One of the biggest ways I have seen myself learning and growing here in Agua Prieta is through my faith and spirituality. As my spirituality changes and grows in little ways, I can feel my faith flourishing. I think I can attribute this to the simple fact that I have never felt God’s presence anywhere as strongly as I do around this border community. Everywhere I go, every person I meet, and in every experience they have shared with me, I have seen God’s work more clearly than ever before.
Changes in my spirituality have been gradual, but notable.
I pray with open hands.
“I used to think clenched fists would help me fight better, but now I know they make me weaker.” -Bob Goff, Love Does
I read the book Love Does by Bob Goff as I was discerning year of service options, and the chapter “Palms Up” struck me hard. It begins with this quote above, and the chapter talks about the calmness that keeping your palms facing up can bring. We do this a lot in yoga, too. When you relax muscles, you can relax your body, and hands are easy to clench when faced down. I’ve started to practice this when praying. Rather than keeping my hands intertwined, I’ve opened my palms outward, not only to relax myself, but also to invite the Holy Spirit in. In reality I started doing it to relax myself, but as I said the change in my spiritual practices has also brought about changes in faith. And now I feel that open palms and my “heart to heaven” (another yoga practice) has helped me to feel that not only is the Holy Spirit present with me, but invited inside.
I pray in conversation with God
People from TONS of different religious backgrounds have followed the call to come serve here at the US-Mexico border. I am Catholic, serving in a Presbyterian Ministry, living with a Mennonite, serving alongside a Unitarian Universalist, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscan Friars, and so many more. When I sit down for dinner I am used to praying “bless us oh Lord for these Thy gifts…” Now when I am asked to pray, though nervously so, I thank God for each life at the table, for the hands that prepared the food, and for so much more. Both prayers have the same meaning, but one I could (and probably do) recite in my sleep, while the other calls me to think in that moment what I am most grateful for and how I want to thank God for it in this specific day. The more often I am asked to pray for meetings, for reflections, for meals… the more comfortable I have become with talking to God as a friend- something I have long envied in others’ faith and have been striving to practice myself. (And now I do this in spanish which adds even more learning to it… wow)
My understanding of the bible is becoming something entirely new
I have never spent much time with the Bible. Part of the job here is to attend a weekly devotional, in which we participate in a bible study. From this, and other biblical reflections that I participate in with visiting delegation groups I have come to know the bible as a story of immigration. From the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament, someone is in transit- migrating for one reason or another. I’ve also learned that stories from 2 thousand years ago aren’t all that different from what is happening today. Within the pages are a call to unify divided nations. And especially in this season of Christmas I have drawn comparisons between the woman who is 8 months pregnant, fearing that she will be sent to wait in Ciudad Juarez after presenting for asylum, and Mary migrating at 8-9 months pregnant, and being denied room at the inn. I am re-learning these stories in today’s context as I meet people who embody message.
I wrote the majority of this post just before Christmas, but have been thinking about posting it and what changes it might need. And then this morning, I saw a post on facebook from the Vatican, in which the Pope is sharing a prayer intention for January 2020. “We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.” This was his prayer for this month, and is exactly what I see happening here at the US-Mexico Border. An environment that has helped me so much to learn and grow in my faith and so many other ways. A world that I too am praying for alongside Pope Francis.
I have been thinking about writing a blog post on a movie for a while now- first, it was Frozen 2 (something about vocational discernment and entering the unknown), then Little Women (Jo’s line in the attic about women being more than a face/ romance), heck, I even debated CATS (a movie everyone hates because they either don’t understand or are thinking too hard). You see, I have been “escaping” or at least attempting to escape through t.v. However tonight, I watched the pre-release of Party of Five on Freeform and I found what I need to blog about.
During my first week here, I had my first interaction with Margo Cowan. I was going to her truck to get files for the office and I was on a time crunch- no time for small talk but Margo insisted anyways. I think she could tell I was stressed and overwhelmed at the responsibilities I had been given. She asked me how things were going and how I felt and with tears in my eyes, I told her it was hard, that this is gut-wrenching work and I am not sure I am cut out for it. I don’t like the feeling of responsibility (possibly why I have procrastinated “joining the ‘REAL’ workforce” and have done two volunteer years), of having people’s lives depend on my decisions. She looked at me and sighed, and said that it would not always be like this- the pain and discomfort. She said that eventually, I would become immune to it and slowly but surely build up a wall. I looked at her like she was insane and said: “no way, this is meant to hurt, it will always hurt”. That was 4 months ago- four short months ago. I should have listened and believed the woman that has been doing this work for over 50 years.
This past week, I have been struggling with work. I have been frustrated that we did not have many days off for the holidays and that with so many co-workers out of town, I have been embracing a lot of new responsibilities that I cannot run away from (despite the effort in trying). I was mad at the systems- for giving other lawyers the holiday week off and cramming so many hearings into our pro-bono schedule. We had seven hearings the day after Christmas, the number is averaged normally to two or three a day. We have also had a few ‘emergencies’ take place at the office that have made for long hours instead of half days. I have been exhausted this week and the free time I have had has been spent sleeping or, as previously stated, binging t .v. I did not get to go on all the hikes or bike rides like I had planned to while being home alone.
At the beginning of the year, my stance on the matter was easy- families should not be ripped apart and all the anger I had was placed at ICE agents and the Judges for making horrible decisions. I have been told numerous times this year that the verdict depends 82% on how the judge feels one day- however, I am no longer sure I believe it. I have a book on my nightstand right now, The Line Becomes A River, it is about a border patrol agent’s experience. I haven’t been able to pick it up and read it yet- probably for the same reason, many won’t watch Party of Five or listen to me with full concentration when I discuss work. It is easier to hate a system, a PERSON, when you choose the facts you know and do not get both sides of a story. It is easier to shield yourself with walls, and build emotional borders and just look at the facts but, the facts change. We are currently living in a broken system that has not been updated and people, families are suffering from the lack of repair and growth to that system.
I cried during “Party of Five”, I cried watching it harder than I have cried in a long time- because my wall was broken. I realized what an idiot I have been groaning about going to work when, as Margo recently said in a holiday email, “our brothers and sisters in detention are facing a much harder inconvenience”. The Acosta family (from Party of Five) may be fictional- but their story is not. It may seem like their story is dramatized for the big screen and you may doubt the events but I can assure you that if anything, their story has been simplified. Margo is like one of many pro bono lawyers that the family first turns to- we have close to 600 ACTIVE cases right now that need her constant attention- at 70+ years old. Watching this family get ripped apart and hearing Val, a seventh graders, testimony on why she needs her mom and dad in her life, I instantly remembered the countless intakes I read every morning that discuss mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins, nieces/ nephews, children, and friends begging to get support for their loved ones. This year, I am supposed to be embracing “vulnerability” but mine is a joke compared to what families have to go through and experience just to get help.
We can’t be mad at each other, we can’t be mad at the Judges, the border patrol agents, the prosecutors and ICE agents for doing their job. We can’t be mad and call each other names and bicker over who is right. We have to change the system, be mad at the system, that has not been improved for 40 years. We have to educate and sensitize ourselves to the truths. We are not just fighting the border walls of steel and concertina wire, we have to break down the walls we have mentally built up that have allowed this to be “okay”.
This Christmas season has had a different meaning as I have had the opportunity to looked at it through the lens of the borderlands.
About a week before Christmas I had the opportunity to attend a bi-national posada. This posada took place on both sides of the border. Posadas are a Mexican tradition that focuses on the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay to give birth to baby Jesus. The bi-national posada paralleled the story of Mary and Joseph asking and being turned away from inns with those seeking asylum in the United States.
We moved through stations of the posada singing a call and response song in which people on the Mexico side asked those on the US if they could come over, to help support their children and keep them from violence. The US side had a response for each verse rejecting and not listening to the needs of our neighbors. The last station of the posada, those on the US side of the border crossed into Agua Prieta and met at the gate of the Migrant Resource center, where people who are seeking asylum and waiting on the Mexico side until they are at the top of the list to have their cases heard. At this point those of us who are mostly U.S citizens that crossed the border joined the Mexico citizen that live in the community of Agua Prieta, all of us at the gates of the migrant center ask the asylum seekers if we can come into the center to join them. Even though the U.S side rejected the Mexico side in the previous parts of the posada, the migrants gladly welcomed us in to join the party.
The next day I had the opportunity to attend a bible study in which we further discussed the story of Mary and Joseph. As I continue to live in the borderlands of this country in this time where immigration is one of our biggest issues dividing our nation, this story of Mary and Joseph being rejected and unwelcomed at the inn seems to resonate. Everyday people are coming to the United States looking for a place to safely care for their babies, their children, and a country that has more than enough, turns them away. Jesus was denied a place to stay and be born but still came and brought the world salvation.
I think that there is a generation and children being born each day that like Jesus are coming to help save our world, to help and teach us to love our neighbors once more, to bring equality and end oppression and racism. But right now there is a generation and children soon to be born that are being rejected, being treated as criminals, and dying in the desert, instead of being welcomed and celebrated as though they just maybe the children born to save this world.
This summer, one of the things I found myself doing with my younger brother was going to this local pizza place in Swannanoa where they had a foosball table and good pizza/subs/wings. Miles and I would sit down, decide what we wanted to eat which was usually sharing a Cuban sandwich, order, and then immediately go play foosball. We would play many games before our food came and after before heading back to our normal summer lives. I didn’t realize how important that time was with my brother until I was leaving NC and started missing him when I got to Arizona. It was a chance for us to just play, have a little friendly sibling competition. It was a time for me to just spend time with a great not-so-little brother and catch up with him.
When I arrived at The Inn for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was a foosball table. There were kids playing at the table. When families arrive here, often the first things the kids notice is the table/people playing foosball. Their eyes light up and they run over to the table immediately to join a game/start playing. The other day I watched a dad who arrived at The Inn half an hour earlier walk around while singing a lullaby to his infant who was falling asleep on his shoulder. As soon as the baby fell asleep and was placed on a bed, the dad ran over to the foosball table and joined a game with some older kids and another dad. A few minutes later, his wife came up and reminded him that he should go shower while the baby was sleeping. The dad reluctantly went to go shower.
Over the past few months here, I have seen how this table is a source of joy for so many people of all ages. Every day there are kids playing constantly for most of the day. Occasionally parents in the evenings will kick the kids “out” (away from the table) so that they can have an adult-only game. Usually, moms vs. dads is how that works out with the kids cheering around their parents. On the day I wrote this, December, 16th, two moms, a dad, and three kids were playing a game. Hearing the laughter, seeing the smiles, feeling the excitement in the room from other kids watching, was something very life-giving for my Monday.
For Christians, “the table” is a very important concept. We are referring to the communion table. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been taught that the table is open for everyone. The table extends past all boundaries and is a place for conversation, peace, fulfillment, and the joy of the love of God. At The Inn, I get to witness this table, a foosball table, welcoming people of all ages. When a six-year-old invites a four-year-old to play by pulling up a little chair for the smaller human to stand on so they can reach the handles, I see the table in a different context and setting.
Playing with Miles this Summer was an easy way to pause, breathe, reconnect with my brother, and just play. It provided me time to not think about my work schedule, moving across the country at the end of the summer, drama, or other stressors in my life. I could just be. Watching people of all ages play, laugh, cheer, and be together over this table at the Inn is truly special to see. It is always fascinating to see other forms of God’s table being extended. At the table, we receive nourishment in the form of bread and wine (or grape juice). At the foosball table, folks are nourished by finding joy in a hard place on their journeys.
On Saturday I was tasked with writing a story about myself and peace. But I was anything but peaceful so I wrote about that and upon reflection thought that it was worth sharing on here:
As I am writing this, I am sitting outside. The sky is a nice blue with few clouds. It was a warm day today, but is now getting cooler as the sun is going down. I had a giant spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough to help me start this blog. This all sounds peaceful, but I don’t feel at peace currently.
It has been a rough day. Last night, my bike was stolen while I was in the grocery store buying things for dinner with my housemates. I came outside after being gone for less than 20 minutes and my bike was gone. Only the front tire remained. That’s not very helpful. It was a long evening of stress and police reports.
Today, I was planning on accomplishing a lot, including writing a blog post, but that proved difficult. I am anything but peaceful right now, so how can I write about anything on the topic of peace?
I have been feeling lots of things throughout the day: anger, sadness, loss, hope, tiredness. But peace is so far from that list. Come to think of it, I don’t know precisely when I last felt fully at peace. There are peaceful moments where I can sit and talk with a friend, or drink some tea, or cook food, but I am rarely at peace fully.
Feeling at peace is hard for me right now because I want to constantly be doing something. I see brokenness in the world around me. A world where my bike was stolen. I assume the motivation in the theft was to sell it for a profit. I am also assuming that this is necessary because the capitalist world we live in has made it so that person cannot care for themselves well by other means. Even if those assumptions aren’t true in this case, they apply to many other situations so well.
There is so little peace to be seen in the world. There is so much pain for so many people. Peace is hard for me to find, but easy to dream about, so that is where I am starting. Dreaming of a world of peace and if I can dream it, then I can take steps to make that happen. Right?
That is what I am choosing to believe and I want a community to help me achieve it. So that maybe one day, even if it is generations from now, there can exist a world where we can all find peace inside us and around us. A world where bikes, food, land, people, or anything else won’t have to be stolen in order to survive.
Spanish has BY FAR been one of the biggest unexpected struggles I have faced since moving here to Tucson. Please allow me to expand on the fact that a week in Mexico did not help. I’m going to be frank in this blog post that my white privilege comes out a lot when I get frustrated over being monolingual. As a house, we have a goal to point out white supremacy when we see it, and I am expanding that right now to publicly admitting when I am wrong. There have been many times this year where I have felt just a pinch of what it must feel like to be a minority in a setting. However, even in those times that I think I understand, I am speaking on the stance of my privilege.
My job placement this year, primarily speaks Spanish. Our Monday meetings are in Spanish and everyone goes to great lengths trying to accommodate to me, but I hate the feeling that I am missing out on conversations and bonding moments. I get frustrated that I am missing out on so much due to not being able to be authentically open and be my normal talkative self in spaces. I also feel I am constantly letting down coworkers because answering the phone, calling clients, and even answering the door and doing basic office functions that I normally love to do, provide a struggle. Although I know basic phrases and with the help of a few coworkers am attempting to learn more, I get lost rather quickly as the conversation progresses.
In my second week in Tucson, I went out with coworkers to a sushi restaurant. The waiter spoke clearly to my coworkers in Spanish but not to me. He didn’t acknowledge me. When menus came around, one of my coworkers had trouble reading their options. As I leaned over to explain, I noticed my menu was in English and all the rest were in Spanish. I was being stereotyped. Correctly so, but still stereotyped.
A month in, I attempted to take a Spanish class at an intermediate level. I figured I took all four years in high school and a semester in college, I had a basic vocabulary and didn’t need to start from the beginning. Soon, however, I found I was mistaken. We were doing introductions around the room and were asked to give three things about ourselves. That was the only part of the class I understood. And luckily, I was the last to speak so all I had to do was copy my other two roommates that went before me. And luckily, although they were late, they made it. The end of the class didn’t go so well. We had to say something we learned from class today. Fortunately, I learned a lot from that class; unfortunately, I had no idea how to recite any of it in Spanish and this time we went counterclockwise around the room- I was first. I rushed out of the room after and apologized to the instructor that I didn’t feel I was ready for intermediate. I was STRUGGLING. I was also mad. I was mad at myself for not remembering, understanding, and being mono-lingual.
In Mexico this past month, I was presented with constant situations in which I was uncomfortable and frustrated with myself. Whether it be through buying things and talking with cashiers, asking questions of our tour guides, or even understanding firsthand the experiences and stories our guides, friends, and mentors were sharing. I wanted to be present but I was not ready to be vulnerable. I was learning from other’s vulnerability that week, that was enough right?
A few Mondays ago, I attended a meeting for my workplace. As soon as we got there, there was an announcement that there were translation devices (like walkie talkies) upfront for those that did not speak Spanish or English. Frustrated I turned to my coworker and in the echoed room stated, “this meeting is in English AND Spanish?” To which he (a native Spanish speaker) replied calmly, yes. I got my headset and wandered back to my seat and turned it on. The frustration grew when only two of the people spoke Spanish and the rest of the meeting was in English. It wasn’t until we went to approve proposals that I was put in my place. We were approving a proposal about the use of translators and equipment in event spaces, emails, and meetings. Everyone was confused at the request and organizations seemed to believe they were all doing well with translating and keeping lines of communication open for everyone. That’s when our personal translator (a bi-lingual woman who was translating the meeting in both languages through a walkie- talkie) spoke up and addressed that 3/4th of the room was bi-lingual. We could be having the whole meeting in Spanish and the same number that spoke English would need things translated like the current Spanish speakers were then. We as a culture assume and project that everyone knows English and if they don’t, they can follow along. We don’t think about the fact that it’s just as uncomfortable for Spanish speakers to struggle to understand- like it is frustrating for me to understand.
I was never more ashamed as I was in that meeting. As the translator was “pitching” why we should be doing better at accommodating to everyone, I had been agreeing and was frustrated that people weren’t understanding. Then, I realized just how many times I have been in the wrong this year and just how many times I have not given the same courtesy of “accommodation”. I have come to recognize (rather slowly) that through my frustrations, the person I am really mad at is myself. I am an independent person who is now limited by my language speaking abilities. I am mad at how it affects my social life and my work and its easier to get frustrated at others than myself and to admit that I am uncomfortable even trying to attempt speaking Spanish because it puts me in a vulnerable place. I thought I had the vulnerability component of being a YAV covered, I open up to more people than necessary and I share more than people need or want to know. Just as long as it is within my comfort zone of knowing what I am talking about. Just so long as it is in English.
“Thankful for the Desert”
Not DESSERT, but the desert. As we went around the circle and shared what we were thankful for, this answer floored me. Since being in Tucson, I have yet to have found the love and appeal of the desert. I miss grass, trees (that aren’t palm trees), and right now- I am missing the snow. I had an instant connection to the mountains and the nature in Asheville and that has yet to be my experience here. I wonder what people see in a place that looks so stricken of life. My roommates all agree that the desert plants and animals are a sign of resiliency- and of hope. I guess I do see that (and I do love the saguaros). But with resiliency comes pain and it has been hard to recognize the power and beauty amongst so much loss and death.
It was 2 pm on Thursday before I even thought of it being “Thanksgiving”. It was weird not being around family and friends this year and unlike last year, a lot of my coworkers were out of town or traveling so we did not have many offers to “join in” on the holidays. However, a past board member, Julie, invited us as her guests to a small intentional community gathering. She had ties with a community, called “Sitting Tree”, who we later realized had ties with leadership in the YAV program and many YAV alumni had been guests or residents there. We all felt a little weird going but we loaded up the 7-layer-dip and the popcorn balls and decided it was time to experience more of Tucson. It ended up being a lot of fun, we met a lot of people, and honestly, Sitting Tree was a lot like- post YAV living. A small community of people committed to raising their families together and sharing in community meals and hardships. It was nice seeing adults that are “past this gap year thing” still living connected with one another and not letting life “take over”.
Even more than Thursday however, I felt Saturday was my true Thanksgiving. By happenstance, I was asked last week if I would be going to this year’s “Tamalada” with my boss’s family. This morning, I found out that it has been an ongoing tradition since 1996 (twenty-three years/ my age!) that this family gets together the first weekend after Thanksgiving (depending on the football schedule and who is playing) to make Tamales. It was everything I remembered about the holidays in my own house. The women are all clucking and talking and sharing memories while the men watch football and are in the garage or cooking the meat. Though the heritage of the tradition was different, there were definite roles and stages to this all-day process of tamale making. At 9:30 AM my roommates and I were out the door and on our way to my boss’s family home to join other co-workers and their families. We were there till 5 pm. It was a blast of going through pictures, meeting families and friends, and hearing stories of tradition. We even celebrated to “good health and cheer” with some tequila shots together on our way out the door. I didn’t realize before arriving, how much it meant to have my roommates meet my coworkers and to be with my coworkers this season.
This Thanksgiving showed me that thankfulness and holiday cheer really isn’t about where you are but about who you are with. Even though I wasn’t with everyone I wanted to be with and I missed out on a few meaningful family gatherings at home, I still had a lot of fun and felt the spirit of the holidays in a new way. The desert landscape might not personally seem welcoming and warm all the time – but Tucson does have the prettiest sunsets and some family charm. I remain grateful for this holiday season full of new friends and traditions.
As a Tucson Borderland YAV at the beginning of the year I got to pick out my very own bike and helmet that has become my main mode of transportation around the city. This was perhaps one of the things I felt most hesitant about coming to Tucson, I have never really liked biking. I was uncomfortable feeling unbalanced as well as not feeling in control of the speed of my body. I got a pretty cool bike; we took a bike safety class, and I’ve been riding almost everyday since I got my bike. I feel much more comfortable, even confident on my bike. And I am actually loving biking! When we took our bike safety class we learned about the ABC Quick ✓, which a good bicyclist will do before each ride. ABC Quick ✓ stands for Air, Brakes, Chains (or cranks and cassette) Quick releases, and yay all checked, ready to ride! I’m going to go through a little different ABC Quick ✓ to give a little bit of a glimpse of my everyday with my beloved bike.
ABC Quick ✓
No Air in My Tires…
Every so often in the desert little goat-heads, love to get in my tires. I’ve fixed more than a handful of flat tires in the few months I’ve had biking as my main mode of transportation. Just last week I was looking at my tire and pulled out a goat-head and immediately heard a hissing sound come from my bike. Inside of bike tires are tubes that get pumped up with air, so when there’s a hole from whatever pokey thing I’ve ran over in the desert I remove the tube and put a patch to seal up the hole. The tube is good as new.
Sometimes the hole is hard to find, and one of the easiest ways to find the hole is with a bucket of water. First you fill the tube up with air and then submerge part of the tube and work your way around the tube until a stream of bubbles starts coming from the tube.
Flat tires will sometimes come at the most inconvenient times, especially when me and Laura are ready to head to work or partially through our uphill morning ride adding some extra effort for my legs.
However some of the fun moments in changing flat tires is sitting in the living room the night before an early morning ride, while my roommates sitting on our couches. Our bikes, including the many pesky flat tires is a big part of community life.
Though biking doesn’t give most my muscles a rest, it gives my brain a break. Growing up as an athlete being able to be active has always been a space for me to process or just get completely out of my head. Biking after a long day of work gives me time to decompress, listen to music, and talk to my housemate Laura.
Recently we had a week of border delegations, which was a very powerful and emotional week that I hope to blog about when I can find the words to explain the experience. We were in Agua Prieta for half a week and then returned to Tucson to continue learning about different organizations that are doing work with the border and immigration. I was so excited to be back with my bike.
Especially on some of the most emotionally draining days being able to bike allows me to breathe, focus on the ground in front of me and changing gears and pedaling. It allows me to feel like me time to look around at the mountains and the sunrise or sunset. It allows me to focus solely on my physical body, what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing, the air that I feel rushing against my skin. It allows me for a small amount of time not feel overwhelmed by my emotions
A very big part of my YAV year is my site placement, CHRPA, also know as Community Home Repair. Like all of my housemates commuting by bike is a part of our everyday workdays. However, my housemate Laura and I have the longest commute in the house. We bike 9 miles each way.
Our first couple of months work started work at 6, so we can climb on top of roofs and work on coolers during the cooler part of the hot summer days. Our 9 mile bike ride in the morning is mostly uphill and started out being about an hour and a half, as we got faster and began to know our way better our ride is a little bit under an hour. Somedays on the trails we see a few of our coworkers, who are a little bit faster riders than us, pass us. Once we get to work our bikes get hung about on a bike hooks enough for the many biking workers at CHRPA.
Many of my coworkers have been able to give me advice about biking in the cold, how to avoid knee pain, and many different fun bike trails.
Quirky bike things
Each of my housemates have our own bikes, we got to pick out ourselves. Mine has a green basket that comes in handy for holding my lock, water bottle and a bag.
I’m convinced mine and Laura’s bikes are best friends, after all they spend all day together.
Tucson has a bike repair shop called BICAS that recycles bikes and bike parts as much as possible. Whether it’s reusing bike parts for another bike or in art pieces. They have pros that will help people learn how to use the tools to fix and do maintenance to their bike.
And Check! I’m ready to keep riding!
All these different parts of biking have been a big part of my YAV experience. I’ve found a new activity I really enjoy, and it has also brought me together with community, that shares similar experiences of the many joys and some of the annoying parts of biking.
“¿Estará mi hermana allí?” I was in the car driving a mom and her daughter from another shelter to The Inn. “¡Sí! Tu hermana, y hermano, tu otra hermana y todos sus hijos” I responded looking back to see the mother propping up her sleeping toddler’s head. For the past three days, we had been trying to piece together this family of four siblings traveling with their children. This sister and her child was the last piece to the familial puzzle. We knew that the mother was set to be processed by and released from I.C.E. today, and even though the director of The Inn texted an I.C.E. agent and asked for her to be sent to us instead of the other shelter that did not have the rest of her family, that didn’t happen.
As we pulled up, the brother and a sister along with a three-year-old nephew were waiting at the top of the steps for their sister and niece. The mom’s eyes lit up as she saw familiar faces. She gently started moving as to not wake her daughter as she prepared to get out of the car. I got out of the car and opened the back seat door so the uncle and aunt could get their niece out before proceeding to open the trunk to help with bags. The little girl was still asleep as her aunt picked her up and placed her on her shoulder, but then her eyes bolted open and she noticed who was holding her and she started to give her aunt a big hug. The mom walked around the car and immediately started crying with her brother as they wrapped themselves in a hug.
We all started going downstairs where the other sister, the sister-in-law, and all the nieces and nephews in this family came up to greet their family. After many days, this family was finally all together and they could be on their way to their family further in the U.S. This had been a long journey with a lot of miscommunication and disappointment. It was wonderful and so beautiful to watch this family be reunited but this usually doesn’t happen.
Something that has been difficult for me to grasp during my time at The Inn has been how we, The United States, defines family especially when it comes to migrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. Large, extended families like this one are often separated. From what I have seen at The Inn, family units with a mom, dad, and child(ren) are often released to Non-Governmental Organizations like The Inn, but when a pregnant woman and her husband are processed, they don’t count as a family. The father/husband is sent to detention and we will only receive the pregnant woman. Extended families usually aren’t released together even if they are going to the same sponsor in the U.S. That is why it took so many days to gather together this one family, and luckily none of the families were sent to a family detention center.
It was so heartwarming to get to see these siblings and cousins reunite with each other, but I recognize that they shouldn’t have been separated from each other in the first place. With Thanksgiving coming up next week, I can’t help but think about and mourn for all the families who won’t be together, specifically migrants and migrant families who are being separated from siblings, children, parents, etc. by the U.S. government while a lot of Americans will be celebrating with and giving thanks for family. This is upsetting to think about and I am challenging myself to sit in the anger and frustration over the separation of families, while also actively voicing how this is wrong. If I don’t say anything, I am continuing the cycle of normalizing something wrong and harmful.
On November 3 we were able to participate in the All Souls Procession: An annual Tucson event that, for almost 30 years, and is a beautiful space for creatively processing loss.
I was told that this is specifically a procession and not a parade because it is designed to be participated in rather than just observed.
The evening began with a celebration prior to the procession. The area where the procession was to begin was filled with food trucks, mariachi bands, and face painting. It was a joyful celebration.
When the procession began, we stood to the side of the road a watched the Urn pass by. This was a spherical container to collect written names of those who were being grieved. The Urn led the procession and was followed by groups and individuals showing their mourning in a variety of ways.
The woman who started this procession in 1990 did so as a way of publicly and artistically grieving the death of her father. This artistic foundation has continued and is evident throughout the event in the music, banners, and costumes.
Many of these costumes were black or white to represent grief. Some had skeletons on them and many people had sugar skull art on their faces. Lots of the costumes were also adorned with lights and bright colors.
Much like a parade, there were performers, bands, and church groups. It felt familiar, yet drastically different because every where I looked there was someone with stunning face paint of a sugar skull or a banner with images of someone who has died.
But that was beautiful in every way. The idea of being able to publicly grieve and be in community with thousands of people in their mourning process was an incredible experience.
After watching for a while, were walked the two mile route with everyone as we all grieved. Even the many people just like me who didn’t make a sign for those that we love that have died were grieving.
I had time during that procession to reflect on times where I have been grieving. To remember dead friends and family in an intentional way. And more importantly, in that moment, I was able to acknowledge the importance of that grieving space.
Grief isn’t a process to get through and then check off as being done. It is on-going. During this event, the community grieved together for loved ones that have died both recently and many years ago.
Other people were grieving for groups who have died or are victim to injustices of the world. For example, there was a group that was grieving the thousands of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert due to inhumane border policies. There were others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to acknowledge all of the black and brown people who have needlessly died.
As I think of the grieving process, I think of how in moments of grief, both years ago and more recently, I have felt the need to keep my feelings internalized and put on a happy face for everyone around me. I feel lots of cultural pressure always show only my best self and grief doesn’t easily fit into that picture.
However, this public space of grieving made room for so many emotions. Everyone could celebrate the lives of loved ones and be sad that those people weren’t here to share in our daily lives anymore. And as a community there was support for everyone in each of our places of grieving.
At the end of the processional route, everyone gathered at to see the lighting of the Urn, which was full of written names and objects remembering all those who were being mourned that night. It was a meaningful and symbolic way to end the procession but not put a camp on the grieving process. And the celebration continued after with more painting faces, eating, and music because even in grieving there is still room for love and celebration.