My year in Tucson started out really rough. I was intimidated by a lot of things and I questioned if doing a second YAV year while still deep in grief after leaving Asheville was the right move for me. I started out not really feeling connected to anything or anyone. I missed trees and grass and rain. At Christmas, I really started to miss the snow. Up until Christmas day, I didn’t feel the “Christmas spirit” at work in this holiday season. Nothing around me was bringing holiday cheer. Families were separated in detention, work was busier than ever, and the desert was the same as it had been. But on Christmas eve, we attended a candlelight service at Southside Presbyterian Church, a social justice church in town, that put on a moving Nativity play with a woman who gave birth in the desert playing Mary and the baby as Jesus. It brought an interesting perspective to the Christmas narrative, having baby Jesus played by this tiny babe born in the desert. Joseph, was absent; this “holy family” was separated at the border and Joseph was serving time in a detention center awaiting trial. He was a client of our legal aid clinic I worked for. This night brought a new meaning to Christmas and how I felt about the dessert. I spent Christmas day with my boss and her family, learning Hispanic holiday traditions and hearing stories from her wife about how the desert has changed over time. How global warming and the border crisis has really helped in shaping this place into the desecration I see, instead of the beauty and mystery that it holds.
In January and February, I threw myself into connecting more with the community and the people. I tried to make a lot of friends and get out whenever I could to go talk to people. I met so many families that had never left Tucson and got to hear about how much they loved this place. I was introduced to local food trucks, Sonoran style hotdogs, and lots of burros. This spring, in light of COVID -19, we spent a lot of time hiking and when we weren’t hiking, we were watching videos and learning more about the town we were living in, the people, and the history of the desert. We watched a documentary on biosphere 2, just up the road from us, and later we went on hikes to Marshal Gultch where I notice that the mountains hold the mystery of the dessert that is more than Tucson’s saguaros but also holds trees and running water.
My year in Tucson has really been a lesson in not judging a book from its cover. Its been a journey in not letting fear intimidate me. I was scared of moving to Tucson, of saying the wrong thing, but that ended up delaying a lot of really impactful conversations. It makes me wonder how many opportunities fear steals us from.