“Thankful for the Desert”
Not DESSERT, but the desert. As we went around the circle and shared what we were thankful for, this answer floored me. Since being in Tucson, I have yet to have found the love and appeal of the desert. I miss grass, trees (that aren’t palm trees), and right now- I am missing the snow. I had an instant connection to the mountains and the nature in Asheville and that has yet to be my experience here. I wonder what people see in a place that looks so stricken of life. My roommates all agree that the desert plants and animals are a sign of resiliency- and of hope. I guess I do see that (and I do love the saguaros). But with resiliency comes pain and it has been hard to recognize the power and beauty amongst so much loss and death.
It was 2 pm on Thursday before I even thought of it being “Thanksgiving”. It was weird not being around family and friends this year and unlike last year, a lot of my coworkers were out of town or traveling so we did not have many offers to “join in” on the holidays. However, a past board member, Julie, invited us as her guests to a small intentional community gathering. She had ties with a community, called “Sitting Tree”, who we later realized had ties with leadership in the YAV program and many YAV alumni had been guests or residents there. We all felt a little weird going but we loaded up the 7-layer-dip and the popcorn balls and decided it was time to experience more of Tucson. It ended up being a lot of fun, we met a lot of people, and honestly, Sitting Tree was a lot like- post YAV living. A small community of people committed to raising their families together and sharing in community meals and hardships. It was nice seeing adults that are “past this gap year thing” still living connected with one another and not letting life “take over”.
Even more than Thursday however, I felt Saturday was my true Thanksgiving. By happenstance, I was asked last week if I would be going to this year’s “Tamalada” with my boss’s family. This morning, I found out that it has been an ongoing tradition since 1996 (twenty-three years/ my age!) that this family gets together the first weekend after Thanksgiving (depending on the football schedule and who is playing) to make Tamales. It was everything I remembered about the holidays in my own house. The women are all clucking and talking and sharing memories while the men watch football and are in the garage or cooking the meat. Though the heritage of the tradition was different, there were definite roles and stages to this all-day process of tamale making. At 9:30 AM my roommates and I were out the door and on our way to my boss’s family home to join other co-workers and their families. We were there till 5 pm. It was a blast of going through pictures, meeting families and friends, and hearing stories of tradition. We even celebrated to “good health and cheer” with some tequila shots together on our way out the door. I didn’t realize before arriving, how much it meant to have my roommates meet my coworkers and to be with my coworkers this season.
This Thanksgiving showed me that thankfulness and holiday cheer really isn’t about where you are but about who you are with. Even though I wasn’t with everyone I wanted to be with and I missed out on a few meaningful family gatherings at home, I still had a lot of fun and felt the spirit of the holidays in a new way. The desert landscape might not personally seem welcoming and warm all the time – but Tucson does have the prettiest sunsets and some family charm. I remain grateful for this holiday season full of new friends and traditions.
As a Tucson Borderland YAV at the beginning of the year I got to pick out my very own bike and helmet that has become my main mode of transportation around the city. This was perhaps one of the things I felt most hesitant about coming to Tucson, I have never really liked biking. I was uncomfortable feeling unbalanced as well as not feeling in control of the speed of my body. I got a pretty cool bike; we took a bike safety class, and I’ve been riding almost everyday since I got my bike. I feel much more comfortable, even confident on my bike. And I am actually loving biking! When we took our bike safety class we learned about the ABC Quick ✓, which a good bicyclist will do before each ride. ABC Quick ✓ stands for Air, Brakes, Chains (or cranks and cassette) Quick releases, and yay all checked, ready to ride! I’m going to go through a little different ABC Quick ✓ to give a little bit of a glimpse of my everyday with my beloved bike.
ABC Quick ✓
No Air in My Tires…
Every so often in the desert little goat-heads, love to get in my tires. I’ve fixed more than a handful of flat tires in the few months I’ve had biking as my main mode of transportation. Just last week I was looking at my tire and pulled out a goat-head and immediately heard a hissing sound come from my bike. Inside of bike tires are tubes that get pumped up with air, so when there’s a hole from whatever pokey thing I’ve ran over in the desert I remove the tube and put a patch to seal up the hole. The tube is good as new.
Sometimes the hole is hard to find, and one of the easiest ways to find the hole is with a bucket of water. First you fill the tube up with air and then submerge part of the tube and work your way around the tube until a stream of bubbles starts coming from the tube.
Flat tires will sometimes come at the most inconvenient times, especially when me and Laura are ready to head to work or partially through our uphill morning ride adding some extra effort for my legs.
However some of the fun moments in changing flat tires is sitting in the living room the night before an early morning ride, while my roommates sitting on our couches. Our bikes, including the many pesky flat tires is a big part of community life.
Though biking doesn’t give most my muscles a rest, it gives my brain a break. Growing up as an athlete being able to be active has always been a space for me to process or just get completely out of my head. Biking after a long day of work gives me time to decompress, listen to music, and talk to my housemate Laura.
Recently we had a week of border delegations, which was a very powerful and emotional week that I hope to blog about when I can find the words to explain the experience. We were in Agua Prieta for half a week and then returned to Tucson to continue learning about different organizations that are doing work with the border and immigration. I was so excited to be back with my bike.
Especially on some of the most emotionally draining days being able to bike allows me to breathe, focus on the ground in front of me and changing gears and pedaling. It allows me to feel like me time to look around at the mountains and the sunrise or sunset. It allows me to focus solely on my physical body, what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing, the air that I feel rushing against my skin. It allows me for a small amount of time not feel overwhelmed by my emotions
A very big part of my YAV year is my site placement, CHRPA, also know as Community Home Repair. Like all of my housemates commuting by bike is a part of our everyday workdays. However, my housemate Laura and I have the longest commute in the house. We bike 9 miles each way.
Our first couple of months work started work at 6, so we can climb on top of roofs and work on coolers during the cooler part of the hot summer days. Our 9 mile bike ride in the morning is mostly uphill and started out being about an hour and a half, as we got faster and began to know our way better our ride is a little bit under an hour. Somedays on the trails we see a few of our coworkers, who are a little bit faster riders than us, pass us. Once we get to work our bikes get hung about on a bike hooks enough for the many biking workers at CHRPA.
Many of my coworkers have been able to give me advice about biking in the cold, how to avoid knee pain, and many different fun bike trails.
Quirky bike things
Each of my housemates have our own bikes, we got to pick out ourselves. Mine has a green basket that comes in handy for holding my lock, water bottle and a bag.
I’m convinced mine and Laura’s bikes are best friends, after all they spend all day together.
Tucson has a bike repair shop called BICAS that recycles bikes and bike parts as much as possible. Whether it’s reusing bike parts for another bike or in art pieces. They have pros that will help people learn how to use the tools to fix and do maintenance to their bike.
And Check! I’m ready to keep riding!
All these different parts of biking have been a big part of my YAV experience. I’ve found a new activity I really enjoy, and it has also brought me together with community, that shares similar experiences of the many joys and some of the annoying parts of biking.
“¿Estará mi hermana allí?” I was in the car driving a mom and her daughter from another shelter to The Inn. “¡Sí! Tu hermana, y hermano, tu otra hermana y todos sus hijos” I responded looking back to see the mother propping up her sleeping toddler’s head. For the past three days, we had been trying to piece together this family of four siblings traveling with their children. This sister and her child was the last piece to the familial puzzle. We knew that the mother was set to be processed by and released from I.C.E. today, and even though the director of The Inn texted an I.C.E. agent and asked for her to be sent to us instead of the other shelter that did not have the rest of her family, that didn’t happen.
As we pulled up, the brother and a sister along with a three-year-old nephew were waiting at the top of the steps for their sister and niece. The mom’s eyes lit up as she saw familiar faces. She gently started moving as to not wake her daughter as she prepared to get out of the car. I got out of the car and opened the back seat door so the uncle and aunt could get their niece out before proceeding to open the trunk to help with bags. The little girl was still asleep as her aunt picked her up and placed her on her shoulder, but then her eyes bolted open and she noticed who was holding her and she started to give her aunt a big hug. The mom walked around the car and immediately started crying with her brother as they wrapped themselves in a hug.
We all started going downstairs where the other sister, the sister-in-law, and all the nieces and nephews in this family came up to greet their family. After many days, this family was finally all together and they could be on their way to their family further in the U.S. This had been a long journey with a lot of miscommunication and disappointment. It was wonderful and so beautiful to watch this family be reunited but this usually doesn’t happen.
Something that has been difficult for me to grasp during my time at The Inn has been how we, The United States, defines family especially when it comes to migrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. Large, extended families like this one are often separated. From what I have seen at The Inn, family units with a mom, dad, and child(ren) are often released to Non-Governmental Organizations like The Inn, but when a pregnant woman and her husband are processed, they don’t count as a family. The father/husband is sent to detention and we will only receive the pregnant woman. Extended families usually aren’t released together even if they are going to the same sponsor in the U.S. That is why it took so many days to gather together this one family, and luckily none of the families were sent to a family detention center.
It was so heartwarming to get to see these siblings and cousins reunite with each other, but I recognize that they shouldn’t have been separated from each other in the first place. With Thanksgiving coming up next week, I can’t help but think about and mourn for all the families who won’t be together, specifically migrants and migrant families who are being separated from siblings, children, parents, etc. by the U.S. government while a lot of Americans will be celebrating with and giving thanks for family. This is upsetting to think about and I am challenging myself to sit in the anger and frustration over the separation of families, while also actively voicing how this is wrong. If I don’t say anything, I am continuing the cycle of normalizing something wrong and harmful.
On November 3 we were able to participate in the All Souls Procession: An annual Tucson event that, for almost 30 years, and is a beautiful space for creatively processing loss.
I was told that this is specifically a procession and not a parade because it is designed to be participated in rather than just observed.
The evening began with a celebration prior to the procession. The area where the procession was to begin was filled with food trucks, mariachi bands, and face painting. It was a joyful celebration.
When the procession began, we stood to the side of the road a watched the Urn pass by. This was a spherical container to collect written names of those who were being grieved. The Urn led the procession and was followed by groups and individuals showing their mourning in a variety of ways.
The woman who started this procession in 1990 did so as a way of publicly and artistically grieving the death of her father. This artistic foundation has continued and is evident throughout the event in the music, banners, and costumes.
Many of these costumes were black or white to represent grief. Some had skeletons on them and many people had sugar skull art on their faces. Lots of the costumes were also adorned with lights and bright colors.
Much like a parade, there were performers, bands, and church groups. It felt familiar, yet drastically different because every where I looked there was someone with stunning face paint of a sugar skull or a banner with images of someone who has died.
But that was beautiful in every way. The idea of being able to publicly grieve and be in community with thousands of people in their mourning process was an incredible experience.
After watching for a while, were walked the two mile route with everyone as we all grieved. Even the many people just like me who didn’t make a sign for those that we love that have died were grieving.
I had time during that procession to reflect on times where I have been grieving. To remember dead friends and family in an intentional way. And more importantly, in that moment, I was able to acknowledge the importance of that grieving space.
Grief isn’t a process to get through and then check off as being done. It is on-going. During this event, the community grieved together for loved ones that have died both recently and many years ago.
Other people were grieving for groups who have died or are victim to injustices of the world. For example, there was a group that was grieving the thousands of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert due to inhumane border policies. There were others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to acknowledge all of the black and brown people who have needlessly died.
As I think of the grieving process, I think of how in moments of grief, both years ago and more recently, I have felt the need to keep my feelings internalized and put on a happy face for everyone around me. I feel lots of cultural pressure always show only my best self and grief doesn’t easily fit into that picture.
However, this public space of grieving made room for so many emotions. Everyone could celebrate the lives of loved ones and be sad that those people weren’t here to share in our daily lives anymore. And as a community there was support for everyone in each of our places of grieving.
At the end of the processional route, everyone gathered at to see the lighting of the Urn, which was full of written names and objects remembering all those who were being mourned that night. It was a meaningful and symbolic way to end the procession but not put a camp on the grieving process. And the celebration continued after with more painting faces, eating, and music because even in grieving there is still room for love and celebration.
Do you wanna go on a field trip, my placement supervisor asked me.
I mean I can, I said. To where? Knowing full well that I actually had a full week of work that had piled up and I shouldn’t really be prioritizing this trip after missing all week in Colorado. However, we needed to get these motions for extensions to Eloy because there was no one to cover the hearings for tomorrow. All of the sudden, these papers were rather important. I grabbed eagerly at the keys to Pickle, my placement supervisors blue Prius, and hit the road for the 45 (more like hour) drive to Eloy. My first trip to the detention center. I had been rather excited for this moment most of my year thus far. I had not yet been to a detention center. When I first got to Tucson, I imagined that the facilities were like apartment complexes where people were held just so the government could “keep their eyes on them”. I had already heard that many times, people do nothing wrong to end up in these areas. When entering the US to start a new life, or sometimes even just to continue the lives they have always led, ICE would pick them up. Or, they would be stopped going to work, the grocery store, or a friends house. The term “driving while black” I have learned really just means driving while of color and anybody that is not white or does not fit the right profile therefore labeled “suspicious” and is susceptible to unauthorized harassment. As I was driving past the cotton fields and through Arizona’s countryside, I soon realized that in reality, our detention centers are prisons. I should have put it together sooner. That the term “detention” is never a pretty word. I approached the prison and walked to the tall front gate.
My placement supervisor had semi warned me of the process before I got there: walk to the gate, state yourself, walk through the doors, go through security, get escorted to the court, deliver the papers, walk out. As soon as I entered the cold, brick, and barbed wire facility, I forgot everything. I went to hit the button to be buzzed through the first of three doors to the building. The guard, clearly used to people knowing the routine, mumbles into the mic. Not understanding, I hit the button again. The guard sighs and says, “okay okay just come on through give me a minute”. I walk through the first set and realize the second set is again locked. I ring the button like a doorbell- I hit it twice, “I said hold on” the guard responded. 3 minutes, or forever later, the door opens. The main door, the last door, is unlocked and I am given passage. The guard sighs at me as we finally get to look each other in the eyes. “What are you doing here, state your business”. “I, I am from the public defender’s office, I am here dropping off court papers”. Okay, go through security- It’s just like the airport, she instructs. Luckily, I had just gone to Colorado and been traveling in the recent years, four years ago I would have been lost. As I got through the unguided security, the woman guard became busy. Hoping to alleviate pressure, I jumped up and followed the group of attorneys, thinking surely, they would know where we were going. We. Ha.
The attorneys, as it turned out, were taking a short tour of the facility and then going to speak to clients in the center. So, I toured too. And then, as we ended the tour I walked up to the guard doe eyed and apologized admitting I was lost. He calmly instructed me back to the lobby where I got stuck in, the BERMUDA triangle. Which is a corner hallway that is between two more locked doors. I was stuck and just when I was about to ring the button, the woman guard, the same one I had before, got back on the buzzer. “You’re just gonna have to wait there; I’m busy, and you didn’t follow the instructions I gave you”. Wait, she gave me instructions? I waited ten minutes, then left to the lobby where I was scolded and informed I was not to be going anywhere un-escorted. I think they were now weary of little old me being unattended. An escort came, picked me up, lead me down a long hallway with several more doors locked every so feet. Then, finally, I made it to court. A cheery office cubicle space decked out in Halloween garb. Little did they seem to realize that the cement walls, barbed wire, and cold metal locking doors were more frightening than the googly eyed bats and spiders on their door.
The ten minutes I was in that room was the most relaxed I felt. I waited, and waited, and my escort never came back despite her 6 warnings not to leave without her. Finally, the receptionist I talked to was leaving and offered to escort me. While hesitant to disturb the system, I was also ready to leave and I had my office-mates staying late waiting for me to return. As we walked I couldn’t help but ask her how long she worked here. Four and a half years, four and a half years too long, she admitted. But it gets less dreary and scary after a while. To demonstrate, she yelled back at the guard who mumbled on the intercom “COURRRRRTT”, clearly she knew the common system. She repeated the screeching through security and our three locked doors outside. Always locked, never easy to arrive or to leave.
My first trip to the Eloy detention center was not what I expected. It was a cold and sad place. It was filled with people who dreamed of being citizens but were now in orange jumpsuits awaiting the inevitable deportation or disappearance. I studied our prison systems enough in college to realize that they are unfairly made up of a large POC (people of color) population. Yet, this was just a further example of how we continue to separate families and put people in cages. And for what? In my personal opinion, these families are either A) looking for a better life(shouldn’t we be happy they think our country is so great?) or B) these families existed on the “border region” and who are we to withhold them from being on the land their families have owned for centuries? I need to know what we are doing America.
*Disclaimer: This is more political than I have ever been before but being in the desert, hearing stories, and watching things NOT get done- it’s easy to gain and feel the need to share this opinion. Please feel free to find me on social media, text me for a time to chat, or shoot me an email if you have questions or a differing opinion you feel needs heard.*