I have been holding off on writing this blog, in normal Katie fashion- I have been waiting and intaking a lot of information. However, seeing posts from friends and family on my Facebook, and people still struggling with the meaning of “defunding the police” has me irritated and I am tired of waiting to find the right words. So, here it is plain and simple:
This fourth of July, I didn’t celebrate with fireworks, I wasn’t decked out head to toe in American flag garb, I was wearing black. I was in mourning for a country that only ever wants to focus on the positive things about America or the drama our media feeds us. In the middle of a pandemic, I put on my face mask, packed the sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and my water bottle, and headed to the park to meet with others for an anti-4th of July protest.
When my roommates and I arrived at the park, there was no organizer to be found and no one seemed to know what was going on. Random volunteers were showing up with water, first aid supplies, and fliers about what to do if the police show up and the slogans we would be chanting. We casually wandered around and safely asked others if they knew what was happening, no one seemed to know, we were all just in the waiting game. So, more and more gathered and it got closer and closer to the time to start. At 2pm, starting time, 3 police officers showed up and started asking what we were doing there, who we were meeting, and what was happening- they too wanted to know who the organizers were. We didn’t know. So, the cops radioed back and forth with the station, “there are a lot of people in the park”, “no, they don’t know who the organizers are”, “yeah, yep, they are all just waiting with there signs”, No, not sure what else to do”. 5 Minutes passed and before we knew it, 12 police officers flooded the scene, breaking off in teams of two they started more questioning of the people gathered- though we still had no answers. As I scanned the park, it became clear to my roommates that the people cops were asking were white, they were young. The Police were not asking the first aid people or any of the folks passing out fliers- the people that could presumably know something.
When the cops approached us, my roommate Laura spoke up asking them why THEY were here and what they knew about this event. The officer who had just got off of a facetime call with his son approached us and said “I’m officer _____, I have a background in deescalating hostage situations and distinguishing terrorist attacks. Although today I am only here to serve and protect, we as a task force respect your Freedom of Speech and are here to support you in any way.”
It seemed that that officer wasn’t the only one supporting us, the whole march, 8 police officers walked with us and 6 police cars followed us as we chanted “defund the police”, “say their NAMES”, and “Nana AYUDAME” (Grandma help me, the last words a local Tucsonian spoke before being killed by the police force in a similar fashion to George Floyd. His story was not released until three months after the incident. Carlos Ingram-Lopez, PRESENTE!). This protest was more than a mourning of America, this was a BLM stance for change and anger for what has taken place.
Throughout the whole march, it seemed the task force followed us. I started to feel guilty of my actions, embarrassed of what I was screaming to the friendly people around us, protecting us. But then, as we took our first break from the heat and drank water, I once again noticed who the police officers were interacting with and what their role was. When I say the WHOLE task force was looking out for us, I sincerely mean the majority of officers from TPD were “watching” this protest and as we looked around, it became less of an allyship and more of a watch party. The officer with a background in de-escalation and terrorist situations wasn’t there by accident. Also, even if he was, was it necessary to have the WHOLE police force at this gathering? Were we not paying them to be out protecting people, were there not “fireworks gone wrong” accidents or serious situations they needed to be in? This was a peaceful protest for change, not a riot or looting. Yet, our freedom of speech was met with fear and intimidation.
The defunding of police, to me, means that we cut their funding. Tucson Police just RAISED their budget by 2 MILLION dollars. Which, will be used for new squad cars, paid leave, more guns, and more officers. It does not offer more training, background screening for who gets hired, or therapy for cops that have experienced trauma at work.
I was 19 years old when I had a gun pulled on me by an officer in my small town of Mason City. I was being stopped for being at the park after hours and when I got out of the car to see what was happening, I was met with the barrel of a gun and a strict speech on never approaching the cop car. Something I was unaware of and didn’t think twice about being in a small town where my Grandma was neighbors with the former chief of police and we knew most of the officers in town. However, this incident was late at night, the man could not identify if I was a threat- could not tell my color of skin. He was scared. He was open about his fear and while searching my car for drugs and asking why I was at the park, told me about his three kids and how more than anything he prays every night to be able to return safely home to them.
I am not disgusted by his fear, I am glad he was honest and I could tell he was sorry he escalated the situation. I would be fearful too with what see in the media and what evil I see in the world. But that’s why I am not an officer. Our officers need better training, less stress in the workplace, and more time to process what they go through. They need to not be victims of capitalism and treated with human dignity so that, that dignity can then be given to the citizens they protect.
As I was walking down the street yelling “DEFUND TPD” and “JUSTICE FOR BREONNA TAYLOR”, I was reminded that the shame I was feeling and the guilt- was because of my white privilege and white response. Aside from that one incident with the police, I have never been afraid of an interaction with the police, or to ask an officer for directions. I have felt safe in their care because they, feel safe around me. However, my story does not account for George, Breonna, Carlos, and the COUNTLESS other BIPOC lives lost to police violence and victims of racial prejudice.
Our police deserve and need proper training, they need support in their work, they do not need more weapons. Our officers are stressed because their presence is requested everywhere, their jobs are demanding. By reallocating funds and reimagining their jobs, we will relieve their stress and as a society push towards equal pay for equal work.
Defunding the police, will reprimand and hold racist officers accountable for their actions. Jobs could be cut; many jobs, need to be cut or more evaluated. Not all cops are racist but many live in fear. Defunding the police starts to rethink and imagine our system.
By defunding the police, we recognize that there is a problem in our leadership. Because although black on black crime is a valid acknowledgment, it misses the point. Our officers are our leaders and when our leaders show discrimination and disrespect, our community reflects these values. We cannot allow leaders to reinforce racism, we are doing that enough already.
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.
40 Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of the prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of a righteous person 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
Hello Southside, I want to start by saying thank you, for giving me this time to share and to be here with you all this Sunday, on Immigration Sunday. I am excited to share with you my reflections and how I am feeling about this idea of “welcoming others”, no matter who they are.
“Welcome the stranger”, “treat others the way you want to be treated”, “love thy neighbor”
These are all phrases that I have heard since I was little. To me, I feel they are the backbone of church and ministry. Yet, these last few years, they sound like hypocrisy. How many exceptions do we make to what stranger we accept, what neighbor deserves our love, or who we should treat well?
These are the thoughts that have consumed my YAV year and made me question my place in the world and where my vocation will take me. Serving as a YAV, one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn AND constantly be reminded of this year, is that as a YAV I am wanted but not needed. I am a stranger and a tourist in this place. I am welcomed and accepted but not necessary. I am loved, but this is not my home. My year in Tucson has taught me so much and made me reflect a lot on what home is and what it means to be comfortable somewhere. As opposed to other places I have lived and been to, Tucson has made me think about what it means for a culture to welcome someone and what it looks like when that person is different from me or different from the community around me.
As many of us know, the church has a complicated past with mission work. We as YAV’s have lots of quotes from our year written on paper in the walls of our house.
One of them reads: White saviorism, like colonialism, assumes that Black Indigenous People of Color need white people to save them. Without white intervention, instruction, and guidance, Black Indigenous people of color will be left helpless. That without whiteness, the BIPOC community who are seen as below and less than white in the white imagination, will not survive. It puts BIPOC in the position of helpless children who need to be saved by the supposedly more capable and wiser white people”. This quote was shared with us during our Delegation to the border by AmyBeth Willis, the original quote is from Layla Saad.
To me, this quote is the embodiment of how the church started and sometimes continues to enact mission. We as people of God get excited about taking a vacation somewhere and “making our souls feel happy” by serving those we see as the “less fortunate”. We spend a week fixing something then, leave no direction on how to sustain our work when we leave because it is expected that other “saviors” will be back for their vacation and to fix the problem again.
When I read the scripture for this week. I was consumed by this idea. I first felt guilty over being welcomed, then I felt uncomfortable with how “rewards” were included in the work of the Lord. Do we as God’s people only do work for a reward? What is with this hierarchical system? Welcome the prophet, receive the prophets reward, welcome the righteous, receive the same, give EVEN a cup of water to “the littlest of these– meaning the poorest…. And surely you will receive some kind of reward. Time after time… this is how I read the scripture. I was confused and hurt by how even the “word of God” could be so prejudiced. When Alison asked if I wanted to change scripture passages, I was close to doing so. But, scripture isn’t meant to come easy. It is meant to be struggled with. This is a text that recorded and upheld the values of a culture from the dawn of time. And just like my YAV year, it is meant to push and grow into something more. So, bear with me as we all do like YAV’s do best and “lean into the discomfort”
I came to Tucson fully aware of this stereotype of the “white savior” and it was eerie to me, how much easier fundraising was when I said I was going to the US/ Mexico border instead of when I went to the “brewing capital of the world” last year to study poverty. Even with the backlash of helping “illegals” enter and “steal our jobs”, my fundraising went much better. It seemed like less of a “vacation” and more “charity”. Therefore, even more uncomfortable.
I can’t help but assume that this mindset is partially due to the fact that I am a young white woman who has come to “do God’s work”. I can’t help but feel guilt over how welcome I am. Guilt because my whole year here has been studying and observing the ways we as a system, a government, and as a people, refuse to accept the people both native and needing of this land as refugees. How can we tell a person that has been here “as long as the deeply rooted mesquite tree” that we have no space for them or that our American government controls their ancestral land? How can we as a collective people, continuously allow for people to die in the desert and shoot holes in both their bodies and water jugs when all they are after is a free life away from violence, harm, and war. Or, maybe they just want to reunite with their families. How can our government tell people that have been here for 30 years, never convicted of a crime, and profiled while driving, that they don’t belong? How can we as citizens continue to respect and uphold the systems that uphold this hatred?
I believe it is because we refuse to see it. We don’t believe it. We make EXCUSES for it. It does not affect those in power, so why pay attention?
My year with Keep Tucson Together has shown me time and time again how complex our immigration system is. Laws and policies are continuously written to manipulate justice. I have heard many of our volunteer attorneys and long time volunteers share the ways in which this system is confusing to THEM. These are BRAINIACS with degrees and years of research to fall back on. If they have trouble understanding all the logistics, how do we even begin to think that a person could go through our immigration system alone? Last year, 22,677 cases of individuals, families, and children, went through the Tucson Immigration court system. Of those cases, 98% went without a lawyer. 18,059 of our neighbors, families, and individuals fleeing violence went into court unaccompanied. My work with Keep Tucson Together this year has shown me that cases that are “won” by the court are few and far between. Even WITH representation, it is hard to “win” over the government and convince the judge that these cases are more than a file, that these individuals are more than their assigned “alien identification number”. Our government makes the hoops one has to jump through for naturalization and citizenship impossible. Even in doing the process correctly, you are criminalized and punished. The first time I heard that folks pleading asylum are often not eligible for bond I was outraged. These are people that have followed our systems “rule” came “legally” through the Port of entry instead of “sneaking in” and are then often obtained by ICE and given a record. They are then branded with the term alien and are ineligible for bond therefore are trapped in the death camps we have created during this pandemic- I mean—- they are held in respective detention centers.
The process of dehumanization around immigration is strong, we know we are doing wrong by NOT welcoming the stranger. We KNOW that these strangers have every right to be here and are our neighbors, friends, and siblings in Christ. However, we let fear drive us to hatred and we accomplish this by not seeing the human inside the individual. Instead, these people are given nasty labels like “illegals” “aliens” “drug lords” and “thieves”. We refuse to think of them in truth, as the neighbors, victims, and PEOPLE that are here. Because that would mean we were wrong and our government lies and our world is broken. That would mean I as a white person would have to change my lifestyle. I as a white person would then become overwhelmed and shut down, instead of adjusting to the change.
If we were to really stop, and think about things….
Who are “Americans” to stand on stolen soil and tell a person they are not welcome? When did this stolen soil become “ours” to dictate and manage? How can “we” tell a refugee, there is no room for you here and you cannot come in? When that is LITERALLY how 75% of Americans came here?
As Christians, we are given one task- to love your neighbor. If Tucson, a city of half a million people has taught me any more lessons, it’s that even in a city this big, you know everyone through one degree of connection. We are all neighbors, we are all siblings in Christ. We are all commanded to love one another.
Southside knows these issues better than anyone, this stereotype of the church, of saviorism, and of the harm we as an organized religious body have done. Y’all, more than any other church that I have seen, are a church that has strived to revert its witness and reconnect with the roots of this land and its culture. Every service holds the culture of Tucson in its heart. Every time we listen to the blessing in the O’Odham language or hear the word of God brought to us in Spanish, we are rebelling against the systems and rejecting the social norm of “whiteness” that is mistaken for “civilized”. WE are holding space for visitors to feel welcome. Visitors of all kinds, not just the young white female before you. Honored, as I am to be here.
Every time my site coordinator introduces herself to a group, she says that she lives in the unceded land of the Tohono O’odham that is now named Tucson. I am in awe with the way she says it every time she says it because it takes me back to the stories I have heard from Guadalupe Castillo this year, it reminds me of the hike I went on with you all to Baboquivari, the fear of getting stuck in the “birth canal”. It reminds me of the culture and the ancestors that inhabited this place. I reflect on the ways that I have been welcomed into this desert land with open arms, from a group of people that should have every reason to push me away. Yet, they didn’t. I have received true hospitality in Tucson. And it makes me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because everything in my education would say that scripture is referring to “the little ones” as the community I have strived to be a part of. When really, as I saw Mayra in the Christmas pageant or was led by Gil through the spiritual journey at Baboquivari, I was welcomed by the prophets. I have been the one that was given a cold cup of water. While my community, the government I thought I was a part of, is blowing up water jugs in the desert and denying even a lukewarm drink after a perilous journey to the prophets that deserve it most. These are the people of God because just as Jesus, they know what it means to be an outcast and unwelcomed.
I know most of you already understand and know of the issues I was just introduced to and have begun grasping this year. Issues of hatred and division. I appreciate the way you have taught me, been patient with me, and called me into La Lucha. Still, I wonder if there are takeaways in my reflection that could be beneficial to you. In closing, I wonder what kind of reflection you can do over the word hospitality? Do you welcome others the way Jesus would do, with open arms and the best intentions? Or, do you hold fear and resentment at times? Do you roll up the windows when driving past Santa Rita park, or do you roll them down and say hello to your neighbors? Do you speak to the whole room when you speak to people or just the ones you are comfortable with? Is there a way to help the 98% of asylum seekers and neighbors that stood alone last year in court? Can you afford to even offer a cup of cold, to a traveler passing by? What makes you comfortable, and what discomfort should you try leaning more into?
These are the questions we should think about. And I can’t think of a better time to have immigration Sunday, the day after some have celebrated America’s birthday. A time where we can reflect on not just the current migrant and the ways we are dismissive of them. But, of all the immigrants that have come before them and built the country that we pledge allegiance to. Few, belong on this land, the unceded Tohono O’odham land. Yet, we have claimed it and decided who comes in and who is welcomed. It’s time to reimagine our “welcome” and to see that as Christians and people, we are connected and we are meant to travel, to learn, and grow. And to be together, as equals.
link to the whole service
To the God of all creatures big and small, we strive to welcome the visitor, whether we are comfortable with them or not, whether they look like us or not, whether they think like us- or not. Whether our visitor be a prophet, of righteousness, or a little one in need of a cool drink, we strive to welcome them, as you have done for us. God of love, help us share your love and spread it- through our hearts, our minds, our feet, and our hands- the ones that serve you.
The 2020-2021 TB Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) wrote the following message to share their own reflections and thoughts on the current moment. The TBYAV Board supports the YAVs' raising their voices. As a board, we are committed to focusing on broader issues of racism and need to engage in more conversation & discernment around the call specifically to defund the police. We are doing more learning, discussion, and reflection on dismantling structural racism as a board and look forward to sharing our own thoughts and reflections later this summer.
The cruel murder of George Floyd is not an isolated incident of a Black life being taken at the literal hands of the police, using their bodies, their knees, to crush the last breath out of this man's life. The same way Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and many other Black lives are taken, many of whose names we will never know. These murders are connected and a direct result of years of systemic racism and slavery in this country.
As a program we firmly stand with our Black siblings leading the uprising against police and state sanctioned violence. We are committed to recognizing the role each of us plays in systems of white supremacy and oppression through implicit biases and failing to speak up against racism.
Murder is a sin. Police brutality is evil. Staying silent is to side with the oppressors. The revolution currently happening is against white supremacy as a whole. We are committed to listening to and learning from Black people, personally analyzing the biases each of us carry, actively speaking out against racism, and standing in solidarity.
We support the movement to defund the police and abolish the prison system. These programs are over funded, over militarized, and racially unjust. There is no justice in our current justice system. Money needs to be redirected from prisons and policing to education, healthcare, and social work that provides resources to people and communities that need them most.
We support the direct action in the streets that is leading to conversations about change. We are grateful to the leaders of this movement for leading the change and we are committed to supporting the change that our Black siblings are striving for. We recognize words are not enough and action must be taken: Reparations must be paid, Black voices must be amplified, and we must all engage in hard conversations to address how we each benefit from white supremacy and how we can stand against these injustices.
Dismantling white supremacy is an ongoing process. We strive to continue to be better allies and accomplices to all Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), recognizing that we will mess up and need to be called in by those we are oppressing. However, we cannot rely on only our BIPOC siblings to hold us accountable. We must be accountable to ourselves through analyzing our implicit biases and hold all white people accountable to destroying racist practices.
We recognize that the foundations of the United States are based in keeping upper class, white people in power. These ideals are oppressive to us all. White supremacy tells us who is worth listening to and who is valuable in our society. Although we have benefited in some ways from this oppressive system, we also know that benefiting from the oppression of others dehumanizes us and keeps us from being fully free. We believe all people are valuable for simply being human and we are committed to fighting for changes to express that value. We commit to doing all that we can to enact change that benefits all people. Until there are systemic transformations and create a future to benefit everyone, and until we end white supremacy, no one is free.
How do we change the world?
In Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, adrienne marie brown makes a wonderful point about the ways we can use science fiction writing as a way to imagine what the future world could be like. What we could change to create the world we want. She sees science fiction writing as an act of resistance.
I love this idea! And I love spending time daydreaming about what the future could be. My future, the world’s future. Being focused on what’s next is part of my nature as a 7 on the Enneagram.
Because my world has slowed down during this pandemic is giving me lots of time to think and dream. My thoughts have been very focused on what the world will look like after this pandemic passes, whenever that may be. Many people are asking how to get back to normal, but what even is normal and why do we want that?
What I see as normal, thanks to watching many videos and reading articles (listed below) to educate my opinion, was completely broken to begin with. This system of capitalism, competition, and corporations aren’t helping people. Many people work tirelessly to make ends meet and when they don’t meet because of so many things working against lower and middle class people, it is the people that have failed, not the systems.
But the systems are failing. They have been failing many people for a long time, but the Coronavirus has amplified these failures.
Systemic failure is why a disproportionate number of black and brown people are dying from the virus. It is why there isn’t enough PPE in hospitals. This broken, capitalistic system is why there is even talk “restarting the economy” when it isn’t safe to leave your house without a mask on your face. Because capitalism tells us that profits matter more than people. It has always been this way, but that is at the forefront of conversations recently.
So, I have no desire to return to that version of normal. Because none of that should be normal.
Instead I am going to do daydreaming about changes that can happen. I hope these changes include Universal Healthcare and paid sick leave. Better transportation systems that help the earth live. Business practices that are focused on people instead of how to make the most money.
This world also needs to include liberation from the power of white supremacy and colonialism. A world without borders of empire. That’s one of my favorite thoughts. It was inspired by this video. A great quote I heard today “Equality says we should all get a piece of the pie. Liberation says we need a new pie.”
I think it is evident that big change is necessary. But what does a better world look like? A more liberated one? This is a great time to imagine what we want to return to and what is best left out.
How do we change the world? We can start by imagining what is possible. So let’s imagine together!
Some resources for further education that helped form my ideas:
“Quiero ser chef.” “I want to be a chef.” Braulio’s face lit up as he told me this during his legal screening. His cheeks rounded and his eyes brightened as a big smile formed. This was his response to my question, “Why did you leave your country?” In the hundreds of legal screenings I have done, I had not received such a precise, illustrative answer. I felt inspired by his enthusiasm, and I also smiled. The inspiration was replaced by dread fifteen minutes later when I had to mark Braulio’s intake with a “U.” U means unknown relief. U means that according to the information the child has disclosed during the screening, it is not clear that they are eligible for a visa. U means that Braulio’s intake will be put in a pile with others that we do not refer to an attorney once they are released and living in another part of the U.S. while in court proceedings. U means that Braulio will likely be deported. As I write the “U” on the upper corner of his intake, I feel a sinking in my stomach.
Wanting to be a chef, wanting to study or work, wanting to live with a parent or sibling who is already in the U.S., or wanting to escape extreme poverty and hunger is not enough. On intakes like that, I have to write a “U.” And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of children I meet who are fleeing gang violence, who have been abused by their parents, who have suffered injuries because of working as small children in dangerous conditions. But there are others, like Braulio, who either do not disclose to me, or just honestly haven’t experienced such horrendous traumas. And without that compelling trauma, they are not eligible for any legal relief or any path to potentially stay in the U.S.
This reality makes me feel frustrated, sad, hopeless.
I am frustrated by a legal system that cannot serve Braulio. It is not that legal assistants like me and attorneys do not want to help kids like Braulio; of course we do! But there are so few attorneys and legal teams who are already working tirelessly to help children who DO have a strong case, who have experienced substantial trauma, and, therefore, might have a chance at obtaining a visa. In an overburdened legal system, strong cases must be prioritized. If a child is to receive legal assistance, the sadder, more traumatic the life story, the better!
I am frustrated by policies that do not provide any options for people who are starving, who can no longer make a living due to global environmental and economic factors, or who want to be with family members who are already working in the United States to support their hungry, struggling loved ones back home. It is one thing to understand on paper that economic migration is not authorized, but it is another to look into a smiling child’s eyes when he says, “Quiero ser chef,” and know that he doesn’t stand a chance in this system.
With these immigration policies and these inadequate legal systems, we as a nation are telling Braulio that he is unworthy. He is unworthy to share in what we have and enjoy everyday in this country. He is undeserving of the time and attention of attorneys. Braulio is marked with a U. He is unknown.
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!
I wish this blog post was a little more cheerful than any I’ve really posted lately. Spoiler alert, it’s really not. This year is a journey of discovery and living into the reality that things I take for granted are not guaranteed. Things I enjoy and look forward to may mean harsh times for others. Fall/Winter weather has finally arrived in Tucson. Temperatures that make my friends up North scoff mean we shiver and put on jackets. And while our heat was broken and our maintenance man, Mike, was super concerned, I realized I was whining about how my blankets barely kept me warm enough in my house, where I have a bed, a roof, and food. A chance to take a shower everyday, and wash and dry my clothes whenever I please.
And I go to work everyday to serve women who don’t have those things. Tomorrow I’ll go in and sleep on a cot with a mat with the women we are able to shelter. And there will be many more who sleep on the street, in the cold. Unsafe and unsheltered. We give them what we can, sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothes, and a breakfast and sack lunch. We hope to have enough time for everyone to shower and do laundry, but there is never enough time. Everyday I ask myself, how can anyone who has the ability to make this stop, the ability to make sustainable, long term change sleep at night if they choose not to? I can barely sleep sometimes for knowing I have tried to make all the change I can, for knowing that in the past two years I have realized more about my privilege, my ability to sit in discomfort and allow it to gnaw at me, and that it still isn’t good enough. That until every woman that walked through those doors today and the day before and will walk through them tomorrow and the next and the next and so one is housed, it will never be good enough. I am one small voice. But I will keep speaking. Because at some point those who sleep soundly in their beds writing policies that allow fortunes to pass hand to hand comfortably from generation to generation on the backs of the poor will have to answer to the poor who work for them. I believe it.
Enough listening to my soapboxing, I started writing to tell you a story, not to preach to the choir, because you’re reading this for a reason. Everyday, a mass of human experiences teems through our double doors. Right now, we’re decked for a myriad of holidays, Kwanza, Hannukah, Christmas, you get the idea. It’s light and bright in an attempt to bring joy. And it does help. So two more stories. We’ve had a new guest lately, I do not know her name, because she’s not in everyday and she’s very soft spoken. She wears full Hijab and I was curious how others would respond. She carries her prayer mat with her things. Somehow, amidst being on the street and experiencing homelessness, this remarkable woman still manages to do her prayers five times daily as she is called to do in the Q’uran. Today, I overheard her speaking with another of our ladies who was asking about her practice and how she does it. her first prayer time is at 4am. All of the ladies know her now and make space, allowing her to use the library for her prayers. They have learned not to walk in front of her when praying, that it breaks the direct contact with Allah (God in Arabic, for those who have missed that memo). It was one of those moments where you realize when people share being so very marginalized already, learning about another piece of someone’s marginalized culture is not scary to them. It made my heart feel light.
The other was watching a new woman come to the center who clearly needed much help and interact with our executive director. Hearing someone explain the pain that drove them to alcoholism, to drinking, to staying on the street away from family. This woman’s story of having been incarcerated, of learning of the death of her children while she was in prison, and being unable to do anything but attempt to numb herself. It was gut wrenching. I wanted to rip my heart out for her. To give her something that might be broken, but maybe a little less so. Jean found out what she needed. Not only got her those needs, but knew who would be a good person to help comfort her. And then did something that amazed me. “Promise me you won’t leave without telling me first.” She wanted to make sure to say goodbye. That has stuck with me throughout this day. She wanted to make sure, I think, that this individual was welcomed, and that she would know she was welcomed back. “I’m so tired.” That’s all I remember her saying, over and over.
Tonight, I want to pray, for those who are tired, weary, out in the cold whether it is their first night or their five hundredth night. They all have a story, whether someone has listened, another person experiencing homelessness or an angel on earth like Jean. We have no right to decide if they deserve help. They are human. They are us, with a different set of life circumstances.
I am so excited for being part of a church that stands for justice in this world. I am so excited to be part of a church who refuses to stand back and let the world just “do its thing” while people are being hurt, emotionally and verbally harassed, murdered, raped, persecuted, put-down and humiliated.
For the most part, I would like to say that the Presbyterian Church (USA) kicks serious butt at social justice.
However, just as any organization or institution has its flaws, so does the PC(USA), my friends. We are not unlike any other denomination because we are human. We put bumper stickers on our car which read: Coexist….Yet we cannot even get along with our neighbor. Things slip through the cracks. Gossip ensues. Communication fails. We get more relaxed in our attitude towards helping others because the problem or issue is “not as pressing.” We forget to remember the good we once saw in one another. We invest our finances in the ineffective investments. We bully each other. We mistrust each other’s judgment. We stand up for the victim just to suppress his or her voice.
One thing I learned from YAV Orientation (or rather “Disorientation”) is that we often “love justice” more than we “do justice.”
I have been guilty of these above things and we, Church have been guilty of these things. As the church (Presbyterian) and Church (all Christians), we sometimes are the MOST guilty of it as we preach and aim to practice our righteous and wholesome Christian ways. We all have fallen victim to the “easy” option.
Who could blame us really? Justice is really challenging. Justice is raw. Justice is messy. Justice is often choosing the more vulnerable, honest, uncomfortable choice.
But at the end of the day, I would rather stay with the Presbyterian Church in our efforts than to step away from all the good we are trying to do. Obviously, I am biased towards the PC(USA) because I have grown up in this denomination, however, I am still eager and joyous to call this church my home. Just check out some of the justice being done here through this PC(USA) video about the U.S.-Mexico border.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.” -Micah 6:8