Hi everybody! The following are some thoughts I shared at First Presbyterian Church in Silver City recently, where Melissa, Jake and I were invited to speak…..
Spanish version to follow.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for inviting us here to Faith this morning. Whenever Jake, Melissa and myself meet new Presbyterian folks at different churches or YAV-related events, they usually want to know more about us, so let me tell you a little bit about myself and how I ended up in Agua Prieta, Mexico. I’m from Grosse Pointe Woods, MI, a suburb of the Detroit area, and my parents still live there. I was raised Catholic, and attended a well-known Jesuit high school within the city of Detroit. Afterwards I went to Kalamazoo College, where I studied foreign languages with a passion. (And yes, by the way, there really is a Kalamazoo! People sometimes wonder.) Because I had been to Honduras for a brief, 8-day mission trip while in high school, I knew I wanted to spend some time after college living in a Spanish-speaking country, working in some sort of social-justice related context. After graduating from Kalamazoo, I stayed at home for a couple of years, and then eventually found out about the Young Adult Volunteer program from a friend of mine.
I applied, and was excited about the prospect of having another cross-cultural service experience, this time for a full year. But I don’t think it ever occurred to me just how different this would be from my time in Honduras. I never considered that my entire time spent in Honduras with friends, classmates and teachers I already knew fell within what some call the “honeymoon phase” of life in another culture. Because it was so short, and because all the details of our time there were so carefully planned, it was like a vacation for us! And looking back, I think I was simply too young to appreciate just how difficult life could be for those who experience poverty in the Third World. But this experience has been altogether different for me; it’s put me face-to-face with people who are nowhere near home, fleeing either violence or desperate economic circumstances
Serving here in the borderlands, we hear frequently about how NAFTA flooded Mexican markets with cheap corn, and otherwise undermined subsistence farming families’ ability to sustain themselves. We hear that some choose to live behind their homes in Chiapas, Guerrero, or Nayarit, to come north and try to find work in the United States. We know that some are fleeing from violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. In the Migrant Resource Center, I encounter some of these very people every day. They may have bruises on their feet from walking in the desert. They may have broken an arm or twisted an ankle trying to climb over the wall between Agua Prieta and Douglas. They may have been deported. Or maybe they’ve simply arrived at the border, seen how tight the security is, realized how treacherous the hot desert is, and decided to stay put. And these are just the ones I see. We have relatively low numbers of migrants in AP right now, but there are many, many more in Nogales.
I thought it’d be a good idea to tell you about one person in particular I’ve gotten to know at the MRC. He arrived in Agua Prieta and first came to the Center seeking help back in October. Since then, he’s become a member of the community. Before leaving for a work-related trip to Ciudad Juárez this past week, my colleague Betto even left him in charge of the men’s shelter because we all know he’s reliable and trustworthy. But unfortunately, he’s had some hard times before finding his way to us in Agua Prieta, and even some near-violent episodes with the wrong crowrd. I discovered just the other day that, because of these events, he doesn’t even feel comfortable telling people his last name, or his full name. So out of consideration, I’m just going to call him Juan.
I had asked Juan the other day if he would share some details of his story with me, and when we finally sat down to chat, he looked out the window of our office in the Center, noticed a Border Patrol vehicle rolling along on the other side of the fence, and said, with a note of longing, and perhaps resignation,“Algún día me gustaría regresar ahí, pero… legalmente… no sé…” I think this instance is one where the unspoken speaks volumes.
Juan doesn’t know where he was born, or when exactly. And though he declined to talk about his earlier life when we spoke on Friday, I remember him saying (back in October, when he first arrived) something about how he had been brought to the United States when he was still too young to remember. He lived in San Diego and various other parts of California his entire life, before being deported recently. But when I asked him what his experience in Agua Prieta has been like, with all the people he’s met at the MRC and the Catholic shelter CAME, he said, “Me ha dado nueva vida…” (translate) “pues, estoy aquí por el milagro de Dios.” “You guys have always treated me well, and that gives me strength, and pride, and I feel good about myself.” When he was still new to the area, Juan did some construction work for a brief time, before making cardboard boxes in a factory for the LEVOLOR Corporation, an American company that manufactures blinds and shades. Neither job paid very well at all, and I remember a period of several weeks before Christmas where Juan and some others who were staying at the shelter hadn’t received any pay at all from the job at LEVOLOR- apparently, the boss simply didn’t want to pay them, and was able to get away with it, until some of our Mexican volunteers stepped in to advocate for Juan and other migrants. When payday finally came, Juan was in such a good mood, he asked me and Betto to walk down the street to Oxxo with him, and offered his own earnings to buy us each an iced tea. Currently, he has several different part-time jobs as a painter, at various primary schools in Agua Prieta, as well as the CAME shelter. In addition, he is honing his skills as a carpenter, and teaching others to do the same.
Of all those I’ve encountered this year, I see Juan as a fantastic example of someone who has accepted the support of the MRC, and turned it into something good in his own life.
But we are here to remember that many more people in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc, never get such a chance at all. And no one should ever be forced into such trying circumstances in the first place.
Hola todos! Lo siguiente es una predicacion que he dado hace una semana en la Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana de Silver City, Nuevo Mexico. Ahi invitaron a Jake, Melissa, y a mi a hablar de nuestra experiencia como Joven Adulto Voluntario….
Siempre que Jake, Melissa y yo conozcamos nuevas personas en diferentes iglesias, o en eventos relacionados con el programa JAV, normalmente quieren saber más sobre nosotros. Así que les explico un poquito sobre mí mismo y cómo he llegado aquí, en Agua Prieta. Soy de Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, que es un barrio en las afueras de Detroit, y allá siguen viviendo mis padres. Me crecí católico, y asistí a una preparatoria jesuita bien conocida dentro de la ciudad de Detroit. Después, asistí a Kalamazoo College, donde estudié los idiomas extranjeros con mucha pasión. (Y además, ¡sí que hay un Kalamazoo! A veces, la gente no se da cuenta de que existe un lugar con tal nombre…) Ya que había estado en Honduras para un viaje de 8 días, durante el verano entre mi tercer y cuarto año de la preparatoria, yo sabía que quería pasar más tiempo en un país hispanohablante después de graduarme de la universidad, trabajando para la justicia social. Después de graduarme de Kalamazoo College, me quedé en casa unos años, hasta que una amiga mía me dijo sobre el programa de los Jóvenes Adultos Voluntarios.
Solicité el programa, y me emocionaba de la expectativa de tener otra experiencia de servicio intercultural- esta vez, durante un año entero. Pero nunca se me ocurrió que esta experiencia iba a ser tan diferente de la que tuve en 2006 en Honduras. Nunca tomé en cuenta que todo el tiempo que pasé en Honduras con mis amigos, compañeros de clase y profesores que ya conocía era dentro de la llamada “fase luna de miel” de vivir en otra cultura (es decir, los principios del tiempo que se pasa en otro país, cuando todo parece lindo y perfecto.) Porque fue tan corto, y porque se habían planeado con cuidado todos los detalles de nuestro tiempo allá, ¡fue como una vacación para nosotros! En retrospectiva, creo que era simplemente demasiado joven para apreciar lo difícil que la vida puede ser para los que experimentan la pobreza en el Tercer Mundo. Pero, durante el año pasado, esta experiencia aquí ha sido completamente diferente para mí; me ha situado “frente a frente” con personas que están muy lejos de sus hogares, huyéndose de la violencia o de unas circunstancias económicas desesperadas.
Sirviendo aquí por la zona fronteriza, hemos oído decir muchas veces que el TLCAN (Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte) inundó a los mercados mexicanos de maíz barato que provenía de los Estados Unidos; así, y de otras maneras parecidas, el TLCAN socavó la capacidad de las familias agricultoras mexicanas de sostenerse económicamente. Hemos oído decir que algunos que eligen dejar para atrás sus hogares en Chiapas, Guerrero, o Nayarit lo hacen para viajar al norte, a intentar buscar trabajo en los Estados Unidos. Sabemos que algunos se están huyendo de la violencia en El Salvador, Guatemala, o Honduras. Aquí en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes, encuentro a muchas de estas mismas personas cada día. A veces, se les han desarrollado moratones en los pies por andar tanto tiempo en el desierto. A veces, se les han roto el brazo o torcido el tobillo por intentar escalar el muro entre Agua Prieta y Douglas. A veces, han sido deportados. A veces, simplemente llegan a la frontera y deciden quedarse aquí, por darse cuenta de que la seguridad fronteriza es más ajustada que pensaban, por darse cuenta de lo peligroso del desierto, etc. Y estas personas son las pocas que encuentro yo; el flujo de migrantes aquí en Agua Prieta es relativamente bajo ahora, pero hay muchas, muchas más personas en Nogales, por ejemplo…
A mí me pareció buena idea contarles sobre una persona en particular que he llegado a conocer en el CRM. Él llegó a Agua Prieta y vino al Centro buscando asistencia en octubre, cuando nosotros JAVs acabábamos de llegar aquí. Desde entonces, se ha convertido en miembro de la comunidad. Antes de salir para una convención en Ciudad Juárez a principios de mayo, Betto lo encargó del albergue para hombres, porque sabemos todos que es responsable y confiable. Pero desafortunadamente, pasó por algunos momentos difíciles antes de llegar hasta nosotros en Agua Prieta; también experimentó unas instancias de violencia a manos de gente de mala compañía. El otro día descubrí que, debido a estas instancias, ni siquiera quiere decir su apellido a la gente, ni dar su nombre completo. Así que en este relato, por consideración, lo llamo Juan.
Yo había pedido a Juan que compartiera algunos detalles de su historia conmigo. Y cuando nos sentamos juntos para platicar el otro día, miró por la ventana de la oficina, vio un vehículo de la Patrulla Fronteriza al otro lado de la valla, y me dijo, con tristeza, “Algún día me gustaría regresar ahí, pero… legalmente… no sé.” A mí me parece una instancia donde lo que no se dice expresa muchísimo.
Juan no sabe ni donde nació, ni cuando exactamente. Y aunque no quiso hablar de su vida temprana, recuerdo que- cuando llegó en octubre- me dijo que se había llevado a los Estados Unidos cuando era demasiado joven para acordárselo. Vivió en San Diego y varias otras partes de California toda su vida, hasta ser deportado recientemente. Pero cuando le pregunté cómo ha sido su experiencia en Agua Prieta, con toda la gente que ha conocido en el CRM y en CAME, dijo, “Me ha dado nueva vida… pues estoy aquí por el milagro de Dios. Ustedes siempre me han tratado bien, y eso me da fuerza y orgullo, y me siento bien.” Cuando estaba recién llegado al área aquí, Juan hizo trabajo de construcción un rato. Después, hizo cajas de cartón en una fábrica de LEVOLOR, que es una compañía americana que manufactura persianas y sombrajos. Ninguno de los trabajos le pagaba mucho, y durante un período de varias semanas antes de la navidad, algunos alojados del albergue (incluyendo Juan) no había recibido ningún pago de LEVOLOR. Al parecer, el jefe simplemente no quería pagarles, y al parecer, se salía con la suya hasta que algunos voluntarios mexicanos nuestros del Centro se involucraron para abogar por Juan y los demás migrantes. Cuando, por fin, llegó el día de pago, Juan estaba de tan buen humor que invitó a Betto y a mí al Oxxo cercano, ofreciendo sus propias ganancias para comprarnos un refresco. Actualmente tiene varios trabajos de jornada parcial como pintor, en varias primarias aquí en Agua Prieta y también en el albergue de CAME. Además, va desarrollando sus capacidades de carpintería y asiste a otras personas a hacer lo mismo también. Él es un ejemplo buenísimo de alguien quien ha aceptado el apoyo del CRM, y quien lo ha convertido en algo bueno para su propia vida.
Pero nosotros estamos aquí para recordar a todas las personas en México, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, etc., que nunca consiguen una oportunidad así. Y nadie debe ser forzado a tales circunstancias difíciles en primer lugar.
Hi everyone! Last Sunday, we were invited up to Holy Way Presbyterian Church in Tucson to speak some more about our experience as YAVs. This is what I had to say for my sermon:
“For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God…”
-Ephesians 2: 14-19
Thanks to all of you for inviting us to be present and to speak this morning here at Holy Way. I have been watching and reading much, in the past few weeks and months, about the upcoming Presidential elections. It has been strange to live in Mexico- specifically, on the border- during a time in which there has been so much discourse about so-called “border security” in national media. Most people I’ve met here in the borderlands since my arrival on September 5th are dismayed, even scared, by the possibility of seeing further militarization and deeper division along the border. I, for one, don’t know that our southern border policy currently accomplishes much other than to criminalize the poor who attempt to come to the United States and look for work. During my time as a YAV, I have privately struggled to intellectualize the issue and figure out what would be the ideal way to stem the flow of drugs and organized crime into our country, while allowing law-abiding citizens to pass freely between the United States and Mexico. But I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. Bad on me, I guess.
But whatever political opinions we come to on our own, I think it’s important to remember that those who come here are not simply part of a “brown wave,” or looking to “steal jobs from good, hard-working Americans.” They are people, with hopes, aspirations, fears, and dreams, just like you and I. They are people who simply want to escape poverty or violence in their homelands, and feel they have no other choice but to leave. I will tell you now about one of them whom I just met Thursday in the MRC.
His name is Javier. We didn’t exchange many words on this particular day. But after he had already eaten with a group of men from the overnight migrant shelter, I simply asked if he would like some of my juice. He declined, and asked instead (very politely) if he could use our telephone to call his girlfriend in El Paso. “Of course,” I told him. She wouldn’t get off work until at least 4 o’clock, however. So Javier settled into the chair in front of where I sat, at the desk in our office, at the back of the MRC. And he waited, and waited some more. After a few moments, he spoke again, and I realized he was tearing up.
“Es que quiero buscar a Dios, hermano, pero no sé cómo…” he managed, as a tear dripped from his face. “I want to search for God, brother, but I don’t know how…” I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I just sat with him and waited patiently, hoping he would tell me more about himself. Javier and I sat in silence a bit longer, then I asked him where he was from, if he had been to the United States, and where his family was. He told me he was from Chihuahua, that he had family back there as well as in San Diego, El Paso, and Denver. He had spent time with his family in all three cities, but was separated from them now. He helped himself to a Kleenex as he was telling me this, and I asked him what he was planning to do next- re-enter the States, or go back to his aunts’ home in Chihuahua. He wasn’t sure, but underscored that he definitely wanted to leave Agua Prieta as soon as he could. I loaned him the phone now, and he called his girlfriend in El Paso. She must not have gotten home from work right on time; the first two times we called, she wasn’t there. After a few more minutes went by, Javier tried again, and she answered. They spoke briefly, while I tried not to listen in, and respect their privacy. When Javier was finished, he hung up, and seemed visibly reassured. He thanked me, and turned to walk out. “Dios está contigo,” I told him, as he walked out, and he thanked me once again.
Others I’ve spoken with in the MRC the past couple of days have had to hitch rides all along the Mexican border recently- from Monterrey to Matamoros to Naco and back to Agua Prieta- in order to get where they are now. They are, in the most literal sense, sojourners- strangers in a place strange to them. But we are, of course, fellow citizens of the world. And as Christians, we believe that we are all beloved by God. As we go forth, let’s work to make all with whom we share this earth feel a bit more beloved. Let’s remember Javier.
I’m heading home early tomorrow morning, and pretty excited about it. I’ve missed my family and friends from home lately, and I can’t wait to see them again. Christmas, as always, is sure to be a fun time filled with lots of company, good food, and warmth- literally. But over the past couple months, I’ve seen firsthand just how many people struggle to afford such material comforts. Lately, I haven’t been seeing too many people coming in for help at work, because the Border Patrol has been sending deportees back through Nogales. (It’s easier for them, coming straight down south from Tucson.) But in years past, (so I’ve been told by other fellow volunteers and community members) as many as 30, 40, or more people were coming into the Migrant Resource Center every single day for lunch.
I haven’t had nearly that kind of flow since I’ve been here. A couple weeks ago, we had about 6 or 7 middle-aged men who were staying at the local Catholic shelter, and they came for lunch every single day. Therefore, I’ve been able to spend some time with individual people, learn their names and backgrounds, and even develop some friendships. Here I’ll tell you a bit about just one person I met this past Saturday.
Over the weekend, our YAV site coordinator Alison was visiting with the folks who comprise our Steering Committee, and we had agreed to meet at the Migrant Resource Center, my workplace. A young man came in. Melissa attended to him, warming up some burritos in the microwave so he could have something to eat, and I didn’t pay him much attention at first, since the group of us was getting ready to tour the town and find somewhere to have lunch. But after a couple of minutes, I left our office area to go over and grab some supplies from the storage area. As I walked by the young man, I asked him if he had eaten enough- I expected him, like most other migrants who I’d seen up until this point, to say, “Yes, thank you!” or “Yes, of course!” or something to that effect. But he answered no, that he was still very hungry. And so I went back to the refrigerator and got some more burritos ready for him.
I knew that the group was getting ready to leave, and figured this would probably take a little while, so I told Alison to have the group go on without me to their first stop, and then come back for me in a little bit. As the group made its way outside, the young man asked me for a change of pants, socks, and shoes. I told him he was welcome to come back into the office space and choose from among the clothing we had available. He said he had been walking too much, and as he picked out what he needed, he removed his footwear. While I didn’t look too closely, I could tell his feet were not in good shape- he had some patches of skin between his toes that looked black, and an unpleasant smell reached me from the other side of the room. I wasn’t sure what to offer him for blisters other than some Neosporin and Band-aids; he gladly accepted them.
By this point, the guy had already had two servings of burritos, but I could tell he was still hungry. So while I prepared him some Ramen noodles, I finally got around to asking his name. Santiago, he told me. And then he went on to tell me why he had been walking so much. He hadn’t been deported, but he had tried to cross the border somewhere over to the east, by Chihuahua. He said the Border Patrol had found him, but that he had managed to escape and cross back into Mexico closer to the Douglas/Agua Prieta area. Why was he trying to cross?, I wanted to know. He said he was trying to get to Tucson to see his mother. His brother lived there as well, and had just recently had a baby boy. But the baby had died unexpectedly, and the funeral was planned for sometime in the next couple days (meaning today or tomorrow, at this point). It seems tragic to think that anyone should have to break or flee the law simply trying to reunite with family for such a tender, heart-breaking occasion.
People cross the border undocumented for a variety of reasons- this case is probably the most unique I’ve encountered to date. I didn’t think to ask his age yesterday, but Santiago seemed around my own age. As I sit here typing, counting down the minutes until my shuttle leaves to take me up to Tucson on my way home, I’m haunted by what Santiago told me about his own experience. I would hate to have to go through what he did just to try and reunite with my family. No one deserves that.
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This past weekend, Jake, Brenda, Melissa and I went to Tucson to help out with a fundraising event Friday night at St. Mark’s Presbyterian, to benefit both Cafe Justo (the coffee co-operative here in Agua Prieta) and a local family-run pottery business. We were also invited to give a sermon in front of the congregation Sunday morning, taking turns speaking about our experience so far working here. The following is a copy of what I wrote in preparation for my turn; since it turned out to be longer than I realized, what I actually said in church was shorter than this. So if you like, you get to read the whole thing!
Feliz Año Nuevo y espero que les pasara bien de vacaciones. Me gustaría dar las gracias de nuevo a todos los que generosamente me han apoyado, el programa Tucson Borderlands YAV y Frontera de Cristo por encima de mi tiempo en la frontera. Una de las cosas que estoy muy agradecido es la comunidad bonitaque tengo en la frontera de Douglas y Agua Prieta. Ha sido una bendición de conocer a tanta gente genial que hacen Douglas y Agua Prieta como en casa para mí. Al igual que muchas personas que he venido desde muy lejos para estar en la frontera, pero muchas personas han abierto sus vidas a mí, me ha mostrado hospitalidad y me aceptó como de la familia.
El mes de diciembre ha sido uno de los meses más ocupados para mí, que fueron llenados con muchasposadas. Para aquellos que no están familiarizados con las posadas es una celebración en México para recordar el viaje de María y José, que se vieron obligados a abandonar su hogar y no podía encontrar un lugar de refugio o de refugio cuando llegaron a Belén. Es una tradición que la gente abrir su casa y mostrarhospitalidad a los demás tal y como María y José estaban en necesidad de hospitalidad durante el nacimiento de Jesús. Compartir este tiempo con la gente en la frontera fue una experiencia muy especial yuna gran celebración de la bendición de la comunidad que tengo en la frontera. Sin embargo, tambiénhubo un momento que realmente me ha permitido reflexionar sobre cómo yo muestro hospitalidad y aceptación a otros, especialmente extranjeros e inmigrantes como María y José.
La lucha de María y José con Jesús como inmigrantes realmente me ha impactado este año porque encuentro muchas similitudes con la crisis actual de la inmigración en la frontera hoy, sobre todo cuandoestoy mirando y orando por cruces de inmigrantes que murieron en el condado de Cochise y hay muchaspersonas con los nombres de María y José. Así, mientras que en esta temporada de Navidad fue un momento para celebrar todas las bendiciones que tengo, sino que también fue un tiempo para reflexionar sobre las tragedias de la inmigración en la frontera.
Hacer voluntario en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes, junto con mi trabajo de enseñar clases de inglés este año, conoci a muchos inmigrantes y aprendí acerca de sus vidas y el dolor que han sufridocomo inmigrantes. Hay muchas formas en que se encuentran en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes,sino para toda la frontera México / Estados Unidos es una cruel realidad que separa familias. No creo queyo podría describir un inmigrante promedio en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes porque todos sonpersonas muy particulares con historias de vida especiales, pero he encontrado que muchos tienen una fuerza interior que les permite reír, sonreír y esperar a pesar de su dolor, separación de la familia y la incertidumbre en sus vidas. Muchas veces en el Centro de Recursos para Inmigrantes hay muchas limitaciones en lo que podemos ayudar a los inmigrantes que no sean de conectarlos con los recursos como la vivienda, la alimentación y la localización de los familiares. Pero, he encontrado el voluntariado en el Centro de Recursos para Inmigrantes me da la oportunidad de escuchar las historias y conocer la vida de los inmigrantes.
Una de las cosas más dolorosas que veo so n inmigrantes hablando de la forma en que se separan de sus hijos y familias. Conoci un joven de mi edad que andaba con un amiga de la infancia de su ciudad natal en el estado de Puebla. A medida que estos dos jóvenes eran de mi edad y le encantaba hablar y reír nos hicimos amigos rápidamente. Emigró de su ciudad natal en México a la ciudad de Nueva York cuando era un adolescente en busca de mejores oportunidades. Allí comenzó una nueva vida (probablemente se convirtió en el residente más simpático de Nueva York) y tuvo un hijo. Sin embargo, cuando se encontró en una situación muy difícil, ya que él había regresado a México por razones familiares, y ahora fueseparado de hijo de dos años de edad que vivía con su hermana. Como él era una persona de fe en Diostuvimos una conversación acerca de nuestra fe en Dios, que me mostró lo mucho que estábamos tan similares y tan diferentes. Como los adultos jóvenes que comparten una fe cristiana, hablamos de cómoDios nos da fuerza y esperanza en desafíos de la vida y nuestro deseo de seguir la voluntad de Dios en nuestras vidas. Sin embargo, las preguntas que me hago acerca de la voluntad de Dios en mi vida son tan diferentes de las preguntas que mi amigo estaba haciendo.
He sido bendecido por Dios con una gran familia, la infancia, muchas habilidades y talentos y una gran educación. La pregunta entonces para mí ha sido cómo puedo servir a Dios ya los demás y hacer cambios positivos en un mundo roto con mi regalo, la educación y las pasiones. Es una pregunta que creo que mucha gente se pregunta, sino una cuestión no todo el mundo tiene el privilegio de llevar a cabo. Siento que mi amigo también era muy inteligente y talentoso, pero su pregunta acerca de la voluntad de Dios ensu vida me hace darme cuenta de cómo este mundo y nuestras sociedades pueden ser tan diferentes y simplemente injusto. Como ya había intentado sin éxito dos veces para cruzar la frontera, que estaba empezando a cuestionar la voluntad de Dios en su vida. ¿Fue la voluntad de Dios para él para tratar decruzar el desierto para estar unidos con su hijo en la ciudad de Nueva York? ¿O se trataba de regresar a suciudad natal, pero a costa de estar lejos de su hijo sin saber cuando volverían a reunirse. Cualquiera de estas opciones no parece muy ideal para mí y vi la tristeza y el dolor en los ojos de mi amigo cuando hablaba de ser separado de su hijo. Pero, el miedo y la dificultad de cruzar la frontera de nuevo para elimprobable caso de que esta vez se podría cruzar con éxito para unirse con su hijo también se estaba convirtiendo en un sueño irreal. De cualquier manera no creo que un Dios que nos ama profundamente ypueblo unido como yo y mi amigo bajo la vida de Jesucristo tiene este imagen de la división, la muerte y la desigualdad para la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México.
Sin embargo, después de vivir en esta frontera, en las comunidades de Douglas y Agua Prieta, creo que Dios me ha ensenado una pequeña muestra de la belleza y el amor que siente por esta frontera. Pensaba en esto cuando vi una de las más bellas puestas de sol en mi vida sobre las montañas al oeste de Agua Prieta. El desierto de Sonora es un gran ejemplo de la belleza y el carácter sagrado de la creación de Dios,pero la gente y los gobiernos de ambos lados de la frontera han convertido a esta hermosa creación en una pesadilla y el lugar de la muerte para tantos inmigrantes. También he visto la belleza de cuando las comunidades y las personas se juntan por las culturas y países diferentes, unidos por el amor de Dios, un borde y se preocupan por sus semejantes. Sin embargo, al igual que muchos lugares en este mundo este fin y la belleza pueden estar distorsionados por las drogas, la falta de oportunidades de empleo, la violencia y la pobreza en la frontera. La buena noticia es que Dios siempre ha estado presente aquí en esta frontera trabajando en las vidas de las personas rotas y defectuosas si son de México o Estados Unidos. Y él siempre estará presente en esta frontera y desierto trabajar con nosotros para crear y preservar la belleza y el amor que siente por esta frontera.
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.
Recently, I was at a Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Mexico sharing a meal with a migrant family. I was there as a part of an intense study of border issues and ministries on the Douglas, Arizona/ Agua Prieta, Sonora area. Although, I had spent the whole week with a large group of Young Adult Volunteers from the Tucson and Denver, this moment was all about the family sitting across from me.
As we ate our pasta and sipped our sugar-infused juice, we began to talk about where we came from and why we were here in the dusty border town of Agua Prieta. The father of the family, Ronald*, was charismatic and friendly. His big green eyes glittered as he excitedly told me that he and his family of four were going to cross the border in the upcoming week. His glee was uncontainable. Ronald and his wife, Maria*, animatedly walked me through the details of their itinerary.
When their coyote (human smuggler or guide depending on your perspective) contacted them, they would drive out into the desert where they would climb over the border wall using a ladder. Then, they would walk through the harsh terrain, in the dark to the closest American town, Bisbee. When they assured me it was only a ten-hour hike, I began to get uncomfortable. This would be a fast-paced hike. Ronald described how they would have to follow the exact footsteps of their guide to avoid alerting Border Patrol motion detectors or heat sensors. After arriving in Bisbee, they planned on taking a van to Phoenix, then Las Vegas, and finally Indianapolis to meet his sister. I wondered how they would do this, as there are Border Patrol checkpoints on the only road out of Bisbee where the guards check for identification. Maybe they’ll take a dirt road. Maybe they’ll hide in the trunk or under the floorboards of the car as some migrants do…
By now my heart was racing. I was worried for their safety and worried that their coyote had mislead them so I asked, “Is it worth it for you to endure this dangerous trip?” Ronald replied with an absolute, “Yes.” Even though he is leaving a good job as a nuclear electrician and his eldest son is leaving college, he believes he can have a better life in the United States. This family lived in Veracruz, one of the most violent states in Mexico. Ronald and Maria said they live in constant fear of the cartels. Ronald confidently said, “I would rather be captured by Border Patrol than the cartels any day.” Having a good job in Veracruz actually makes him a liability, as the cartels are most likely to extort money from him. It is a paradoxical situation with little hope of changing any time soon.
After we finished dinner, I thanked Ronald and his family for their honest conversation and wished them the best on their journey. But saying, “Safe travels” did not suffice. I kept thinking about them, worrying about them, and praying for them.
Please let Ronald, Maria, and their two sons find a peaceful, dignified life. Please help them find their way through the desert. May they be protected from abuse from their guide or Border Patrol. God, everyone deserves a dignified life and an opportunity to raise their family without fearing for their lives. Please protect this family and help them safely reach their destination.”
And what happens if they make it to their final destination? If they find jobs they will forever work in the shadow class, afraid of deportation. Will the son who was in University in Mexico, be able to get an American education or will he be resigned to minimum wage labor for the rest of his life?
Even if this family fears deportation and works hard for low wages, this is probably better than living under the reign of a violent cartel. Due to my privileged and limited perspective, I did not realize that what may seem horrible to me may be a relief to another person who has suffered far greater challenges than I have.
This is blind privilege is one of the many reasons why we do not know how to “secure” our border. In the 90s, Operation Gatekeeper and other similar policies were enacted to reduce illegal immigration. The Border Patrol focused its resources on securing metropolitan areas, while leaving the unpopulated desert areas less patrolled. The official plan was “attrition through deterrence” as Homeland Security thought that the desert would be a natural and obvious boundary for migrants. This thought process makes sense when coming from a privileged American who is unaware of the conditions of poverty and violence in parts of Mexico. Yes, desperate hardworking people who cannot find jobs or fear their lives will cross, even if it means risking their lives. In fact, many people like Ronald see the cacti-laden desert to be a small challenge compared to their daily lives back home.
We will not be able to create just, holistic immigration reform until American politicians are aware of the root causes of immigration to the US, the current socio-political climate in Mexico and Central America, and what people are willing to give up. Ronald sacrificed his job, home, and son’s college education to climb a wall, walk in the dark, and work minimum wage jobs in hopes of a safer, more dignified future.
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
“Therefore, remember that formerly you are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands)- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God live by his Spirit.
*For the privacy of these individuals, I have changed their names.