This Christmas season has had a different meaning as I have had the opportunity to looked at it through the lens of the borderlands.
About a week before Christmas I had the opportunity to attend a bi-national posada. This posada took place on both sides of the border. Posadas are a Mexican tradition that focuses on the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay to give birth to baby Jesus. The bi-national posada paralleled the story of Mary and Joseph asking and being turned away from inns with those seeking asylum in the United States.
We moved through stations of the posada singing a call and response song in which people on the Mexico side asked those on the US if they could come over, to help support their children and keep them from violence. The US side had a response for each verse rejecting and not listening to the needs of our neighbors. The last station of the posada, those on the US side of the border crossed into Agua Prieta and met at the gate of the Migrant Resource center, where people who are seeking asylum and waiting on the Mexico side until they are at the top of the list to have their cases heard. At this point those of us who are mostly U.S citizens that crossed the border joined the Mexico citizen that live in the community of Agua Prieta, all of us at the gates of the migrant center ask the asylum seekers if we can come into the center to join them. Even though the U.S side rejected the Mexico side in the previous parts of the posada, the migrants gladly welcomed us in to join the party.
The next day I had the opportunity to attend a bible study in which we further discussed the story of Mary and Joseph. As I continue to live in the borderlands of this country in this time where immigration is one of our biggest issues dividing our nation, this story of Mary and Joseph being rejected and unwelcomed at the inn seems to resonate. Everyday people are coming to the United States looking for a place to safely care for their babies, their children, and a country that has more than enough, turns them away. Jesus was denied a place to stay and be born but still came and brought the world salvation.
I think that there is a generation and children being born each day that like Jesus are coming to help save our world, to help and teach us to love our neighbors once more, to bring equality and end oppression and racism. But right now there is a generation and children soon to be born that are being rejected, being treated as criminals, and dying in the desert, instead of being welcomed and celebrated as though they just maybe the children born to save this world.
This summer, one of the things I found myself doing with my younger brother was going to this local pizza place in Swannanoa where they had a foosball table and good pizza/subs/wings. Miles and I would sit down, decide what we wanted to eat which was usually sharing a Cuban sandwich, order, and then immediately go play foosball. We would play many games before our food came and after before heading back to our normal summer lives. I didn’t realize how important that time was with my brother until I was leaving NC and started missing him when I got to Arizona. It was a chance for us to just play, have a little friendly sibling competition. It was a time for me to just spend time with a great not-so-little brother and catch up with him.
When I arrived at The Inn for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was a foosball table. There were kids playing at the table. When families arrive here, often the first things the kids notice is the table/people playing foosball. Their eyes light up and they run over to the table immediately to join a game/start playing. The other day I watched a dad who arrived at The Inn half an hour earlier walk around while singing a lullaby to his infant who was falling asleep on his shoulder. As soon as the baby fell asleep and was placed on a bed, the dad ran over to the foosball table and joined a game with some older kids and another dad. A few minutes later, his wife came up and reminded him that he should go shower while the baby was sleeping. The dad reluctantly went to go shower.
Over the past few months here, I have seen how this table is a source of joy for so many people of all ages. Every day there are kids playing constantly for most of the day. Occasionally parents in the evenings will kick the kids “out” (away from the table) so that they can have an adult-only game. Usually, moms vs. dads is how that works out with the kids cheering around their parents. On the day I wrote this, December, 16th, two moms, a dad, and three kids were playing a game. Hearing the laughter, seeing the smiles, feeling the excitement in the room from other kids watching, was something very life-giving for my Monday.
For Christians, “the table” is a very important concept. We are referring to the communion table. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been taught that the table is open for everyone. The table extends past all boundaries and is a place for conversation, peace, fulfillment, and the joy of the love of God. At The Inn, I get to witness this table, a foosball table, welcoming people of all ages. When a six-year-old invites a four-year-old to play by pulling up a little chair for the smaller human to stand on so they can reach the handles, I see the table in a different context and setting.
Playing with Miles this Summer was an easy way to pause, breathe, reconnect with my brother, and just play. It provided me time to not think about my work schedule, moving across the country at the end of the summer, drama, or other stressors in my life. I could just be. Watching people of all ages play, laugh, cheer, and be together over this table at the Inn is truly special to see. It is always fascinating to see other forms of God’s table being extended. At the table, we receive nourishment in the form of bread and wine (or grape juice). At the foosball table, folks are nourished by finding joy in a hard place on their journeys.
On Saturday I was tasked with writing a story about myself and peace. But I was anything but peaceful so I wrote about that and upon reflection thought that it was worth sharing on here:
As I am writing this, I am sitting outside. The sky is a nice blue with few clouds. It was a warm day today, but is now getting cooler as the sun is going down. I had a giant spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough to help me start this blog. This all sounds peaceful, but I don’t feel at peace currently.
It has been a rough day. Last night, my bike was stolen while I was in the grocery store buying things for dinner with my housemates. I came outside after being gone for less than 20 minutes and my bike was gone. Only the front tire remained. That’s not very helpful. It was a long evening of stress and police reports.
Today, I was planning on accomplishing a lot, including writing a blog post, but that proved difficult. I am anything but peaceful right now, so how can I write about anything on the topic of peace?
I have been feeling lots of things throughout the day: anger, sadness, loss, hope, tiredness. But peace is so far from that list. Come to think of it, I don’t know precisely when I last felt fully at peace. There are peaceful moments where I can sit and talk with a friend, or drink some tea, or cook food, but I am rarely at peace fully.
Feeling at peace is hard for me right now because I want to constantly be doing something. I see brokenness in the world around me. A world where my bike was stolen. I assume the motivation in the theft was to sell it for a profit. I am also assuming that this is necessary because the capitalist world we live in has made it so that person cannot care for themselves well by other means. Even if those assumptions aren’t true in this case, they apply to many other situations so well.
There is so little peace to be seen in the world. There is so much pain for so many people. Peace is hard for me to find, but easy to dream about, so that is where I am starting. Dreaming of a world of peace and if I can dream it, then I can take steps to make that happen. Right?
That is what I am choosing to believe and I want a community to help me achieve it. So that maybe one day, even if it is generations from now, there can exist a world where we can all find peace inside us and around us. A world where bikes, food, land, people, or anything else won’t have to be stolen in order to survive.
Spanish has BY FAR been one of the biggest unexpected struggles I have faced since moving here to Tucson. Please allow me to expand on the fact that a week in Mexico did not help. I’m going to be frank in this blog post that my white privilege comes out a lot when I get frustrated over being monolingual. As a house, we have a goal to point out white supremacy when we see it, and I am expanding that right now to publicly admitting when I am wrong. There have been many times this year where I have felt just a pinch of what it must feel like to be a minority in a setting. However, even in those times that I think I understand, I am speaking on the stance of my privilege.
My job placement this year, primarily speaks Spanish. Our Monday meetings are in Spanish and everyone goes to great lengths trying to accommodate to me, but I hate the feeling that I am missing out on conversations and bonding moments. I get frustrated that I am missing out on so much due to not being able to be authentically open and be my normal talkative self in spaces. I also feel I am constantly letting down coworkers because answering the phone, calling clients, and even answering the door and doing basic office functions that I normally love to do, provide a struggle. Although I know basic phrases and with the help of a few coworkers am attempting to learn more, I get lost rather quickly as the conversation progresses.
In my second week in Tucson, I went out with coworkers to a sushi restaurant. The waiter spoke clearly to my coworkers in Spanish but not to me. He didn’t acknowledge me. When menus came around, one of my coworkers had trouble reading their options. As I leaned over to explain, I noticed my menu was in English and all the rest were in Spanish. I was being stereotyped. Correctly so, but still stereotyped.
A month in, I attempted to take a Spanish class at an intermediate level. I figured I took all four years in high school and a semester in college, I had a basic vocabulary and didn’t need to start from the beginning. Soon, however, I found I was mistaken. We were doing introductions around the room and were asked to give three things about ourselves. That was the only part of the class I understood. And luckily, I was the last to speak so all I had to do was copy my other two roommates that went before me. And luckily, although they were late, they made it. The end of the class didn’t go so well. We had to say something we learned from class today. Fortunately, I learned a lot from that class; unfortunately, I had no idea how to recite any of it in Spanish and this time we went counterclockwise around the room- I was first. I rushed out of the room after and apologized to the instructor that I didn’t feel I was ready for intermediate. I was STRUGGLING. I was also mad. I was mad at myself for not remembering, understanding, and being mono-lingual.
In Mexico this past month, I was presented with constant situations in which I was uncomfortable and frustrated with myself. Whether it be through buying things and talking with cashiers, asking questions of our tour guides, or even understanding firsthand the experiences and stories our guides, friends, and mentors were sharing. I wanted to be present but I was not ready to be vulnerable. I was learning from other’s vulnerability that week, that was enough right?
A few Mondays ago, I attended a meeting for my workplace. As soon as we got there, there was an announcement that there were translation devices (like walkie talkies) upfront for those that did not speak Spanish or English. Frustrated I turned to my coworker and in the echoed room stated, “this meeting is in English AND Spanish?” To which he (a native Spanish speaker) replied calmly, yes. I got my headset and wandered back to my seat and turned it on. The frustration grew when only two of the people spoke Spanish and the rest of the meeting was in English. It wasn’t until we went to approve proposals that I was put in my place. We were approving a proposal about the use of translators and equipment in event spaces, emails, and meetings. Everyone was confused at the request and organizations seemed to believe they were all doing well with translating and keeping lines of communication open for everyone. That’s when our personal translator (a bi-lingual woman who was translating the meeting in both languages through a walkie- talkie) spoke up and addressed that 3/4th of the room was bi-lingual. We could be having the whole meeting in Spanish and the same number that spoke English would need things translated like the current Spanish speakers were then. We as a culture assume and project that everyone knows English and if they don’t, they can follow along. We don’t think about the fact that it’s just as uncomfortable for Spanish speakers to struggle to understand- like it is frustrating for me to understand.
I was never more ashamed as I was in that meeting. As the translator was “pitching” why we should be doing better at accommodating to everyone, I had been agreeing and was frustrated that people weren’t understanding. Then, I realized just how many times I have been in the wrong this year and just how many times I have not given the same courtesy of “accommodation”. I have come to recognize (rather slowly) that through my frustrations, the person I am really mad at is myself. I am an independent person who is now limited by my language speaking abilities. I am mad at how it affects my social life and my work and its easier to get frustrated at others than myself and to admit that I am uncomfortable even trying to attempt speaking Spanish because it puts me in a vulnerable place. I thought I had the vulnerability component of being a YAV covered, I open up to more people than necessary and I share more than people need or want to know. Just as long as it is within my comfort zone of knowing what I am talking about. Just so long as it is in English.