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.
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.
The Parable of the Sower Matthew 13: 1-23
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
When I read this scripture the first time, I got very caught up in what type of seed I was. Verses 20- 21 really stood out to me. I felt connected to the seeds planted on Rocky ground. Enjoying the gifts and privilege around me, but only at a base level and not really for the long haul. Refusing to put down my roots. I entered my YAV year with a sense of theological tourism. I wanted to travel the world and escape the small community I came from. I wanted to see fun places and learn about the world, embrace the many diverse cultures. I wanted excitement and adventure. However, this year had other ideas in mind and instead of fun and adventure, I was hit with some heavy grief and experiences that challenged my privilege and questioned the things I got excited over.
The more I think about this year, the less I feel like a particular seed and the more I relate to the sower who, had one job: plant the seeds and grow the crops. But, the seeds went everywhere, there were too many outside factors around them that prevented all of the seed being planted properly in the ground. Thinking back to our year, I realize how little was in our control. Ruby’s bike accident, and COVID 19, for example… I resonate with the sower this year. I too have not really been planting my seeds, but rather, dropping them and scattering them along the path not knowing where they were ending up.
The first lesson I learned this year on the borderlands, was that you can’t ignore the pain. It engulfs you. To me, the desert had always been an image of death, despair, and pain., Even before extensively studying the issues of immigration at the border, the desert projected an image of death. At a Thanksgiving meal, we were invited to this year, I was shocked to hear so many being thankful for “the beauty of the desert”. Nothing seems to grow here, it’s hot, there are snakes… but, after MANY months and quite a few hikes, I have also come to embrace the many species of cactus, I have fallen in love with the sunsets AS WELL AS some sunrises, and although I haven’t warmed up to the many predators in the desert, javelinas are a pretty fun animal. I have also come to realize there is a deep sense of community here. In a city of half a million people, I didn’t think it was possible. But, there truly is one degree of separation between most people. Despite the tourists and snowbirds that inhabit this place, there are also some that have been here “as long as the deeply-rooted mesquite tree” my boss Lupe Castillo says. I am sad that COVID has taken away so much of our time to connect with this community. However, it has also blessed me with the reflection that stay or go, I am still a tourist here. This land was home to many others before it became a space for me. I want to remember that. To remember that as my roots continue to grow and take hold of the desert clay, I remain respectful and aware of the plants growing near me and the sacred land that was once already inhabited.
Despite my seeds ending up everywhere this year, few managed to avoid the rocks, thorns, and birds in order to properly be planted. The seeds I have planted this year are ones of awareness. Awareness of the privilege I carry as a tourist with a passport. Awareness of the injustice all around me all the time. Awareness of the issue of immigration and humanities history as a migrant people. Awareness of the greed and misconception we allow ourselves to play into by not being agents of ourselves. Awareness of the systems that benefit me at the costs of those around me.
I also have planted seeds of action this year. I refuse to be the silent oppressor. I am learning what it means to have a voice and eventually, I will have to open up to the lesson of confrontation. I have spent this year, realizing that despite being young, privileged, and most of the time spacey, I do have thoughts, opinions, and ideas, that are worthy to share. This, this is where I see God, God is the sun that provides light to the seeds and warmth for them to grow. There to watch and look over them, but has no active role in their care. We have to be the ones to provide the seeds with water and to take them out of the sun every now and again. We are our own agents, set forth with our goal of planting an orchard.
In my understanding, God doesn’t care where the seeds are planted, just that a few, continue to grow.
At the beginning of March, as TBYAVs we were about to embark on our sojourn retreat and were asked to reflect on the what the desert meant to us. We also reflected on the times the desert is talked about in the Bible. In the Bible the desert is a place of challenge and where we see Jesus tempted. As I’ve been in a program that has the opportunity to bear witness to border issues, the desert has shown again and again to be a place of challenge, death, violence and separation.
However, I have continued to learn the desert is a place of extremes. Very hot days, and in the winter very cold nights. Within these extremes I see the opposing sides of the spectrum. This year a common practice for our check ins has been the Examen. A time in which most often we reflect on the questions: what has been something that’s been life giving and what is something that has been life draining? Or similar questions maybe where have you felt God, where have you felt an absence of God? It’s easy to perhaps see one of these as the “good” or the “bad” because we live in a world that often thinks in binaries. However, I appreciate the acknowledge of these opposing presences whether they are seen as good or bad, or makes someone feel more joy rather than sadness, we can appreciate them as parts of our life and existence.
So though it’s been more prevalent thinking of the challenges and suffering present in the desert, the hurt, the death, the separation, there is the presence of life, and resilience and hope. There is the need for God to nourish the desert, it is a place that both needs God’s attention and where his presence can be felt.
At the beginning of March, which in this time of COVID-19 now feels so long ago, my fellow Tucson Borderland YAV’s and I went to Cascabel, where we stayed in the canyon that hosts sojourn experience. These are experiences to be in solitude for an amount of time. We spent our first night together but once we woke up in the morning we headed out to our solo campsites for two nights and three days of solo time before returning to our group for one last night together to celebrate and reflect.
There was something unique about our experience, even different from the sojourners who typically come to this canyon for time of solitude. Though we still practiced solitude, this was something we were getting to practice while also in community. This was something I reflected on while in my alone time. As I saw each sunset, I wondered if Laura was enjoying it just as much as I was. As I shivered at night, I wondered if others were also having trouble sleeping through the night. As I drank my coffee, I wondered if Hannah was also enjoying a cup of coffee. As I journaled I wondered if others were processing what they wanted to in this time and space. I wondered if my community was sharing in the same joys of being surrounded by nature, I wondered if they share similar fears of being alone, if something were to happen. I wondered if they felt comforted knowing Alison was bring us water and checking on us by coming to the tree at the base of each of our camps where we’ve tied rags to signal we are ok. I wondered if they also felt empowered by being in nature and being able to have less pressure from the rest of the world, and the ability to only listen to the needs of their body. I ate when I needed to, I used the restroom when I needed to, I rested when I was tired, I returned to my tent when I needed to relief from the sun.
There were other powerful experiences during my solo time I could reflect on or share, but in three weeks time a lot has changed, as the world faces this global health crisis. But this experience of solitude in community, continues to resonate with me, as my YAV house, the YAV program, the city of Tucson, Pima County, the state of Arizona, the United States, and countries across the globe are experiencing this crisis, and members of all these communities are also being asked to isolate themselves from one another to keep each other safe. We are isolating as a community and for the community.
Though at this time it’s been easy to feel isolated and alone, I’ve found comfort in the ability to creatively feel connected and in community. As I talk to my parents and friends, I hear the different fears and anxieties we share. As I watch musicians perform instagram live stream concerts, I see many other fans tuning in, showing me there’s many other people like me wanting to connect with music during this time. I feel a lot of comfort being part of a program, with a site coordinator and board checking in with us and offering support as we navigate and process this, in the middle of our YAV year.
As a house, we have made jokes that our sojourn retreat has prepared us to sit around and do nothing. But really, at least for me our time at our sojourn retreat has given me ways to reflect and see the beauty of community that is not always visible or means being in physical presence or constant communication, rather the beauty in community is even in complete solitude or mandated orders to shelter in place, it’s presence continues to be powerful and felt. Also always wash your hands.
“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.
Solitude can be hard to find as a Young Adult Volunteer. I spend most of my time in community, whether it be my house community, work community, or church community. I have come to appreciate all of these communities, but from time to time, I do crave solitude. My craving was answered this past week in the form of a desert sojourn retreat. On Monday, my housemates and I travelled to the small community of Cascabel, Arizona. We camped together for a night, then each headed out to a solo camping site in the desert. There, I spent three days by myself. Well, myself and flies, roadrunners, birds, saguaros, and wildflowers.
I had been very excited for my time in the desert. It had been a busy month, and time by myself sounded like a great way to recharge my batteries. Part of me was also hoping that time to write and think would lend me powerful new insights about the world and myself. What I found on my first day was boredom and discomfort. I tried to write, but the words would not come. I tried to sit with my thoughts, but all I could think about were tasks I would have to complete the next week. And I was uncomfortable. The temperatures rose past the 90’s and the sun was beating down on my camp site. The inside of my tent felt like a sauna. So I moved from rock to rock, chasing the bit of shade provided by the small trees as the sun moved across the sky. As day one came to a close, I was not feeling any closer to myself or the world around me.
The second day not only brought cooler temperatures, but also a greater sense of internal peace. I found myself lost in the book I had brought, which had not happened in a while. (FYI, the book was Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. I highly recommend it!) I also found it easier to write and think. While my mind would still drift back to deadlines and commitments, I also thought a lot about myself, the nature around me, and how I was feeling. By the morning of the third day, I felt truly happy and peaceful. I remember waking up and making some coffee. As I drank my coffee, I watched the sun rise over the cliffs. The world felt simple in that moment. Just me, my coffee, and creation. It hadn’t felt that simple in a long time.
While I do cherish the moments of serenity I had during the retreat, being alone was a complicated experience. I had some moments of utter boredom and some moments of total peace. There were times when I was thinking about how dirty I was or how uncomfortable the rock I was sitting on felt. But then other times I would completely forget how I physically felt and focus completely on the world around me.
Now that I am back in Tucson, I am grateful for the time alone, not in spite of being bored and uncomfortable at times, but partially because of those feelings. Those are two sensations that can be hard to tap into living in a modern world of connivence and technology. But they are a part of the human experience. Ultimately, I didn’t have any new, grand insights or revelations from my time in the desert, and it wasn’t three days of total peace and bliss. But it was three days to simply exist and be the person called Tanner, with all the emotional highs and lows that being a person on this Earth entails.
When I first contemplated how I would format my blog post about the Border Delegation, I thought that I would title it, “Hurt and Hope,” and describe the ways in which I observed and experienced both throughout the week. I quickly realized, though, that sorting my experiences that way was too binary. Most of what I saw and learned encompassed hints of both hope and hurt. At church the Sunday after our Border Delegation concluded, Pastor Bart Smith spoke in his sermon about Emmanuel: God with us. He said that emmanuel is forever and ongoing. With it being the beginning of advent, he posed the question, “When is a good time for love to be born?” In my mind, I considered, “When is a good time to migrate?” Inspired by the sermon, I arrived at this title and framework: Emmanuel in the Borderlands.
Emmanuel at Café Justo
Café Justo (translated: fair or just coffee) is a coffee cooperative owned and operated by farmers in Chiapas, Mexico. The coffee is grown in Chiapas and roasted in Agua Prieta. It is sold in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and France, mostly at churches. During our time in Agua Prieta, we were given a tour of the roasting facility and learned about their operations from Café Justo employees, Daniel and Adrián. Café Justo began in 2002 with a microloan from Frontera de Cristo. Many farmers from Chiapas were migrating to Northern Mexico or to the United States because the price of coffee fell so dramatically in the 1990s that they could no longer support themselves or their families. Community and family unity suffered greatly. In response to the economic and social crisis, Café Justo was formed as a way to cut out the middle man in the coffee growing and selling process so that the farmers in Chiapas could receive a fair price for their beans. In addition to being paid a fair price for the fruit of their labor, farmers who are part of the cooperative receive benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans. Now, some of the original farmers are retiring, and their children are working as part of the co-op. The same families that would have been separated by migration as a result of environmental and economic factors out of their control, are now living and working intergenerationally and have the resources to invest in their community.
When is a good time to migrate?
Emmanuel in a Family’s Home
One evening during our time in DouglaPrieta, we were welcomed into the home of a young family: Flor, Miguel, and their daughter, Aleyda. We were a group of 13 people, but our hosts were very hospitable and generous. Flor prepared a lentil soup that we garnished with cilantro, onions, and lime. She served us pitchers full of agua fresca- piña, my favorite! Most of the time we were there, Aleyda, who is five, was in a side room watching cartoons and coloring with her dad. She wore shiny bows in her hair, and produced a shy smile when we asked her questions.
After enjoying la cena, Flor and Miguel spoke to us candidly about life on the border. Flor grew up in Agua Prieta; Miguel in Chiapas. Due to a lack of job opportunities over a decade ago, Miguel migrated to the U.S. He explained that during his time in the United States, he only left his home to go to work. He lived in constant fear of any interaction with law enforcement. One day, while on his way to work, the vehicle he was in was pulled over, I think for mechanical issues. Miguel was the only individual in the vehicle who did not have authorization to work, so he was taken to the immigrant detention facility in Florence, Arizona. (Some of my colleagues at the Florence Project provide legal services to individuals detained there). Miguel described his six months imprisoned there as difficult and ugly. I could see in his facial expressions and hear in his words that he had many painful memories of Florence. After six months of trying to obtain a work permit, but with no avail, Miguel decided to sign an order of deportation and return to Mexico. He ended up in Agua Prieta and applied for a job at a maquiladora, or factory. Flor was a new hire at the same maquiladora at that time. Also limited by economic opportunity, many Agua Prieta folks work at factories run by multinational cooperations that are located near the border due to lax labor and tax laws. Although Miguel annoyed Flor at first because he asked many questions during work orientation, they eventually became friends and are now married with a child.
As a United Statesian, I often have had the perception that people in Mexico are miserable. Especially people who live near the border, I thought, must have terrible lives filled with violence and despair. That is the opposite of what I experienced in the home of Flor, Miguel, and Aleyda. They were hopeful. They were hospitable. They were healthy. They were happy. Miguel said, “We have problems, like all families do, but we are very content to live in this community.”
When is a good time to migrate?
When is a good time for a child to be born?
Emmanuel at Operation Streamline
The part of our week in which it was the most difficult to believe Emmanuel: God with us was when we observed Operation Streamline in Tucson. Operation Streamline is a two hour-long, mass federal prosecutorial hearing that occurs every afternoon. Each day 70 to 80 individuals are prosecuted for a misdemeanor or a felony, solely related to entering the country not at a port of entry. If an individual has only entered once, and has not been deported, they generally plead guilty to a misdemeanor and are then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where they will be detained for months before being deported or, if they are statistically lucky, released to live in the U.S. If an individual has a prior deportation on their record, they are prosecuted for a felony and a misdemeanor, but will usually plead guilty to the misdemeanor so the felony is dropped. They are sentenced to 30 to 180 days in federal prison, after which they will be turned over to ICE and spend several months in detention until being deported, or if EXTRA statistically lucky, released.
Our group of 13 and another group of folks on a church/border education trip entered a massive federal court room and were seated in the back. Many attorneys sat in the jury box. All of the usual court personnel was there: a judge, a secretary, an interpreter, and many federal marshals. When the judge was ready to begin, a group of seven people wearing street clothes, handcuffs, ankle shackles, and chains around their waists came out from a side door, had headphones were placed on their ears (they could not do it themselves because of the handcuffs), and stood in front of the judge. Seven of the attorneys stepped down from the jury box and stood behind each defendant. The judge went down the line of people asking them to verify their names, read them their rights, asked if they wanted to waive their right to a trial, read them their charges, and asked for their plea. She would usually read the full text (for an example, the rights) to the first or second person in line. She would say, “Do you understand your rights as I just explained?” By the third, fourth, fifth, person in the order, she would just say, “Same question.” It was apparent that efficiency, not comprehension or justice, was the name of the game. After each defendant pleaded guilty to their charges, whether they really understood them or not, the group of seven would be escorted out, and another group of seven would be escorted in. This process was repeated about ten times. It was uncomfortable, sad, and shameful to watch people being treated like this, especially in a U.S. court room. It was very difficult to feel the presence of God in that room.
Among the approximately 70 humans who we saw in chains standing in front of a judge who spoke to them in complex legal terminology in a foreign language, were a pregnant woman, indigenous language speakers whom the judge coerced into using the Spanish interpreter even if comprehension was limited, and boys who appeared and sounded to be 14 or 15 years old, but told the judge they were 18.
One defendant broke out of the mechanical saying “Sí” to all of the judge’s questions, and decided to speak up when given the opportunity. I have contemplated his story several times over the last few weeks. Jorge was one of the individuals who had a prior deportation on his record, so he was being charged with a felony and sentenced to time in a federal prison. When the judge asked, “Do any of the defendants want to say anything?” Jorge bravely said yes. He approached the microphone and asked the judge if his sentence could be reduced. He explained that he is a single father, and his United States citizen daughter is in Mexico. The longer his prison sentence, the longer he would be separated from his daughter. It seemed like what he wanted was to quickly be deported so that he could return to caring and providing for her. The judge said, “I’m sorry to hear that, but I have no control over sentencing. It’s between your attorney and the government.” Jorge was sentenced to 180 days, six months, in a U.S. federal prison.
When is a good time to migrate?
Emmanuel at the Port of Entry
During our time in Agua Prieta, we had the pleasure of sharing a meal with migrants who were temporarily living at a shelter on the Mexican side of the border. There was a variety of identities present at the shelter, called C.A.M.E. There were a couple of Honduran and Guatemalan families. There were three Mexican men who had spent the majority of their lives in the U.S. There was a group of Honduran transgender women. The C.A.M.E. volunteers and the migrants collaborated to prepare a delicious dinner, do dishes, and clean. We tried to wash our own dishes and sweep, but as their guests, they generously cleaned up after us. While we ate, we had the honor of hearing their stories, sharing in their pain, joking and laughing.
Migrants are at this shelter, usually, waiting to cross into the United States. There is a small port of entry between Agua Prieta and Douglas. If a migrant sets foot on U.S. soil and expresses a desire to apply for asylum to a government official, U.S. and international law dictates that the person has the right to stay in the United States (often in detention) while fighting for asylum in immigration court. Entering the U.S. at a port of entry is the best way to do this because it is safer than crossing the desert or the Río Grande. It also carries less potential legal backlash than does entering not at a port of entry (see Operation Streamline, above). However, the number of people who can approach a port of entry and request asylum is limited. And, the number has been decreasing in recent months. (I discussed this phenomena in my post about El Paso.) The Agua Prieta/Douglas port of entry is small, but it has the capacity to process eight asylum seekers per day. In recent weeks, it has been processing maybe one or two people per day. So, some of the folks we met at C.A.M.E. were waiting to go to the port of entry and request asylum, but they had been turned away day after day.
During our dinner at C.A.M.E., we met María. She wore her hair in a pony tail, and had a beautiful smile. María was traveling with her 13 year-old daughter, Julisa, who was wearing a blue shirt with white buttons when I met her. The morning following our shared dinner, María and Julisa were planning to go to the port of entry, bright and early, accompanied by C.A.M.E. volunteers. Before leaving that night, we wished them luck and safe travels. The next day we were busy with our scheduled programming. We spent most of the day in Agua Prieta, but around 4 pm, we were crossing the border to participate in a prayer vigil in Douglas. As we approached the port of entry, we saw María and Julisa. Sitting on the concrete. Waiting. They told us that they had been there since 7 a.m., but had not yet been allowed to set foot on U.S. soil to request asylum. We were in a hurry to get to the prayer vigil, so we did not talk for long. We pulled our U.S. passports out of our pockets and were in the U.S. within minutes. After the prayer vigil, some members of our group returned to the port of entry with food, coats, and sleeping bags for María and Julisa. Although they could have returned to C.A.M.E. for the night, they decided to sleep on the concrete in the cold because they didn’t want to “lose their place in line.”
María was eight months pregnant, with bronchitis.
When is a good time for a baby to be born?
When is a good time to migrate?
Where is Emmanuel?
As we are now in advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus, I am trying to identify Emmanuel in my life. I am trying to consider where God is with me. I experienced God in the faces and in the lives of Daniel, Adrián, Flor, Miguel, Aleyda, Jorge, María and Julisa. I experienced God in the many life-changing ministries of Frontera de Cristo. I experienced God in the DouglaPrieta community. I experienced God in the hope and in the hurt. As Pastor Bart said, Emmanuel is forever and ongoing.
When is a good time to migrate?
When is a good time for a baby to be born?
When is a good time for love to be born?
My year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, Arizona is officially underway. These past three weeks have been filled with a mix of joys, challenges, and everything in between. Yet one common thread that has defined my time here thus far is firsts. As a YAV in Tucson, I have experienced foreign and new situations on an almost daily basis. Below, I will reflect on some of my most significant firsts during my brief time here.
First Time in a Desert
During my first few days of exploring Tucson, a thought kept running through my head: “where is the green in this barren city?” Coming from a city of trees and manicured lawns, the site of dirt and gravel stretching in all directions was a stark change. Upon looking at a map of the city on my phone, I noticed several blue lines running through Tucson. Recalling the rivers and watering holes that dotted the Central Texas landscape, I was eager to see a splash of blue in the desert. However, every time I rode over one of those blue lines on my bike, I found that they were simply dry creek beds, and water only runs through them a few times a year. It was during these moments that I fully began to understand just how different of a place I had entered into. Three weeks in, and I still sometimes miss the site of grass or a flowing river, but I am no longer think of Tucson as “barren.” The city is abound with various types of wildlife, flora, and natural splendor. It is simply different than where I came from. Then, just today, I drove over a fully running river. It was full from a day of rain, and was strikingly beautiful against the backdrop of the rugged desert landscape. As my time here progresses, I hope to continue to find beauty in the desert.
First Time at CHRPA
For several weeks now, I have worked as a volunteer for Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. This organization provides free emergency home repairs and handicap modifications to low-income and elderly residents of the Tucson area. As I have no previous handy-man or construction experience, everyday at CHRPA brings a new first. So far, I have had to learn how to fix a cooler, build a wheelchair ramp, replace a toilet, install a new sink faucet, and put in a door. Other new experiences this job has brought about include waking up before the sun rises, biking to work, and riding the bus. To say I am out of my element would be an understatement. It is hard work, and sometimes I feel like I get in the way more than I help when making a repair. I also find myself tired, sore, and most of all, hot. All this being said, I am amazed at the knowledge and passion of my coworkers and the lengths they go to in order to help the residents of Tucson. I have only begun to see the impact CHRPA has on people’s lives, and while it is difficult work that often leaves me frustrated, I feel proud to be part of this organization.
First Time at an Immigration Shelter
During our first week in the city, the Tucson YAV house volunteered with the Inn Project. The project is run through First United Methodist Church of Tucson, and provides a shelter for primarily Central American asylum seekers recently released from detention. Most refugees stay in the shelter before going on to their families in the United States who they will be staying with while their asylum application is processed.The shelter is set up in the church’s basement, and provides individuals with a place to sleep, three meals a day, and food and water for their upcoming journey. On the day we volunteered, 42 individuals were residing at the shelter. Immigration is an issue that I have learned about primarily through my wife, Dakota, who has worked extensively with immigrant communities through various non-profits. However, this was my first time being face to face with people who had just been released from immigration detention facilities. With my limited Spanish, I struggled to communicate effectively with those we were helping, but all expressed immense gratitude towards us for volunteering. Most were families, and all seemed tired yet excited to soon have the opportunity to see their family in the United States. As I was leaving, I had the feeling that if more people could spend a few hours with those most impacted by our immigration system, the debate surrounding immigration would be quite different.
First Time Fixing a Flat Tire
Finally, I fixed my first ever flat tire on a bike during this past three weeks. In fact, I fixed my first nearly two weeks ago, and have since had to fix four more flats. With a plethora of thorny plants and frequent potholes, Tucson may well by the flat bike tire capital of the United States. These flat tires shattered my vision of what community by bike would be like. Before I started as a YAV, I had an hour round trip commute in my car, and I was eager to trade driving for the simplicity and free exercise that come with biking. It turns out, bikes are not the simplest of machines to maintain, and just like a car, regular maintenance is required. On one particularly hot day, I found myself changing a flat tire on the side of a busy street. At that moment, all I wanted was my car, which happens to be sitting with my parents a thousand miles away. The very next day however, I found myself biking to work with a repaired tire, a cool morning breeze in my face, and a view of the sun rising over the Tucson mountains. Often during these past three weeks, the experiences that have brought me the most frustration and the most joy have been one in the same.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Have a great weekend and stay cool.
A few weeks ago YAVs from Albuquerque and Austin came with us to the U.S/Mexico border on a delegation. The purpose of the delegation was for us to bear witness to the lived realities on the border and to find a faithful response as people of God. The week was transformative for me, while I am still processing all that I experienced I wanted to highlight an experience that stuck with me.
During our time in Mexico we were hosted by Frontera de Cristo, a binational ministry of the Presbyterian church. On our first night we participated in a vigil for people who have died trying to cross the border. We lined the streets of Douglas holding crosses of peoples names who have died. After each name was read we responded with “Presente!”
As we were reading the names I thought about my countries policies, and how death on the border is systemic. On our delegation we learned that in order to have fewer people cross the border, the United States created barriers so that people had to cross through the most dangerous terrain. This policy did not deter people from crossing as the United States hoped; but it did increase the death rate along the border dramatically. With each name that is read I know that my country is directly responsible for their death.
At the end of the vigil our leader ends with “Jesucristo.” We respond “Presente.”
Jesus is present on the border. He is with those who are crossing. I am reminded of the verse Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”
As we put the crosses away and walk back to our car I thought about how I can be present in the border communities, and how I can respond faithfully.
At the end of the delegation a few of us participated in the School of the Americas watch. My fellow YAVs and I stood in front of Eloy detention center, one of the most deadly detention centers, and chanted no están solos (you are not alone). As we stood across the detention center and chanted I saw lights flicker and people move inside. I turned to my fellow YAV and asked “do you think they can hear us?” She responded “I hope so.” After a week of heart break, to bear witness and to chant in the streets, “No están solos” is to respond with the love of God.
Every person I encountered on the border whether ministry partners, someone getting ready to cross, or people getting sober from addiction I am reminded that Jesus calls us to encounter and to be present. To bear witness to the oppression on the border and the communities that are resisting is to see the face of God.