Before living in Mexico, immigration was an important topic to me but was not an urgent topic. I lived in Colorado and Minnesota where the information I received about immigration came from the news (“Mexicans are taking our jobs!!”), classes (books, articles, and movies with a very liberal perspective in my college Spanish classes), and a few personal stories.
I have recently returned from a 10 day retreat with my YAGMexico group focusing on immigration and the border. Obviously, just being here in Mexico has been preparation for it. We all have heard stories of people who have illegally crossed, heard mixed opinions on the waves of Central Americans traveling through MX to get to the US, and glimpsed in a new way the reasons why. Some of my fellow volunteers are living with even stronger connections to this topic as they work with kids who have family in the US or at migrant shelters off the tracks from La Bestia (the train many migrants take, extremely dangerous for many reasons).
We also more formally prepped for the retreat. We learned about the massive immigration raid in Postville, IA and the economic and social effects it had on that town (both negative). We learned about child migrants who take the trains from Central America up to the US, a topic that especially gets me as I think of my host nephews. We read a book, The Devil’s Highway, which beautifully and thoroughly dives into the Yuma 14, a group of migrants that died while crossing the desert and arguably one of the first events to make a splash on national media. We talked about the book of Job and the true meaning of solidarity. We packed our bags and were sent off to the airport.
It was weird being back in the US. I noticed the tall people, free bathrooms, that I didn’t stand out as a güera, and I accidently gave a green 200 pesos note instead of a green 20 dollar bill. For the first time in months, I lived a day without feeling like I needed to prove my Spanish speaking ability (though we spoke in Spanish and listened to Spanish frequently through the week).
The week was packed. Here are some of the things we did:
- Went to see the wall, both on the US side and after walking through the MX desert.
- Met with the mayor of Douglas, AZ (the border town next to Agua Prieta, Sonora, MX) and learned about the very unique situation of border towns and how immigration law heavily affects them.
- Visited a Drug Rehab Center in Agua Prieta.
- Had dinner with migrants at a shelter in Agua Prieta, which to me is a highlight. Such lovely people and such hard stories.
- Visited the Douglas Border Patrol Station, got a tour and spent a solid 3 hours there. Asking questions, etc.
- Went to a café, Café Justo, which I believe is the best anti-immigration movement (a café that pays workers in Chiapas, a state in MX, a fair wage- much more than fair trade does- as to provide them enough money in order to financially be able to stay in their homes, working their land.)
- Participated in a prayer vigil for migrants who have died in the desert of Douglas County.
- Learned from leaders in organizations who help children in detention centers and who help educate and protect immigrants living in the US.
- Listened to a presentation about the migration and refugee problems in Europe (which broadened our understanding of the devastating and similar immigration problems existing around the world) by an Italian social worker with the organization Mediterranean Hope.
- Went to the Tucson courthouse and watched Operation Streamline/watched 45 migrants be sentenced as criminals in under 2 hours.
I will be posting more from my journal on some of these experiences. I want you to know that it was a week that I could not describe as comfortable or fun, but was entirely worth the anger, sadness, and inspiration. The exposure to a holistic view of life on the US/MX border proved to be challenging and surprising.
I hope you keep an eye out for blogs to come. Though I left with a very specific and biased opinion, my goal is not to “convert you” to my beliefs on immigration but to offer you knew looks, stories, and perspectives that are less readily available. I hope to disrupt a comfortable ignorance on what’s really happening in Central America, MX and the US with immigration. I feel my purpose after such a week is to become a story teller and honor those who are silenced, dead, or too scared to speak up. I will never be able to do them justice but I will do my best to try.
I want to thank Lindsay, Omar, and Heidi for their leadership, planning, perspectives, support, music selections and general creation of good times as well as my fellow YAGMexico volunteers for being open, down to earth, caring and awesome friends who because we walked together in this, will always hold a special place in my heart.
With love, prayers, and peace to you all,