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.
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.
“Quiero ser chef.” “I want to be a chef.” Braulio’s face lit up as he told me this during his legal screening. His cheeks rounded and his eyes brightened as a big smile formed. This was his response to my question, “Why did you leave your country?” In the hundreds of legal screenings I have done, I had not received such a precise, illustrative answer. I felt inspired by his enthusiasm, and I also smiled. The inspiration was replaced by dread fifteen minutes later when I had to mark Braulio’s intake with a “U.” U means unknown relief. U means that according to the information the child has disclosed during the screening, it is not clear that they are eligible for a visa. U means that Braulio’s intake will be put in a pile with others that we do not refer to an attorney once they are released and living in another part of the U.S. while in court proceedings. U means that Braulio will likely be deported. As I write the “U” on the upper corner of his intake, I feel a sinking in my stomach.
Wanting to be a chef, wanting to study or work, wanting to live with a parent or sibling who is already in the U.S., or wanting to escape extreme poverty and hunger is not enough. On intakes like that, I have to write a “U.” And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of children I meet who are fleeing gang violence, who have been abused by their parents, who have suffered injuries because of working as small children in dangerous conditions. But there are others, like Braulio, who either do not disclose to me, or just honestly haven’t experienced such horrendous traumas. And without that compelling trauma, they are not eligible for any legal relief or any path to potentially stay in the U.S.
This reality makes me feel frustrated, sad, hopeless.
I am frustrated by a legal system that cannot serve Braulio. It is not that legal assistants like me and attorneys do not want to help kids like Braulio; of course we do! But there are so few attorneys and legal teams who are already working tirelessly to help children who DO have a strong case, who have experienced substantial trauma, and, therefore, might have a chance at obtaining a visa. In an overburdened legal system, strong cases must be prioritized. If a child is to receive legal assistance, the sadder, more traumatic the life story, the better!
I am frustrated by policies that do not provide any options for people who are starving, who can no longer make a living due to global environmental and economic factors, or who want to be with family members who are already working in the United States to support their hungry, struggling loved ones back home. It is one thing to understand on paper that economic migration is not authorized, but it is another to look into a smiling child’s eyes when he says, “Quiero ser chef,” and know that he doesn’t stand a chance in this system.
With these immigration policies and these inadequate legal systems, we as a nation are telling Braulio that he is unworthy. He is unworthy to share in what we have and enjoy everyday in this country. He is undeserving of the time and attention of attorneys. Braulio is marked with a U. He is unknown.
I hope you all enjoy and learn something useful from this carefully crafted analysis of some of our shared values relating to my personal thoughts on the Border Immersion experience.
As a result of that week, I have been struggling with this idea of what is responsibility and what is my role in that? The word “responsibility” is built off the framework of the word response, or as an action verb, to respond. Now when you add the suffix -ibility (or ability) to the end the word literally translates to “the ability to respond or take action”. As I continue to perceive and bear witness to many events unfolding around me, I am left with one simple question. What is my personal and/or moral responsibility to respond and to what extent? Yet this opens even more avenues of exploration with even more questions to accompany it. This includes everything from the abstract and theoretical to the contextual and circumstantial. Then there is the question of where does my moral, ethical and personal values intersect in the face of all this???
In my struggles to try to perceive this issue from an open-minded angle I am again confronted with many contradictory facts and ideas that just seem to further compound the situation. I believe as part of our core being, we all struggle with this to some extent and fear where it may ultimately take us. This is often due to the answers lying outside our comfort zones in the realms of the unfamiliar. We are all, to some extent, quick to make assumptions on things at face value because it offers us an easy and simplified solution to difficult and often complex problems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. In some cases, it can allow us to sort through large volumes of information so that we can get to the heart or core of the issue faster with less energy exerted in doing so. Unfortunately, this can also have far-reaching and often unintended consequences. In certain instances, we can quickly glance through information that may seem trivial to us in the moment but may contain important components that allow us to perceive and understand a problem in its entirety.
In some instances, we can neglect to take responsibility and instead scapegoat the problem somewhere else. By doing so we are not only removing ourselves from the equation, but we are also essentially saying that the solutions are beyond us in a way that completely negates our ability to do something about it. One way we let go of our responsibility (and our ability to act) is through letting go of it in a way that places it somewhere else. This can be done through the act of blame which is defined in the dictionary as assigning responsibility for a fault or wrong. The word blame has many origins but in the Latin sense it comes from a word known as “blastemare” which translates roughly to “to accuse or place responsibility upon”. Blame and its historical origins may also have connections to the origins of another word we know of today as “blasphemy”. I personally found this to be very intriguing because of how this understanding of the blame could affect our ability to have free will over a given situation? In many instances, are we voluntarily limiting ourselves and our own ability to act? And, more importantly, are we exercising this in situations where we need this the most?
In the face of all these questions I seemingly have no choice but to look to other sources. Perhaps at stories of when and where others have been confronted with this same dilemma. What were the conclusions in these situations? What about biblical narratives of people who were confronted with similar dilemmas? Two stories immediately come to mind. The first, the story of Adam and Eve. This narrative seems to have philosophical undertones relating to the initial roles of responsibility and blame in the context of the formation of later humans’ value systems. Now we must consider that, to a certain extent, these were individuals within a complex system and power hierarchy that was not fully understandable to them. We must then realize that many of us are in similar situation today, but… that still does not relieve them or us of our shared responsibilities in these situations. In this story let’s look at what happens after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. God, almost immediately, shows up and asks them to explain what has happened and where they have gone. After a bit of confusion Adam not only admits but blames his wife Eve for making them eat the forbidden fruit. Then, the next direct action is that Eve does the exact same thing to the snake. Would things have turned out differently if they had merely taken responsibility for their own personal role in the events that had just transpired? Possibly, but unfortunately those events never unfolded, and we are only left to guess.
Maybe there is more to this story. First, some context clues. I believe that we can all come to an understandable conclusion that the God of the Bible is a God of order and not chaos. When God first comes to the garden who does he call first? God calls for the person in charge which was… Adam. This seems (from my perspective) like a logical and orderly way of getting to the heart of the situation (verse 9). Yet, Adam’s response was to cast blame on Eve, who then cast blame on the snake, but the snake said or did nothing in its defense. It is the very fact that the snake said nothing in response to these accusations that I found somewhat confusing. Maybe we can logically assume this is due to the snake having nothing to say or because there is an omitted piece of information that is understood. Maybe, but not likely. This information in question is that while Adam and Eve both cast responsibility of the situation onto the snake it did not return the favor or even attempt to defend itself. Perhaps, by placing blame onto the snake they unknowingly also cast away their responsibility as well. If this is true, then this also implies that the snake is the only entity going forwards (other than God of course) who has all the responsibility. God is a God of order, so I believe we can go forward logically if just like before; God will respond in a way that acknowledges that hierarchy. In the very next verse (verse 14) God responds to who first? God responds next by condemning the snake, then condemning the woman and reversing what she did by saying “Your desire will be your husband, and he will rule over you”, and finally by condemning Adam. Reversing the order of the previous interaction between them. Maybe I’m reading too much into nothing but if I haven’t this has far-reaching importance. This leaves me with one thought: “If there is truth to this, then did they unknowingly hand over control of the world to the serpent?”
Let’s not forget about another biblical narrative. What about Jesus, the person who came according to the Biblical narrative to set it all straight? Time and time again we see Jesus taking responsibility and welcoming all of God’s creations into community with him regardless of their social, material, geographic, or physical standing in life. Jesus had every right to condemn and cast blame upon the unjust systems that would inevitably lead to his untimely demise. While he challenged many of the corrupt systems in place at the time, he also had this to say: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy you. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James Ch. 4 v. 11 and 12). This sentiment is again echoed in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus bravely professes to those who will listen by asking them how they can judge the speck of dust in their brothers and sisters’ eyes when they have not even begun to remove the plank from their own? A very hard-hitting question to say the least. Yet, despite seeing firsthand the ways humankind had corrupted a once pure world; Jesus still went forward and died as a “blameless” sacrifice for all regardless of this obvious fact. The fact that we were unworthy from every angle yet despite all this Jesus made us worthy by paying the ultimate sacrifice. God not only loved us before we learned to love, but God loved us even when we hated God. Now that is powerful.
Yet, what about the people themselves who are affected today? Many of whom are fleeing failing states, extreme violence, inescapable poverty, and inner cities ruled by gangs. Those who hear of the American dream and hear the stories that America is a very charitable, wealthy country made up of a melting pot of immigrants from across the globe can’t help but want some of that for themselves. In their hour of darkness many of them cling to this as their only candle of hope to guide them through this void they are surrounded by. So, the question then becomes, “Why don’t they just immigrate here legally if things are so horrendous?” Well… many of them try… and fail. This is because our system of application and visa processing is prehistorically outdated and cannot handle the sheer volume of possible applicants for starters. To give you an idea the current process is so inefficient that it can take up to an estimated 30 YEARS to be accepted for even a legal residency position (otherwise known as a green card). All the while, waiting outside a port of entry having to fees associated with the review process during this ordeal without even a guarantee of acceptance. This is no opinion either; this is what is currently being expressed to us by many who work in this field including lawyers who work in the courts, advocacy groups, and those we spoke with in the border towns of Aqua Prieta and Douglas. And just when it couldn’t get any more complicated… we haven’t even discussed asylum seekers, or those who are fleeing extreme persecution in their home countries or are under the threat of death/torture if they ever return.
I just want to finish by saying how thankful I am for all of you who take the time to read these entries and stay updated about this journey. I look forward in the new year to continuing to inform you all with updates about my time here.
Until then, Happy New Year!
My year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, Arizona is officially underway. These past three weeks have been filled with a mix of joys, challenges, and everything in between. Yet one common thread that has defined my time here thus far is firsts. As a YAV in Tucson, I have experienced foreign and new situations on an almost daily basis. Below, I will reflect on some of my most significant firsts during my brief time here.
First Time in a Desert
During my first few days of exploring Tucson, a thought kept running through my head: “where is the green in this barren city?” Coming from a city of trees and manicured lawns, the site of dirt and gravel stretching in all directions was a stark change. Upon looking at a map of the city on my phone, I noticed several blue lines running through Tucson. Recalling the rivers and watering holes that dotted the Central Texas landscape, I was eager to see a splash of blue in the desert. However, every time I rode over one of those blue lines on my bike, I found that they were simply dry creek beds, and water only runs through them a few times a year. It was during these moments that I fully began to understand just how different of a place I had entered into. Three weeks in, and I still sometimes miss the site of grass or a flowing river, but I am no longer think of Tucson as “barren.” The city is abound with various types of wildlife, flora, and natural splendor. It is simply different than where I came from. Then, just today, I drove over a fully running river. It was full from a day of rain, and was strikingly beautiful against the backdrop of the rugged desert landscape. As my time here progresses, I hope to continue to find beauty in the desert.
First Time at CHRPA
For several weeks now, I have worked as a volunteer for Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. This organization provides free emergency home repairs and handicap modifications to low-income and elderly residents of the Tucson area. As I have no previous handy-man or construction experience, everyday at CHRPA brings a new first. So far, I have had to learn how to fix a cooler, build a wheelchair ramp, replace a toilet, install a new sink faucet, and put in a door. Other new experiences this job has brought about include waking up before the sun rises, biking to work, and riding the bus. To say I am out of my element would be an understatement. It is hard work, and sometimes I feel like I get in the way more than I help when making a repair. I also find myself tired, sore, and most of all, hot. All this being said, I am amazed at the knowledge and passion of my coworkers and the lengths they go to in order to help the residents of Tucson. I have only begun to see the impact CHRPA has on people’s lives, and while it is difficult work that often leaves me frustrated, I feel proud to be part of this organization.
First Time at an Immigration Shelter
During our first week in the city, the Tucson YAV house volunteered with the Inn Project. The project is run through First United Methodist Church of Tucson, and provides a shelter for primarily Central American asylum seekers recently released from detention. Most refugees stay in the shelter before going on to their families in the United States who they will be staying with while their asylum application is processed.The shelter is set up in the church’s basement, and provides individuals with a place to sleep, three meals a day, and food and water for their upcoming journey. On the day we volunteered, 42 individuals were residing at the shelter. Immigration is an issue that I have learned about primarily through my wife, Dakota, who has worked extensively with immigrant communities through various non-profits. However, this was my first time being face to face with people who had just been released from immigration detention facilities. With my limited Spanish, I struggled to communicate effectively with those we were helping, but all expressed immense gratitude towards us for volunteering. Most were families, and all seemed tired yet excited to soon have the opportunity to see their family in the United States. As I was leaving, I had the feeling that if more people could spend a few hours with those most impacted by our immigration system, the debate surrounding immigration would be quite different.
First Time Fixing a Flat Tire
Finally, I fixed my first ever flat tire on a bike during this past three weeks. In fact, I fixed my first nearly two weeks ago, and have since had to fix four more flats. With a plethora of thorny plants and frequent potholes, Tucson may well by the flat bike tire capital of the United States. These flat tires shattered my vision of what community by bike would be like. Before I started as a YAV, I had an hour round trip commute in my car, and I was eager to trade driving for the simplicity and free exercise that come with biking. It turns out, bikes are not the simplest of machines to maintain, and just like a car, regular maintenance is required. On one particularly hot day, I found myself changing a flat tire on the side of a busy street. At that moment, all I wanted was my car, which happens to be sitting with my parents a thousand miles away. The very next day however, I found myself biking to work with a repaired tire, a cool morning breeze in my face, and a view of the sun rising over the Tucson mountains. Often during these past three weeks, the experiences that have brought me the most frustration and the most joy have been one in the same.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Have a great weekend and stay cool.
Doy gracias a Dios por la vida y la salud que nos presta y sobre todo por permitirme ser voluntaria en el programa YAV gracias a esto he visto y he aprendido demasiado, claro que aveces no es fácil pero de alguna manera salimos dando lo mejor; el mes pasado tuvimos la oportunidad de ir a la frontera a una introducción fronteriza y lo que aprendí fue impactante aparte he estado viendo las cosas desde otra perspectiva ya que es diferente la historia cuando estás de otro lado y en este caso yo estoy aquí como una migrante en otro país aprendido día a día las cosas que no podía ver.
Espero les guste.
La detención de migrantes en México pasó de 86.298 en 2015 a 198.141 en 2016; en los primeros siete meses de 2017 ya se han llevado a cabo 99.768 detenciones. Al mismo tiempo, las solicitudes de asilo están en aumento, pasando de 1.296 en 2015 a 3.424 en 2016; en los primeros seis meses de 2016, México ya ha recibido 3.486 solicitudes, el número más alto del que se tiene registro. Para 2016 y 2017; más del 92 por ciento de las solicitudes de asilo son de ciudadanos de Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala.
Hay, además, otros problemas de mayor gravedad, como la caza de inmigrantes por grupos de civiles, que, evadiendo la vigilancia de la patrulla fronteriza, atacan con armas de fuego el paso de éstos. Una situación que recientemente se reconoció y que tiene relación con la continuación de la violencia sobre los derechos humanos de estas personas.
Lo que a mí más me duele ver en el caso de migración es que muchos niños desde chicos ya están pensando en emigrar a los Estados Unidos y hay veces que no van acompañados de ningún tutor o alguien responsable muchas veces la misma falta de trabajo o falta de recursos te obliga a salir de tu casa en busca de un futuro mejor, una oportunidad para salir adelante, pero es en realidad un camino fácil?, además de ser engañados por su pollero o la persona que los ayuda a cruzar se arriesgan todas los hombres, niños, mujeres al secuestro , abusos sexuales, asaltos , maltrato etc.
Viendo un documental de niñas que emigraron pude ver el gran infierno que pasan ellas sufrieron abuso sexual, psicológico y maltrato pasaron por mucho e incluso estuvieron muy cerca de morir para ellas todo estaba perdido y me dejaron como un mensaje por mi mente paso ellas pasaron todo eso solo por querer oportunidades y es ahí cuando te das cuenta y te preguntas ¿Qué está haciendo mi país con esto? ¿mi gobierno sabrá de toda esta situación? Pero tristemente se ve claramente la ignorancia de muchos que están sobre nosotros. Cada vez hay más pobreza, mas corrupción, más muertes, gente que se hace más rica y sobre todo más y más ignorancia.
A pesar de esto seguimos habiendo personas apoyando esta situación apoyando a emigrantes y tratando de que menos gente muera por esta causa.
¿No podemos nosotros convencer a la gente que no emigre porque a quien se le niega la oportunidad de una vida mejor? Pero hay una cosa que creo que todos podemos hacer y eso es apoyar a que menos gente muera tratando de ir en busca de un sostén para la familia, una mejor educación, un mejor trabajo, algo mejor. Cuando tú mismo país no te lo puede dar al contrario trata de burlarse de ti poniendo más obstáculos más barreras más muros sea Dios en sus corazones y les de la visión para que se den cuenta de todo lo que está pasando afuera de sus mansiones de su círculo de niveles y sobre todo que les de la sabiduría de gobernar este país. Dios sea con nosotros y nos del corazón y la buena voluntad.
´´Por qué no nos ha dado Dios espíritu de cobardía sino de poder, amor, y dominio propio 2 Timoteo 1-7´´
A few weeks ago YAVs from Albuquerque and Austin came with us to the U.S/Mexico border on a delegation. The purpose of the delegation was for us to bear witness to the lived realities on the border and to find a faithful response as people of God. The week was transformative for me, while I am still processing all that I experienced I wanted to highlight an experience that stuck with me.
During our time in Mexico we were hosted by Frontera de Cristo, a binational ministry of the Presbyterian church. On our first night we participated in a vigil for people who have died trying to cross the border. We lined the streets of Douglas holding crosses of peoples names who have died. After each name was read we responded with “Presente!”
As we were reading the names I thought about my countries policies, and how death on the border is systemic. On our delegation we learned that in order to have fewer people cross the border, the United States created barriers so that people had to cross through the most dangerous terrain. This policy did not deter people from crossing as the United States hoped; but it did increase the death rate along the border dramatically. With each name that is read I know that my country is directly responsible for their death.
At the end of the vigil our leader ends with “Jesucristo.” We respond “Presente.”
Jesus is present on the border. He is with those who are crossing. I am reminded of the verse Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”
As we put the crosses away and walk back to our car I thought about how I can be present in the border communities, and how I can respond faithfully.
At the end of the delegation a few of us participated in the School of the Americas watch. My fellow YAVs and I stood in front of Eloy detention center, one of the most deadly detention centers, and chanted no están solos (you are not alone). As we stood across the detention center and chanted I saw lights flicker and people move inside. I turned to my fellow YAV and asked “do you think they can hear us?” She responded “I hope so.” After a week of heart break, to bear witness and to chant in the streets, “No están solos” is to respond with the love of God.
Every person I encountered on the border whether ministry partners, someone getting ready to cross, or people getting sober from addiction I am reminded that Jesus calls us to encounter and to be present. To bear witness to the oppression on the border and the communities that are resisting is to see the face of God.
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.
It’s true. Kids normally say some pretty wild things. Sometimes it’s outlandish. Other times you as a family member wish that your child had learned a little earlier how to be quiet. And sometimes it’s so real and true that it blows you away. Most kids terrify me to some degree, so my interactions with them are limited. The two exceptions to that rule are my two little cousins, Lauren and Jacob. They’re essentially the most adorable and funniest kids ever (yeah I’m biased but whatever). And apparently super wise.
Earlier today my cousin Megan shared something on Facebook and tagged me in it. It was a piece of the schoolwork that Lauren, the oldest at 7, had written at school.
She may be seven years old, but she actually has a great grasp on things here on the U.S.-Mexico border. Yes I do live in Mexico and spend a lot of my time working in the U.S. But I am only one of thousands who does a similar thing every single day. I am also one of the privileged that are able to cross back and forth without any real hassle or questioning. But not everyone is as privileged as I am. Often times people are discriminated against based purely on their last name or their appearance.
It’s a shame and it breaks my heart, but it is true. I’ve seen it happen and heard stories of it happening to people I know. Lauren probably doesn’t know this, but there are hundreds of people who want to live in Mexico and work in the U.S.A. No, they do not want to live in here in the US. Their only wish is to be able to go work somewhere they will receive living wages that help them support their families that they love so dearly. And at the end of the day, these hard-working people want only to be able to return home to those families and communities that they love.
When you think about it, why would they want to live in a place like the US can often be? A place where people treat them negatively based on the color of their skin or their place of origin? A place where they do not always speak the language and even communicating at work can be a challenge? A place where the fun is incredibly different and the music is odd? A place whose leading candidate is raising an uproar against your countrymen and wants to build a giant wall between the two? I know that I wouldn’t want to live there. These are the feelings of people I have talked to during my time here. Building a wall won’t solve our problems. It won’t keep people out or keep them away. It will just cause more injury and death to people whose only hope is to provide of their family. My wonderful cousin at the age of 7 kind of understands that. She doesn’t want families separated any more than I do. I’m incredibly thankful for that and hope others can learn from her amazing example.
And as a wise old man once told us, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
Let’s not forget that. Thanks Lauren.
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.