Isaiah 64:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
As I reflect on this passage and my YAV year, I am drawn to how long it has taken me to accept the desert. This place of death, destruction, and pain. It has taken me a long time to see the beauty here and to accept that the desert hasn’t always been the place of destruction as I see it. That there is a deep and complex history here.
It was on our first delegation trip to the US/ Mexico border in DouglaPrieta that Mark Adams shared with us how a “wall” existed before the Trump administration. That although our present administration has no issue hiding their racism and thoughtlessness, the border has been attacked for quite some time, and presidents from both sides of our 2 party system are the problem.
Later that week, we heard from Dan Millis from the Sierra Club about the issues that animals and plant species are having at the border, not understanding the disconnect that human walls have created. Species are going extinct.
At Thanksgiving, we were invited to the Sitting Tree Communities gathering. Where community members from near and far, past and present gathered together. Many in the circle shared how thankful they were for the desert. I was shocked. I did not yet see the landscape they were describing.
Earlier this week, photos started circling my Facebook from Quitobaquito. An oasis and sacred spring on the Reservation that is now drying up and the wildlife have nowhere to get relief from the brutal sun. Drying up because the government is blowing up, desecrating the sacred land around it. Putting the land, the clay, in shock. Our carelessness towards the earth and each other is making the desert the place of destruction that I see.
I came to Tucson to study Immigration and to learn about the people and families that we are harming at the border. However, the more I reflect back on what I have learned this year, the more I realize that I have learned so much more. If you would have asked me 10 months ago what I knew about our ecosystem or how considerate I was of it, I would have shrugged. However, it has been my experience biking to work everyday, hiking Mt Lemmon, discovering vegetarian dinner options, composting, and using reusable grocery bags (before COVID)- that I think have made the most unexpected impacts and deepest lessons in my YAV year. Sure, I still grumble when out Air is set any higher than 78, but in the back of my mind, I also see the ways that that change, makes a better change for the whole.
As I reflect on the systems we live in and of the space, we as humans, take up in this world, the deeper I understand how interconnected our injustices are. Women, BIPOC, Refugees, Animals, the earth, are all victims to an individualist culture that we live in where we fail to see the value and strength in community and teamwork. Our creator, the almighty potter, fashioned beautiful earth with people and insects and plants and animals, that all carry value and purpose. Part of the beauty of the earth is how diverse it is. I remember this- when we drive up Mt. Lemmon – and see the different biomes with saguaros at the base but pine trees and running water at the top.
Living in the desert, and serving as a YAV here in Tucson, studying migration and the issues of the border, has shown me first hand the destruction we as humans carry. There is a reason we are not the potter, but the malleable clay, ever-changing, and forming to be new and better people. We have the potential to be better. I am mad that this pandemic has cut off my social engagements but I am hopeful, that this time of reflection continues to strengthen our communities. The people that are stopping and stepping back from our capitalistic and work-driven culture, are starting to see, hear, and listen. I think we all, can start to as well.
You will get to a point one day, where this won’t be so hard, it won’t hurt so much.
This is what Margo Cowan, a woman who has been engaged with activism for over 45 years, told me as I walked her files into court last fall. It was my second week on the job, and in a plan to get to know me better, she asked how I liked my work with Keep Tucson Together. KTT is a new work placement for the TBYAVS, and it has been a lot of learning and growing for all involved. I went in knowing nothing about law or immigration. I also knew that I didn’t have the best boundaries when it came to work. That I have trouble separating areas of my life and not getting too focused on one thing that I forget other things around me. I knew going into, that this year was going to hold a lot of growth.
Keep Tucson Together is an organization that strives to offer free legal services to undocumented families in Tucson that cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in immigration court. The organization started in 2011, helping people submit their DACA and citizenship applications. However, now, there is a growing need to defend people in deportation proceedings as cases that were closed 5 years ago are being reopened and more and more people are getting stopped for traffic violations and then deported. This year has brought me a constant awareness of the ways in which our government uses tactics of oppression to further instill racism fear into society.
My first week on the job we discussed the importance of an A# or an alien #. The government refers to our clients not as people, but as aliens, and instead of going through the trouble of learning names, ICE assigns them #’s. My second week on the job, I attended my first Thursday night clinic and sat in on our team’s meetings with clients. I heard second hand through a translator the stories of people seeking political asylum, I heard of families whose son or sister or parent had gotten detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt one afternoon and ICE was called because the driver didn’t have papers. The following Monday, I relived those stories again and again as I entered them into our database and then sent them by email to our lawyers and teams so that these folks could get help.
Many emails came back with further questions, lawyers looking for more information that made this plea for asylum unique compared to the dozen that they heard earlier in the month. The first few emails, made me angry, why should it matter- why are we forcing people to relive their trauma’s? IF they were from Europe would we be needing as much information?
When Margo told me at the end of my second week that I would one day build up a shell and that this work wouldn’t affect me, I didn’t believe her. How could I ever get used to these stories and become numb to all of the tears and panic that came into our office every day? In my first month with KTT I began to see through lawyer and volunteer interactions, through emails, the “numbness” that Margo was hinting at. However, I still wasn’t sure that becoming “numb” was possible for me. I did not see the value in it.
Thirty-six weeks later, I am now beginning to unpack what she was saying that day. This numbness doesn’t mean the work no longer affects you, it’s that it doesn’t paralyze you. I began to understand that even though our lawyers and volunteers weren’t visibly distressed each time a new client’s story was heard, they still feel each one. Instead of getting upset and shutting down when I hear these stories, I now get angry when the 27th person comes to the clinic or calls us to explain their situation. I am angry because 27 people shouldn’t have to call in one day for a lawyer. They should not be sitting in a detention facility waiting to have their story heard. A story that 8 times out of ten, involves a loved one they know or themselves fleeing death threats after being kidnapped or harassed by a cartel.
Two minutes before I got up to tell this story, I was replying to a comment on a Facebook post for the Justice for All campaign. I told you— it’s hard to put work aside! This campaign is fighting to create a public defenders office in Pima County strictly for folks in immigration court. To alleviate the workload that nonprofits like Keep Tucson Together are facing when taking on 700+ cases at a time. The saying, you have a right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you, does not apply to non-citizens. Because in the eyes of Americans, if you are not a citizen you are not a person, you are an alien, why should you get a lawyer?
I am channeling anger tonight because I have had to tell the 9th person on Facebook for the 27th time that to get here “legally” amounts to more than having money and waiting two weeks for a passport or visa. I am angry because no matter how many ways it gets said, some people still struggle to connect the dots. And it’s not their fault, the system that we play into has caused us to be this way, to feel this way- or really, to not feel at all. But, how can I share my thoughts about what I am learning at the border when people are too built into their systems to listen. What happens when everyone plays into this “numb” feeling and a person’s life becomes a case instead of a story.
I now get angry instead of sad and in this current situation where KTT has 53 clients in ICE custody, in detention, awaiting infection, my blood is boiling and I challenge why more people’s do not. I am disgusted that our first question isn’t how can we help people who need help it’s, well are they here legally? When our second question isn’t how do we fix this, it’s how dangerous are these people? I am angry because I question how long social justice initiatives will have to keep fighting. I am angry now because some days, I wish I could live in Margo’s advice and be numb to the stories. To have this unawareness that friends, family, and Facebook strangers do. I am angry because as I am wishing for one day where I don’t have to be engulfed by work and immigration, I am also scared of becoming numb. It scares me to think that when this YAV year ends I will have the option not to think about the folks sitting in detention or being harassed by our government systems. It scares me to recognize the continuous battle in fighting the privilege to “numb out” and the challenge that comes with also taking time for self-care.
As we approach week 44, the end of our YAV year, and possibly the end of my time in Tucson, I get scared of leaving all I have learned behind and turning back to “numbing out”. People’s stories should not have to go on display in order for us to understand their situation. Yet, I have been given the gift this year of true vulnerability in the clients I work with and a few friends I hold dear. Their vulnerability should not go unnoticed. They are “Rock Stars” as Margo often says– and in a world that is threatening to dim their light, their stories need to be heard. The lesson that this year has taught me and the feelings that I am left with are that we can’t numb out and get used to these stories. As tempting as it is, we can’t take the easy way out and avoid seeing these people as people. Because if we do that, the system won’t change, people won’t change. As scared as I am for this YAV year to end, that does not mean the learning ends. We live in a world that will always offer one more story.
Two weeks after being in Tucson I went to a dinner event. While there I was sitting at a table with four people around my age and one older man. The older man asked every person at that table where they were from except he skipped over me.
It was uncomfortable not being asked because I had been in the city for two weeks while everyone else had either lived in Tucson their whole life or a large portion of it. The man asking questions and I were the only white people at the table and the only two people who didn’t have to say where we were from. Being white, it was assumed by him that we belong. Even though in this instance, I most definitely didn’t belong. And even 7 months later, I still don’t belong.
I am a migrant. I don’t belong in Tucson. I don’t belong to this city and this city doesn’t belong to me. I am just a temporary resident. But I don’t get questioned about this. In general, it is acceptable for me to be here, whether permanently or temporarily because I am white and I have a US passport.
In claiming an identity as a migrant, I have began to wonder many things.
Why am I not called a migrant? I am praised for moving and traveling. I am told that I am “adventurous and brave.” But the people I have met who have to wait in Mexico while they petition for asylum are braver than me. I am not brave enough to move to a new country even though I have the choice, yet these people don’t have a choice. Their only option is asylum and they have endured much more than I have. They are brave and have taken a big journey in hopes of a safer and better life.
Why is it beautiful and amazing for the Monarch butterfly to migrate across North America every year but its not ok for humans to do the same? Butterflies don’t need to be documented. There are no restrictions on where they can go and how they can live their lives. Why do humans need that?
Am I a migrant that is “here to take people’s jobs”? The YAV program works hard to ensure that we are volunteering in supportive roles that wouldn’t be filled by locals were we not here, but where is the guarantee? I am only in Tucson to work for a year and leave. But it’s socially acceptable for me to do this. If I were born in Mexico would it still be acceptable?
Why am I “legal?” Why can I travel 2,200 miles to be here in Tucson to work only for a year, while many people from the state of Sonora, Mexico (Arizona’s southern border) can’t travel the mere 150 miles to live in Tucson. Or even visit family and friends for a day. Many Sonoran’s would be considered “illegal” if they were in this city, but it is much closer to their home than mine.
Why can’t we all be free? Free to move and live. Free to work and be in places where our lives aren’t in danger. Why do we have borders and walls restricting the movement of people and animals? Movement that has been happening before recorded history. Movement on land that doesn’t even belong to white people to begin with.
Why do I get to migrate? What is the difference between myself and the migrant many are fighting against other than my skin color and my nationality?
I have so many questions and so few answers. The more I seek the less I find. But I don’t want to stop seeking and questioning the injustices toward too many migrants in my country.
Flash blogs are short posts written to a shared prompt during community discussion time -- with a ten minute time limit. This practice helps us get used to blogging, stay in communication with our followers, and challenge ourselves to not overthink how we share with the world. See each YAV's response to this shared prompt below!
PROMPT: What is one thing that stuck with you from Agua Prieta yesterday? Feelings, Thoughts, Emotions…
On January 23rd, the TBYAVs went to Agua Prieta with the co-moderator of the PCUSA church and a couple of pastors from Tucson.
When we got to Douglass/Agua Prieta, we immediately went to the U.S. side of the border wall where we had a bible study and time for prayer. On the Mexico side of the border wall, there were friends gathered. With the border wall between us, we formed a circle with our neighbors. We read Ephesians 2:11-22 in Spanish, then in English, and were given the opportunity to share thoughts about what we had just read/heard. At the end of our time at the wall, we all held hands to pray together. This image stuck with me all day. The people at the ends of our semi-circles crouched down to hold hands through the wall. There were huge rolls of concertino wire above their heads. The bible verse we read says:
“For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
Christ has broken down the wall. Christ has crossed the borders. How can I do the same? We are all united in God’s love and peace for all people. Yet we still uphold this border between our neighbors.
Yesterday was the fifth time went to Agua Prieta, Sonora. We have made it a routine to go once a month to attend an event or visit our roommate Hannah. It cracks me up that this has become so routine, yet, our trip is still met with the same initial shock and we all are left just as emotionally exhausted as we return. I am left with a feeling of confusion. What are all these trips suppose to mean? Are they meant to get easier? Are we supposed to interact more and build connections? ARE WE building connections? Are we LEARNING anything?
This last question has been sticking in my head a lot. This trip to AP was different from most others. Our travel was more than just us YAVS and it was more than us and Alison, we were accompanied this time by three guests, one of whom was the co-moderator of the presbyterian church- or for those that aren’t presbyterian and know what a co-moderator is, we lovingly referred to her as “The Pope of the Presbyterian Church” (apparently this title is not known to her). We were given one day to help show Cindy around AP and introduce her to Frontera de Cristo and the other community partners. So, we relieved the week we spent in AP last November. We went to a few of the mission partners, we heard from the Frontera board, from the Migrant resource center, and we went to CAME the shelter for asylum seekers. We started our day at 7:45 am and made it back to the house at 10:30 pm last night.
Around 2 pm Cindy had announced that with the time change, the jet lag, and the information overload, she was getting tired. At that moment it sunk- though we don’t fit it into a day, every day here is impactful. Every day, we are learning and growing and being shaped. It is a lot- and yesterday, I realized its okay to be exhausted. It is okay to need rest and to not constantly be absorbed by the important and impactful work that’s been happening. Though- this won’t change my feelings about work boundaries :).
Yesterday we traveled back to Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico for the day. We were traveling with one of the Co-Moderators of the General Assembly, so the point of this visit was for her to experience the borderlands. What is happening and how the Presbyterian Church is responding.
Because of the delegation that we did in November and other various experiences I have had while here, much of what we were talking about yesterday wasn’t new to me. At one point I was even questioning what I was getting out of this. “What is the point in me being here today?”
Our last stop of the day was at CAME, a shelter for migrants to stay in while they wait to make their assylum petition. I had been in this shelter before and heard about the good work taking place there, but yesterday, in a few moments of downtime, I was drawn to a mural painted on the wall that I hadn’t seen before.
The mural was of “La Bestia” a train that travels regularly from southern to northern Mexico. It is a common way for migrants to travel. The mural depicted migrants sitting atop the train and with them sat Jesus.
He wasn’t doing anything other than sitting and being present with the people on the train. Being present is part of what Jesus asks us to do and that is what is happening at CAME.
But what struck me more was how many different versions of the human experience there are. When I think of people catching a ride on the roof of a train, I think of the 1920s or earlier. That doesn’t feel like a 21st century thing to me.
The point of me being in Agua Prieta yesterday may not have been to be exposed to 100 new things and challenging ideas like it has been the last few times I have visited the city. But I can still learn and recognize that the people sitting in the tents along the border, the people doing puzzles and waiting for dinner at CAME, the people on La Bestia currently all have vastly different life experiences than I do in life.
The moments of looking at this mural brought me back to the reality that I am privileged to be born a white woman from in the United States. I carry that privileged with me everywhere I go. And I need to open my heart more to embrace everyone in all of their experiences.
As a Tucson Borderlands YAV, who resides in Tucson, about once a month we visit Agua Prieta. In Tucson we are still in the Borderlands, however every time we are able to go to Agua Prieta/Douglas a border town in Arizona, we are at the heart of the borderlands.
Every time I’ve gone to Agua Prieta I’ve felt really moved by the different bible studies we’ve attended. Yesterday we had a bible study at the wall with fellow hermanas y hermanos de Cristo. They sent us a picture from their side of the border. They had a beautiful mural on the wall, we sent a photo back that had an aggressive amount of barbed wire on it blocking our view of the community we were getting to have that time of reflection with. This Bible study was held in both languages, and was extremely powerful. Each Bible study I’ve attended held by Frontera de Cristo is the most I’ve felt the presence of Christ and community. Being able to turn to the Bible to a place of justice and liberation and at times a source of hope, has been powerful. In Agua Prieta I see people being able to find strength in the Bible that shows stories of people thousands of years ago fighting the same injustices.
One of the biggest ways I have seen myself learning and growing here in Agua Prieta is through my faith and spirituality. As my spirituality changes and grows in little ways, I can feel my faith flourishing. I think I can attribute this to the simple fact that I have never felt God’s presence anywhere as strongly as I do around this border community. Everywhere I go, every person I meet, and in every experience they have shared with me, I have seen God’s work more clearly than ever before.
Changes in my spirituality have been gradual, but notable.
I pray with open hands.
“I used to think clenched fists would help me fight better, but now I know they make me weaker.” -Bob Goff, Love Does
I read the book Love Does by Bob Goff as I was discerning year of service options, and the chapter “Palms Up” struck me hard. It begins with this quote above, and the chapter talks about the calmness that keeping your palms facing up can bring. We do this a lot in yoga, too. When you relax muscles, you can relax your body, and hands are easy to clench when faced down. I’ve started to practice this when praying. Rather than keeping my hands intertwined, I’ve opened my palms outward, not only to relax myself, but also to invite the Holy Spirit in. In reality I started doing it to relax myself, but as I said the change in my spiritual practices has also brought about changes in faith. And now I feel that open palms and my “heart to heaven” (another yoga practice) has helped me to feel that not only is the Holy Spirit present with me, but invited inside.
I pray in conversation with God
People from TONS of different religious backgrounds have followed the call to come serve here at the US-Mexico border. I am Catholic, serving in a Presbyterian Ministry, living with a Mennonite, serving alongside a Unitarian Universalist, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Franciscan Friars, and so many more. When I sit down for dinner I am used to praying “bless us oh Lord for these Thy gifts…” Now when I am asked to pray, though nervously so, I thank God for each life at the table, for the hands that prepared the food, and for so much more. Both prayers have the same meaning, but one I could (and probably do) recite in my sleep, while the other calls me to think in that moment what I am most grateful for and how I want to thank God for it in this specific day. The more often I am asked to pray for meetings, for reflections, for meals… the more comfortable I have become with talking to God as a friend- something I have long envied in others’ faith and have been striving to practice myself. (And now I do this in spanish which adds even more learning to it… wow)
My understanding of the bible is becoming something entirely new
I have never spent much time with the Bible. Part of the job here is to attend a weekly devotional, in which we participate in a bible study. From this, and other biblical reflections that I participate in with visiting delegation groups I have come to know the bible as a story of immigration. From the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament, someone is in transit- migrating for one reason or another. I’ve also learned that stories from 2 thousand years ago aren’t all that different from what is happening today. Within the pages are a call to unify divided nations. And especially in this season of Christmas I have drawn comparisons between the woman who is 8 months pregnant, fearing that she will be sent to wait in Ciudad Juarez after presenting for asylum, and Mary migrating at 8-9 months pregnant, and being denied room at the inn. I am re-learning these stories in today’s context as I meet people who embody message.
I wrote the majority of this post just before Christmas, but have been thinking about posting it and what changes it might need. And then this morning, I saw a post on facebook from the Vatican, in which the Pope is sharing a prayer intention for January 2020. “We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.” This was his prayer for this month, and is exactly what I see happening here at the US-Mexico Border. An environment that has helped me so much to learn and grow in my faith and so many other ways. A world that I too am praying for alongside Pope Francis.
Let us go across to the other side
In the Gospel of Mark there are a lot of times when Jesus and the disciples cross from Jewish land to Gentile land and vice versa. This gospel is read by the delegation groups in preparation for their trip to Agua Prieta/Douglas, and I too read and have been discussing with each group various verses from it.
It has had me thinking a lot about who is willing to cross and who is able to cross these borders. For example, there is a passage in which Jesus and the disciples cross into Gentile land. Jesus leaves the boat and begins healing gentiles, and in this passage, the longest in Mark, none of the disciples are mentioned at all. My boss pointed this out to me, and questioned if they stayed behind in the boat and let Jesus go to do his thing alone. Where they not willing to go across to the other side?
Though I have physically crossed the border, I question, in what ways have I stayed behind in the boat? Have I been fully present in the community of Agua Prieta? Am I fully present with each of the migrants?
And then there’s the HUGE question: who is able to cross?
All of the delegation groups will testify how surprisingly easy it is to cross into Mexico- no lines, no presentation of your papers. But with over a thousand migrants on the list to stay in CAME (the shelter for migrants), it is clear that the reality is not the same when crossing the opposite direction. Beneath blankets tied to the fence-style wall that borders the US, sleeping on mats laid on top of the concrete, are migrants that could testify how surprisingly (?) hard it is to cross into the United States.
My white skin and my “passport privilege” make this a reality I am blind to. And as I ride my bike past the 2 hour long line of cars waiting at the port of entry, I greet the migrants staying in la línea, I am able to “go across to the other side” with an ease they’ll never know.
There multiple realities here, regarding “the other side”, “el otro lado”.
I am really grateful to be here to take it all in. Both by sharing in the experience of living amongst a border, and by learning from those whose realities have to be different than mine due to which side we were born on.
I have always been a girl that loves her board games. Board games, card games, I LOVE games. I usually have a knack for winning and playing games is sometimes the only time my competitive side shows. Especially, if it’s a game I am used to winning, like Disney Scene- It or Rummikub. Then there are the games that I know I don’t win but still like to play. These are games like Stratego, Monopoly, and Risk. Risk was one of my favorites growing up, I used to love gathering around a table with my brother and all of our cousins around the holidays and spending HOURS on end prepping for world domination. I loved the intricate little soldiers, and cannons, the men on their horses. For those that haven’t played, the game is all about strategy, alliances and of course the end result and how you win is to concur the world. There are three types of militia of different point values and a map of the world colored by continent. Your job is to spread your army across every continent and take over the countries from other players on the board by rolling high numbers on dice. Playing this game enough times, I now have the perfect starting strategy: put all my troops in Australia first, then, as the game progresses, branch out from Australia into Egypt, over to south then central and north America, then spread across Asia and finish in Europe. Never EVER start in Europe. It is a tramping ground that is easily taken as there are no secure borders of protection. People can come and attack you from all sides of the map. Its best, to skirt on the sidelines, but everyone else is also trying for that strategy.
I usually last about halfway through a game. I am not the first person to be defeated, usually people leave me on the board because they know I am not a threat and they take the real competition out first. I usually make it through “alliance and treaty time” the time of the game where people build partnerships. “I ‘PROMISE’ not to go after you here if you help me take this piece of land from so- and – so over there”, or like in Monopoly, “I’ll give you this region if you can just help me or let me have this section here”. In a game where the ultimate goal is to be the last one on the map, its clear that getting there alone is hard. You don’t always have the support or militia you need. The tricky part of the game, however, is when these alliances start to break. It’s all fun in the beginning with people promising things to each other but halfway through it gets chaotic and tension arises. “HEY! You PROMISED I was safe here. What are you DOING!!!”, “SORRY, sorry, it’s a game, don’t freak out- you knew this wouldn’t last forever- You should have built up your militia and been ready!” Playing with my cousins, this is usually where I stop. We have a lot of competitive people in the family who despite this being “just a game” feelings get hurt and tension gets the best of us. The game quickly turns into- how fast can Katie destroy herself and exit the game and avoid the conflicts. All the girls are usually dominated at this point and are ready to play Barbies or House, something less violent. Its funny how a board game meant for children, can influence so much of life and enforce societies stereotypes and “values”.
You may be wondering why I have spent most of one of my first blogs on Tucson, discussing a children’s game. It’s a valid question; I was curious as well when this game was on my mind the whole plane ride here. See, I was reading some of the pre-required readings on the plane (that I failed to read over the summer) and this game, kept coming back to my memories. For the next year, I have committed to being a Tucson Borderlands YAV. I knew coming in that a lot of the learning that I would have to do with life and culture along America’s “border”. A lot of the articles we were supposed to be reading, dealt with history of the border and how colonization happened very quickly and all at once. One article in particular, “Tohono O’odham Nation- History and Culture”, did a very good job in summarizing how abruptly a people can become displaced from their land and culture without so much as a warning or conversation. Like when you are sneaking your troops around the borders in Risk, instead of facing the conflict in Europe head on and in the open. The article tells a quick recap of how the indigenous people (Tohono O’odham) have lived on the land we Americans now consider the boarder for years before it was such. As colonization started happening, the people were promised not to have to worry, they wouldn’t have to change, they would be given special rights and license to maintain their “rights” as citizens. However, as time passed, the line was drawn and the promises made became blurred. Much like in the children’s game, it is hard to keep hold of promises when things are constantly developing. The world around us is always changing and more structure needed to be in place, the special identifications for the Tohono O’odham people eventually no longer mattered. Due to national security, our boarders had to be enforced so “outsiders” didn’t become a problem. The “middleman” had to be cut to assure the “enemy” didn’t stand a chance. If it helps to think of things outside of a “game” perspective for those that didn’t spend their holidays plotting domination, reading the article I also starting thinking of the well known and taught Native American peoples history and the struggles there with colonization. Here I was again, reading examples of other peoples being pushed out of their home, their heritage ripped away by newcomers who pushed for the “betterment of society”.
Why do we find it necessary to teach our children about war? Why do we feel the need to establish competitive behavior, violence, mistrust, and strategic sneakery in our youth? Does learning how to “build and maintain an army” have to start so young? Let’s also note but not get into right now the gender roles displayed on who has the power and patience to maintain their armies. Reading these articles, I started to wonder why I saw the game as fun. I always lose interest and know what’s coming in the middle. Why do I play in the first place? The game continues to teach me that developing a strategy, maintaining borders, building alliances, and communication are important. It’s the key to winning the game. However, the untold and unnoticed lesson that we are also instilling is that it’s okay to break those alliances, hurt feelings, and break the trust, for the well being that this is just a game. The innocent bystanders aren’t your friends, neighbors, or innocent people. They are pieces of plastic, alien- like figurines, not human beings. In order to “win” and be the best you can be, you must be able to step on other people’s shoulders and make your way. I find it eerie how my brain can link an article to a children’s game and my brain can draw so many comparisons. I find it scary that I can see where so many life lessons and social structures get formed, without ever taking a second to realize what’s happening. I find it horrifying how fast we can turn on people and focus on the “betterment” of the game, of the country, of the world. Pushing people’s feelings to the side and getting wrapped up in “end goals”.
Flash blogs are short posts written to a shared prompt during community discussion time -- with a ten minute time limit. This practice helps us get used to blogging, stay in communication with our followers, and challenge ourselves to not overthink how we share with the world. See each YAV's response to this shared prompt below!
For starters, I totally had the idea to write a blog post about this in August or September-ish. Well, I didn’t. But because I had thought about it a bit back then, I already have some ideas and reflections on the Borderlands. Through this limited writing entry, I will see how those reflections have transformed through the last several months.
My first interaction with the Borderlands in my YAV year was that I decided to go to a site that is called “The Tucson Borderlands Site.” Right there in the name! At first, I thought that the borderlands was clearly referring to the U.S.- Mexico border to which we are so close here in Tucson. We’ve traveled to the border a number of times, and I remember in my initial interview with Alison before coming, she said something to the effect of, “The border is felt in all parts of life here in Tucson.”
My understanding of Borderlands changed at national YAV orientation when during our anti-racism training, we were presented with the borderlands framework. (Oh geez, how did I explain this in less than 10 minutes?) We split into groups and wrote sticky notes of all sorts of characteristics that are considered the “norm,” like: insured, Christian, educated, white, heterosexual, home owner, two-parent family. These sticky notes were posted into a square-ish shape on the wall. Then we wrote sticky notes that had traits that were societally perceived as outside of the norm like transgender, atheist, people of color, non-English speaking, immigrant, uninsured. These stickies were assembled around the square center, forming a border. I had never thought of the borderlands this way. The invisible, but far, far from nonexistent, lines in our society. I have returned to this framework of thinking many times throughout the year. Under this framework, any YAV site could have “Borderlands” in its name. Because of the emphasis and format of YAV, my peers all over the country and world are interacting with these invisible lines on a daily basis.
What do “The Borderlands” mean to me? Before becoming a Tucson Borderlands YAV, I had never heard the word “borderlands” before. When I thought of a border, I thought of a hard dividing line. Once you cross it, you are in an entire differently place than you were before. For example, once you cross the US/Mexico you go from being in Mexico to in the United States. It’s a black and white, night and day change. Seems reasonable right?
What I have learned during my YAV year is that while yes, that is the technical definition of a border, it does not really encompass the lived experience of people who make their lives in the lands near the border. The border is a lot less hard of a line than I thought, in fact, it is often very blurry. You may cross the border into the United States, but for the next 100 miles, you may be forced to show your ID or prove your a US citizen at a myriad of Border Patrol Checkpoints. So you are not really past the border once you step into the United States, it follows you, popping its head up and making you prove you belong on this side.
The border continues to follow you throughout Tucson. Every day, the green and white trucks of Border Patrol whiz up and down the city streets, reminding you of the ever present border. In the courtroom downtown, people’s lives are turned upside down on a daily basis as a judge rules they must return to the other side of the border, that they don’t belong on this side. In Southern Arizona, being 25 or 50 or 100 miles from the border is really meaningless. For some the border is always there. To me, that is why we live in the “Borderlands.” Whether we can see it or not, this land is shaped by the border, no matter how far away that border might be.
The borderlands and the myths/ideas surrounding a borderlands whether that is real or perceived is a subject of great importance but also of equally great confusion. A borderlands can exist anywhere where there is a space/gap between the familiar and unfamiliar. Whether this is within the realm of the material world or only within the minds of those living within it; the ramifications for those who exist outside of the familiar can all too often be isolation and unnecessary struggle. This also begs the question of what our role, as people of God, are in the face of this timeless struggle. Throughout many parts of the New Testament there are important reoccurring themes that reverberate throughout it. While they manifest themselves in different ways one of these central themes is simply to:
Live in Adversity
But what does this truly mean? I could spend countless pages; possibly whole books on what this fully entails but one thing is certain. That as believers we are called out of comfort, or the familiar, into the borderlands. Just like how a muscle cannot grow without first being torn or a skill learned without time and energy expended we are called to the borderlands to grow through necessary suffering. This allows us to not only grow stronger physically but also spiritually, and in doing so grow closer to God and our understanding of the work we are called to do.
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!
On Friday the 30th we concluded with our border delegation/immersion experience with the Austin and Albuquerque YAV houses. Throughout the week we participated in many activities along the U.S. Mexico border to immerse ourselves within a variety of different perspectives and cultures based around those whose lives are affected by this situation on a continual basis. We spent time in and around the Douglas/Aqua Prieta port of entry. As part of this immersion experience, we visited many different facets of life along border communities. We spoke with the mayor of Douglas about the unique relationships border communities have with each other. We explored topics such as economic policies, education, and community structure as well as looking into how these concepts put in practice transcend traditional barriers. On the Mexican side we visited and spoke with families who have attempted to obtain a temporary visa and the issues they faced. There were also many types of community wealth we took part in observing. One such group is known as “Cafe Justo” and they are a fair-trade coffee cooperative working to help foster wealth for those in more distressed parts on the country. Another unintended side effect of increased border security is the costs to the black-market drug industry. While higher quantities of drugs are being stopped at the border due to increased security this also means that many of these illicit substances intended for US customers are now getting trapped along the border in border communities instead. This has resulted in a new epidemic along the southern border with treatment facilities on the rise to help remediate this issue. One such facility, the CRREDA, takes part in helping the community with substance abuse. The facility functions under a family structure model that focuses on the 12 steps and the beatitudes as the foundation of healing. Those who enter usually spend a minimum of 90 days.
On the last stop of our journey that week we witnessed the legal proceeding (known as Operation Streamline) taking place in Tucson’s court systems. These proceedings are a drastic step forward in combating illegal immigration by pushing as many as 70-90 people a day through Tucson’s courts in an effort to quickly combat illegal immigration while also minimizing the time/costs related with detention. Throughout these proceedings many of the defendants spoke Spanish but a few spoke different dialects and their level of comprehension at times was questionable at best. Usually 10 to 12 people were brought into the courtroom at a time. Then they would go down a line with the defendants being asked to yes or no questions about the nature of their detention. There was a translator and many of the lawyers spoke Spanish but I still at times questioned the overall level of comprehension among them. The law and your individual rights can at times be a complex and confusing animal even to someone raised in this country…