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.
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.
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.
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.
July begins the final month of YAV. Just 4 more weeks until my YAV term has come to a close. Many people are asking about what reflections I have on this last year of my life. What am I taking with me?
But how do I sum up the last year of my life into a nice picture for everyone to see? How do I make all the moments make sense? All the interactions with CHPRA clients, the days when I’ve come home from work exhausted and yet fulfilled, the moments of laughter with my housemates, the moments of deep raw emotion too. All the good, bad, draining, fulfilling, inspiring, loving, hard, and growth moments.
I don’t think I can sum up any year of my life into a conversation. Much less this one.
Living in Tucson for the last year has been so impactful. So fulfilling. So educational. So life changing.
I can think of takeaways, but that phrase feels strange to me because that makes it seem like there is a concrete thing I am taking with me. That isn’t how I feel at all. I feel like I am leaving from this experience with a trail behind me that I have already walked and a trail in front of me. This is just a moment of change in the journey of my life, but not an ending.
Thinking of this as a journey reminded me of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. A poem that I used to love when I was in high school.
A camp I went to as a kid showed us a video every summer based around this poem. It was a classic at camp. Many of us long time campers knew all the words. The message of the film was that in order to curb global warming and have a good earth to live on, we need to take the road less traveled. Go against the norm to “all the difference.”
That is the message that I am reflecting on most as my YAV experience is coming to an end. I don’t want to go to a post YAV life that is fitting into the norms of society. These norms uphold systemic inequalities and I don’t want to be passive in these systems.
It seems like most people would agree that there is a lot of brokenness everywhere right now. But that brokenness doesn’t just fix itself. It requires work through analysing biases and injustices on personal and systemic levels. And it requires the work of going against the grain. Being open to new ideas. Refusing to participate in this brokenness.
The road less traveled isn’t easy but it is so worth it to have human rights and equality for everyone.
I believe we need radical changes to have justice for all people. And that requires all of us taking the road less traveled. We all have to go against these norms and put in the time to create a better world for each other. Post YAV, that is exactly what I want to do. My takeaway is the same one that I learned at camp as a teenager: keep taking that road less traveled because it does make a difference. And that difference is needed.
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.
In February, the Tucson YAVs were asked to lead a worship service. The topic for that Sunday was “Dismantling Structural Racism.” I felt vastly under prepared and uncomfortable to be standing in front of people talking about racism. But as I thought of what I wanted to say and worked with fellow YAVs to flesh out the service, I chose to embrace this discomfort.
I am still feeling discomfort. Talking about race is hard and I am constantly worried I am going to mess up. Race discussions force me to face the systematic injustice happening all around me every day. It makes me not be able to ignore the pain, fear, injustice that is what our society is built upon.
Below is what I wrote and for that sermon on Dismantling Structural Racism. It feels especially pressing this week as we have heard of another black man being murdered by police and the protests that turned to riots because of more police violence. My heart hurts.
I hope you read this. But before you continue reading, I have one request. If you have yet to listen to the voice of a black person on the current happenings of police brutality and protests, close my blog right now and read from someone who lives under the oppression of white supremacy every second of every day. Black voices matter more than mine. This video is a great place to start.
It is easy to question Why should we be so wrapped up in these issues of racism? There are other issues to fight for as well. So why is Dismantling Structural Racism a key part of the Matthew 25 vision? Why should we care more about issues of race than issues of the environment, or women’s rights or LGBTQ inclusion?
While it can be easy to fall into these ideas, I have to remind myself that racial discrimination is much farther reaching than other forms of prejudice. All others are impacted by race and ideas of white supremacy.
For example, I am a woman. I am queer. Both of these identities have given me my own experiences of prejudice. But I carry both of these identities with the intersection of white skin, which carries many privileges independently of the others.
As a woman, I experience all the way too common things like getting nervous going places on my own at night or anxiety about being in solo in close proximity with a male stranger. I get told how to dress and act and judged for not falling into the mold that our white supremacy society set for us.
Since working at CHRPA, my womanhood has been an ever more pressing issue because I am working in a male-dominated field where strangers frequently tell me their unsolicited opinions on women doing manual labor. Additionally, while home for Christmas, I had to have a conversation with my grandmother to convince her that my daily physical work isn’t “ruining my ovaries” and hear her concerns about me not being able to have a family in the future. One of my brothers, who also does a labor intensive job, has never had to be questioned on if he will still be able to have a family later in life due to his work now.
While I am able to find some of these encounters and conversations amusing in hindsight, I hate that I have to invest time and energy navigating people’s opinions of my identity. Time an energy that straight people and men get to spend in other ways if they choose to. I am tired of educating people about queer and women’s rights, just like many other queers and women are.
The weight of this exhaustion really hit me when I was questioning why we were being asked to talk about race today. Our YAV coordinator Alison responded by asking us “well who do you think should be talking about it?” I didn’t have an answer.
Someone more qualified? Someone who knows what they are talking about? I certainly don’t know what I am talking about.
As a white person, I benefit from so many privileges. I don’t have to put in extra time and energy to wonder how my race plays a role in my everyday life and interactions. I don’t have to think daily about ways to talk about white privilege.
This energy that we don’t have to spend on those thoughts and conversations allow us the privilege to devote our time and energy to other things. We get to choose how to use this time. One option is to give that energy to fighting the racist structures all around us. To up ending white supremacy. To having the hard conversations because non-white people have been doing all the work for far too long. It is time we join them. Not to do it for them, but to be present with them in this struggle.
Additionally, our privilege gives us more power. We have more of a say as white people. That is how this system of white supremacy works. White people have more sway with elected officials and have a greater chance of being elected to those offices. White people can stand up against these systems with less of a fear of being attacked by law enforcement or imprisoned. White people speaking up in a group is considered a protest while frequently black people speaking up in a group is considered a riot.
There is a double standard and as white people we can use that to work toward ending structural racism.
I don’t want that to be read as supporting the ideas of white saviorism. I don’t think that white people should be leading this fight. We are not able to lead the resistance when we don’t experience oppression. But we should be present, and using the stance that we have as people of privilege to advance the fight to more people.
Similarly, I feel called by the idea of “doing for the least of these” as Jesus said. Just becasue I am queer and a woman, I dont’ get to step back from the issues of race by thinking that I have my own battles to fight. There is an intersectionality to oppression where I hold more privilege as a white woman than a black woman does. We both experience sexism but in vastly different ways.
For example, while I do worry about my safety, I get to worry less about it than women of color. 4 out of 5 Indigenous women experience violence and they have a 10% greater chance of being murdered than the national average. Additionally, if I experience violence, I have a much higher chance of law enforcement actually caring than the murdered indigenous women do. This is a huge issue in our country that too many people aren’t talking about. If you don’t know about this crisis, I strongly encourage you to read more about it here.
But these acts of violence, the difference in treatment between us as White people versus the treatment of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) isn’t how it is supposed to be. Ephesians 2 says: 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.
God makes things new. Our creator made us as one human body, one community. But the history of the human race has defiled the plan by our creator. If our goal as a church is to be like Christ, then we have to do this reconciling work too.
I have spent the last couple weeks asking “Why are we talking about this at church? Why me? Am I qualified for this? Aren’t there better people to be talking about this than me? What do I know?”
But if not us then who? Who should be talking about this? Cause BIPOC are tired of talking about this. They have been fighting this oppression from white people for centuries. They think about white supremacy every day. Because they can’t not think about it. As white people, we are comfortable sitting in the world that has been built to favor white skin.
To be a Church engaged in the world and to reconcile all human beings as God’s creation, we need to get comfortable challenging the ideas of white supremacy. Comfortable speaking up for the oppressed. Because if we aren’t speaking up for the oppressed, then we are standing in silence with the oppressors, and I no longer feel that I can stand for that as a person of faith.
Why us? Why are we as white people talking about this? Because we have the power, time, and energy to do something about it. So we need to be talking to our neighbors, our representatives, our families about these issues of injustice against our black and brown siblings in Christ. We need to be sitting and learning from black, indigenous and people of color. Most importantly, we need to do something. Something to make the reconciliation that Jesus called for a reality.
A good resource of where to start: 75 things white people can do for racial justice
Feeling awkward about talking about race? Me too. Nadia Bolz Webber has good things to say about that.
You will get to a point one day, where this won’t be so hard, it won’t hurt so much.
This is what Margo Cowan, a woman who has been engaged with activism for over 45 years, told me as I walked her files into court last fall. It was my second week on the job, and in a plan to get to know me better, she asked how I liked my work with Keep Tucson Together. KTT is a new work placement for the TBYAVS, and it has been a lot of learning and growing for all involved. I went in knowing nothing about law or immigration. I also knew that I didn’t have the best boundaries when it came to work. That I have trouble separating areas of my life and not getting too focused on one thing that I forget other things around me. I knew going into, that this year was going to hold a lot of growth.
Keep Tucson Together is an organization that strives to offer free legal services to undocumented families in Tucson that cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in immigration court. The organization started in 2011, helping people submit their DACA and citizenship applications. However, now, there is a growing need to defend people in deportation proceedings as cases that were closed 5 years ago are being reopened and more and more people are getting stopped for traffic violations and then deported. This year has brought me a constant awareness of the ways in which our government uses tactics of oppression to further instill racism fear into society.
My first week on the job we discussed the importance of an A# or an alien #. The government refers to our clients not as people, but as aliens, and instead of going through the trouble of learning names, ICE assigns them #’s. My second week on the job, I attended my first Thursday night clinic and sat in on our team’s meetings with clients. I heard second hand through a translator the stories of people seeking political asylum, I heard of families whose son or sister or parent had gotten detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt one afternoon and ICE was called because the driver didn’t have papers. The following Monday, I relived those stories again and again as I entered them into our database and then sent them by email to our lawyers and teams so that these folks could get help.
Many emails came back with further questions, lawyers looking for more information that made this plea for asylum unique compared to the dozen that they heard earlier in the month. The first few emails, made me angry, why should it matter- why are we forcing people to relive their trauma’s? IF they were from Europe would we be needing as much information?
When Margo told me at the end of my second week that I would one day build up a shell and that this work wouldn’t affect me, I didn’t believe her. How could I ever get used to these stories and become numb to all of the tears and panic that came into our office every day? In my first month with KTT I began to see through lawyer and volunteer interactions, through emails, the “numbness” that Margo was hinting at. However, I still wasn’t sure that becoming “numb” was possible for me. I did not see the value in it.
Thirty-six weeks later, I am now beginning to unpack what she was saying that day. This numbness doesn’t mean the work no longer affects you, it’s that it doesn’t paralyze you. I began to understand that even though our lawyers and volunteers weren’t visibly distressed each time a new client’s story was heard, they still feel each one. Instead of getting upset and shutting down when I hear these stories, I now get angry when the 27th person comes to the clinic or calls us to explain their situation. I am angry because 27 people shouldn’t have to call in one day for a lawyer. They should not be sitting in a detention facility waiting to have their story heard. A story that 8 times out of ten, involves a loved one they know or themselves fleeing death threats after being kidnapped or harassed by a cartel.
Two minutes before I got up to tell this story, I was replying to a comment on a Facebook post for the Justice for All campaign. I told you— it’s hard to put work aside! This campaign is fighting to create a public defenders office in Pima County strictly for folks in immigration court. To alleviate the workload that nonprofits like Keep Tucson Together are facing when taking on 700+ cases at a time. The saying, you have a right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you, does not apply to non-citizens. Because in the eyes of Americans, if you are not a citizen you are not a person, you are an alien, why should you get a lawyer?
I am channeling anger tonight because I have had to tell the 9th person on Facebook for the 27th time that to get here “legally” amounts to more than having money and waiting two weeks for a passport or visa. I am angry because no matter how many ways it gets said, some people still struggle to connect the dots. And it’s not their fault, the system that we play into has caused us to be this way, to feel this way- or really, to not feel at all. But, how can I share my thoughts about what I am learning at the border when people are too built into their systems to listen. What happens when everyone plays into this “numb” feeling and a person’s life becomes a case instead of a story.
I now get angry instead of sad and in this current situation where KTT has 53 clients in ICE custody, in detention, awaiting infection, my blood is boiling and I challenge why more people’s do not. I am disgusted that our first question isn’t how can we help people who need help it’s, well are they here legally? When our second question isn’t how do we fix this, it’s how dangerous are these people? I am angry because I question how long social justice initiatives will have to keep fighting. I am angry now because some days, I wish I could live in Margo’s advice and be numb to the stories. To have this unawareness that friends, family, and Facebook strangers do. I am angry because as I am wishing for one day where I don’t have to be engulfed by work and immigration, I am also scared of becoming numb. It scares me to think that when this YAV year ends I will have the option not to think about the folks sitting in detention or being harassed by our government systems. It scares me to recognize the continuous battle in fighting the privilege to “numb out” and the challenge that comes with also taking time for self-care.
As we approach week 44, the end of our YAV year, and possibly the end of my time in Tucson, I get scared of leaving all I have learned behind and turning back to “numbing out”. People’s stories should not have to go on display in order for us to understand their situation. Yet, I have been given the gift this year of true vulnerability in the clients I work with and a few friends I hold dear. Their vulnerability should not go unnoticed. They are “Rock Stars” as Margo often says– and in a world that is threatening to dim their light, their stories need to be heard. The lesson that this year has taught me and the feelings that I am left with are that we can’t numb out and get used to these stories. As tempting as it is, we can’t take the easy way out and avoid seeing these people as people. Because if we do that, the system won’t change, people won’t change. As scared as I am for this YAV year to end, that does not mean the learning ends. We live in a world that will always offer one more story.
Toilet replacements are unpredictable. Sometimes it is simple, take one out, put one in, no worries. Other times there are many more steps such as repairing the floor. Or fixing the flange. Or replacing the water shut off valve. All of these involve many extra steps and materials
Vernon, another CHRPA volunteer, and I embarked on a toilet replacement job one Thursday afternoon not knowing what we would find. Upon walking into the small bathroom, we were relieved to find that all seemed to be in good shape. This could be a simple replacement of the toilet, with no extra steps needed.
I detached the existing toilet while Vernon brought the new one in from the van. In no time, we had the old one out and the new one set in place. I knelt over it to tighten the bowl to the floor. The left bolt was tight and the right one was almost there. I thought to myself “2 more turns of the nut should get it tight” but on that second turn, I heard an unexpected sound. “POP!”
The bolt on the right side had come loose under the toilet… to fix that required removing the toilet bowl, re-securing the bolt, and putting the toilet back on, hoping it worked the second time. Vernon’s experience and ingenuity helped us. He secured the bolt that had come loose with an extra washer. We put the toilet back in place. Vernon tightened the pesky bolt on the right as we held our breath, hoping this time it would work. It did! But as he tightened the bolt on the left, we heard that same, unwanted sound… “POP!”
The bolt on the left had come loose.
By this point the small bathroom was hot. Every minute that passed I seemed to notice more of how tiny the space was. We had been in there about an hour and a half. We were tired after a long week of repairs and very ready for the weekend to begin.
But we couldn’t just leave it. So again we removed the toilet… Vernon put an extra washer on that bolt as well and we set the toilet back in its place for a third time.
Vernon tightened the bolts while I crossed my fingers and prayed it would stay secure. Luckily, the third time really was the charm. Feeling grateful for those extra bolts, we got everything hooked up and running.
As we cleaned up our tools, I felt frustrated by how long it took us to do that job. I was just happy it was done and I could get ice cream when I returned to the office, I grabbed the file out of the truck to get the client’s signature before leaving.
Inside the house, I told them about the mishaps we encountered and explained why I had needed to go in and out of the house about five times to grab more tools and supplies from the truck.
Our client laughed with me and then told me. “My 4 year old granddaughter who is playing in the other room saw you coming in and out. She said ‘how can a girl be fixing the toilet?’ with a confused look on her face. I told her that girls can do anything. That she can do anything. You are an example of that for her.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I was sweaty and tired, but those few sentences reminded me how life giving it is to do this work and how grateful I am to have wonderful people at CHRPA to teach me the tools of the trade. I felt grateful to all the women who have empowered me to do whatever I dream of, knowing that nothing will hold me back. I felt humbled to be this example for a child.
As we drove away, I still felt frustrated. I was still ready for my ice cream. But I also was smiling because I knew that that girl might just believe in herself and her dreams a little bit more, just from seeing me carry a toilet.