people in airports! People from all walks of life!”
“Yes, you do,” my present self would reply. “However, you see ‘all sorts of people’ who can afford an airplane ticket of $250 and above. You see ‘all sorts of people’ who can all afford expensive designer or at least luggage that looks presentable. There are not going to be people here who are food-insecure. There are not going to be people here who are homeless. Yet surprisingly, they may be a man who is an orphan because his two parents died in the war.”
I am privileged. I am white. I am from a middle/upper-class family who has access to higher education. Of course I’m going to be walking through the airport….However, millions of people do not even know what the inside of a plane or a lecture hall look like.
I guess there are a few things my professors left out of the syllabus…