Mis pensamientos sobre “Juan”

Hola todos!  Lo siguiente es una predicacion que he dado hace una semana en la Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana de Silver City, Nuevo Mexico.  Ahi invitaron a Jake, Melissa, y a mi a hablar de nuestra experiencia como Joven Adulto Voluntario….


 

Siempre que Jake, Melissa y yo conozcamos nuevas personas en diferentes iglesias, o en eventos relacionados con el programa JAV, normalmente quieren saber más sobre nosotros.  Así que les explico un poquito sobre mí mismo y cómo he llegado aquí, en Agua Prieta.  Soy de Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, que es un barrio en las afueras de Detroit, y allá siguen viviendo mis padres.  Me crecí católico, y asistí a una preparatoria jesuita bien conocida dentro de la ciudad de Detroit.  Después, asistí a Kalamazoo College, donde estudié los idiomas extranjeros con mucha pasión.  (Y además, ¡sí que hay un Kalamazoo!  A veces, la gente no se da cuenta de que existe un lugar con tal nombre…)  Ya que había estado en Honduras para un viaje de 8 días, durante el verano entre mi tercer y cuarto año de la preparatoria, yo sabía que quería pasar más tiempo en un país hispanohablante después de graduarme de la universidad, trabajando para la justicia social.  Después de graduarme de Kalamazoo College, me quedé en casa unos años, hasta que una amiga mía me dijo sobre el programa de los Jóvenes Adultos Voluntarios.

Solicité el programa, y me emocionaba de la expectativa de tener otra experiencia de servicio intercultural- esta vez, durante un año entero.  Pero nunca se me ocurrió que esta experiencia iba a ser tan diferente de la que tuve en 2006 en Honduras.  Nunca tomé en cuenta que todo el tiempo que pasé en Honduras con mis amigos, compañeros de clase y profesores que ya conocía era dentro de la llamada “fase luna de miel” de vivir en otra cultura (es decir, los principios del tiempo que se pasa en otro país, cuando todo parece lindo y perfecto.)  Porque fue tan corto, y porque se habían planeado con cuidado todos los detalles de nuestro tiempo allá, ¡fue como una vacación para nosotros!  En retrospectiva, creo que era simplemente demasiado joven para apreciar lo difícil que la vida puede ser para los que experimentan la pobreza en el Tercer Mundo.  Pero, durante el año pasado, esta experiencia aquí ha sido completamente diferente para mí; me ha situado “frente a frente” con personas que están muy lejos de sus hogares, huyéndose de la violencia o de unas circunstancias económicas desesperadas.

Sirviendo aquí por la zona fronteriza, hemos oído decir muchas veces que el TLCAN (Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte) inundó a los mercados mexicanos de maíz barato que provenía de los Estados Unidos; así, y de otras maneras parecidas, el TLCAN socavó la capacidad de las familias agricultoras mexicanas de sostenerse económicamente.  Hemos oído decir que algunos que eligen dejar para atrás sus hogares en Chiapas, Guerrero, o Nayarit lo hacen para viajar al norte, a intentar buscar trabajo en los Estados Unidos.  Sabemos que algunos se están huyendo de la violencia en El Salvador, Guatemala, o Honduras.  Aquí en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes, encuentro a muchas de estas mismas personas cada día.  A veces, se les han desarrollado moratones en los pies por andar tanto tiempo en el desierto.  A veces, se les han roto el brazo o torcido el tobillo por intentar escalar el muro entre Agua Prieta y Douglas.  A veces, han sido deportados.  A veces, simplemente llegan a la frontera y deciden quedarse aquí, por darse cuenta de que la seguridad fronteriza es más ajustada que pensaban, por darse cuenta de lo peligroso del desierto, etc.  Y estas personas son las pocas que encuentro yo; el flujo de migrantes aquí en Agua Prieta es relativamente bajo ahora, pero hay muchas, muchas más personas en Nogales, por ejemplo…

A mí me pareció buena idea contarles sobre una persona en particular que he llegado a conocer en el CRM. Él llegó a Agua Prieta y vino al Centro buscando asistencia en octubre, cuando nosotros JAVs acabábamos de llegar aquí. Desde entonces, se ha convertido en miembro de la comunidad. Antes de salir para una convención en Ciudad Juárez a principios de mayo, Betto lo encargó del albergue para hombres, porque sabemos todos que es responsable y confiable. Pero desafortunadamente, pasó por algunos momentos difíciles antes de llegar hasta nosotros en Agua Prieta; también experimentó unas instancias de violencia a manos de gente de mala compañía. El otro día descubrí que, debido a estas instancias, ni siquiera quiere decir su apellido a la gente, ni dar su nombre completo. Así que en este relato, por consideración, lo llamo Juan.

Yo había pedido a Juan que compartiera algunos detalles de su historia conmigo.  Y cuando nos sentamos juntos para platicar el otro día, miró por la ventana de la oficina, vio un vehículo de la Patrulla Fronteriza al otro lado de la valla, y me dijo, con tristeza, “Algún día me gustaría regresar ahí, pero… legalmente… no sé.”  A mí me parece una instancia donde lo que no se dice expresa muchísimo.

Juan no sabe ni donde nació, ni cuando exactamente.  Y aunque no quiso hablar de su vida temprana, recuerdo que- cuando llegó en octubre- me dijo que se había llevado a los Estados Unidos cuando era demasiado joven para acordárselo.  Vivió en San Diego y varias otras partes de California toda su vida, hasta ser deportado recientemente.  Pero cuando le pregunté cómo ha sido su experiencia en Agua Prieta, con toda la gente que ha conocido en el CRM y en CAME, dijo, “Me ha dado nueva vida… pues estoy aquí por el milagro de Dios.  Ustedes siempre me han tratado bien, y eso me da fuerza y orgullo, y me siento bien.”  Cuando estaba recién llegado al área aquí, Juan hizo trabajo de construcción un rato.  Después, hizo cajas de cartón en una fábrica de LEVOLOR, que es una compañía americana que manufactura persianas y sombrajos.  Ninguno de los trabajos le pagaba mucho, y durante un período de varias semanas antes de la navidad, algunos alojados del albergue (incluyendo Juan) no había recibido ningún pago de LEVOLOR.  Al parecer, el jefe simplemente no quería pagarles, y al parecer, se salía con la suya hasta que algunos voluntarios mexicanos nuestros del Centro se involucraron para abogar por Juan y los demás migrantes.  Cuando, por fin, llegó el día de pago, Juan estaba de tan buen humor que invitó a Betto y a mí al Oxxo cercano, ofreciendo sus propias ganancias para comprarnos un refresco.  Actualmente tiene varios trabajos de jornada parcial como pintor, en varias primarias aquí en Agua Prieta y también en el albergue de CAME.  Además, va desarrollando sus capacidades de carpintería y asiste a otras personas a hacer lo mismo también.  Él es un ejemplo buenísimo de alguien quien ha aceptado el apoyo del CRM, y quien lo ha convertido en algo bueno para su propia vida.

Pero nosotros estamos aquí para recordar a todas las personas en México, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, etc., que nunca consiguen una oportunidad así.  Y nadie debe ser forzado a tales circunstancias difíciles en primer lugar.

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My thoughts on “Juan”

Hi everybody!  The following are some thoughts I shared at First Presbyterian Church in Silver City recently, where Melissa, Jake and I were invited to speak…..

Spanish version to follow.

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Good morning, everyone.  Thank you for inviting us here to Faith this morning.  Whenever Jake, Melissa and myself meet new Presbyterian folks at different churches or YAV-related events, they usually want to know more about us, so let me tell you a little bit about myself and how I ended up in Agua Prieta, Mexico.  I’m from Grosse Pointe Woods, MI, a suburb of the Detroit area, and my parents still live there.  I was raised Catholic, and attended a well-known Jesuit high school within the city of Detroit.  Afterwards I went to Kalamazoo College, where I studied foreign languages with a passion.  (And yes, by the way, there really is a Kalamazoo!  People sometimes wonder.)  Because I had been to Honduras for a brief, 8-day mission trip while in high school, I knew I wanted to spend some time after college living in a Spanish-speaking country, working in some sort of social-justice related context.  After graduating from Kalamazoo, I stayed at home for a couple of years, and then eventually found out about the Young Adult Volunteer program from a friend of mine.

I applied, and was excited about the prospect of having another cross-cultural service experience, this time for a full year.  But I don’t think it ever occurred to me just how different this would be from my time in Honduras.  I never considered that my entire time spent in Honduras with friends, classmates and teachers I already knew fell within what some call the “honeymoon phase” of life in another culture.  Because it was so short, and because all the details of our time there were so carefully planned, it was like a vacation for us!  And looking back, I think I was simply too young to appreciate just how difficult life could be for those who experience poverty in the Third World.  But this experience has been altogether different for me; it’s put me face-to-face with people who are nowhere near home, fleeing either violence or desperate economic circumstances

Serving here in the borderlands, we hear frequently about how NAFTA flooded Mexican markets with cheap corn, and otherwise undermined subsistence farming families’ ability to sustain themselves.  We hear that some choose to live behind their homes in Chiapas, Guerrero, or Nayarit, to come north and try to find work in the United States.  We know that some are fleeing from violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.  In the Migrant Resource Center, I encounter some of these very people every day.  They may have bruises on their feet from walking in the desert.  They may have broken an arm or twisted an ankle trying to climb over the wall between Agua Prieta and Douglas.  They may have been deported.  Or maybe they’ve simply arrived at the border, seen how tight the security is, realized how treacherous the hot desert is, and decided to stay put.  And these are just the ones I see.  We have relatively low numbers of migrants in AP right now, but there are many, many more in Nogales.

I thought it’d be a good idea to tell you about one person in particular I’ve gotten to know at the MRC.  He arrived in Agua Prieta and first came to the Center seeking help back in October.  Since then, he’s become a member of the community.  Before leaving for a work-related trip to Ciudad Juárez this past week, my colleague Betto even left him in charge of the men’s shelter because we all know he’s reliable and trustworthy.  But unfortunately, he’s had some hard times before finding his way to us in Agua Prieta, and even some near-violent episodes with the wrong crowrd.  I discovered just the other day that, because of these events, he doesn’t even feel comfortable telling people his last name, or his full name.  So out of consideration, I’m just going to call him Juan.

I had asked Juan the other day if he would share some details of his story with me, and when we finally sat down to chat, he looked out the window of our office in the Center, noticed a Border Patrol vehicle rolling along on the other side of the fence, and said, with a note of longing, and perhaps resignation, “Algún día me gustaría regresar ahí, pero… legalmente… no sé…”  I think this instance is one where the unspoken speaks volumes.

Juan doesn’t know where he was born, or when exactly.  And though he declined to talk about his earlier life when we spoke on Friday, I remember him saying (back in October, when he first arrived) something about how he had been brought to the United States when he was still too young to remember.  He lived in San Diego and various other parts of California his entire life, before being deported recently.  But when I asked him what his experience in Agua Prieta has been like, with all the people he’s met at the MRC and the Catholic shelter CAME, he said, “Me ha dado nueva vida…” (translate) “pues, estoy aquí por el milagro de Dios.”  “You guys have always treated me well, and that gives me strength, and pride, and I feel good about myself.”  When he was still new to the area, Juan did some construction work for a brief time, before making cardboard boxes in a factory for the LEVOLOR Corporation, an American company that manufactures blinds and shades.  Neither job paid very well at all, and I remember a period of several weeks before Christmas where Juan and some others who were staying at the shelter hadn’t received any pay at all from the job at LEVOLOR- apparently, the boss simply didn’t want to pay them, and was able to get away with it, until some of our Mexican volunteers stepped in to advocate for Juan and other migrants.  When payday finally came, Juan was in such a good mood, he asked me and Betto to walk down the street to Oxxo with him, and offered his own earnings to buy us each an iced tea.  Currently, he has several different part-time jobs as a painter, at various primary schools in Agua Prieta, as well as the CAME shelter.  In addition, he is honing his skills as a carpenter, and teaching others to do the same.

Of all those I’ve encountered this year, I see Juan as a fantastic example of someone who has accepted the support of the MRC, and turned it into something good in his own life.

But we are here to remember that many more people in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc, never get such a chance at all.  And no one should ever be forced into such trying circumstances in the first place.

Sermon from Holy Way

Hi everyone!  Last Sunday, we were invited up to Holy Way Presbyterian Church in Tucson to speak some more about our experience as YAVs.  This is what I had to say for my sermon:

“For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.  He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God…”

-Ephesians 2: 14-19

Thanks to all of you for inviting us to be present and to speak this morning here at Holy Way.  I have been watching and reading much, in the past few weeks and months, about the upcoming Presidential elections.  It has been strange to live in Mexico- specifically, on the border- during a time in which there has been so much discourse about so-called “border security” in national media.  Most people I’ve met here in the borderlands since my arrival on September 5th are dismayed, even scared, by the possibility of seeing further militarization and deeper division along the border.  I, for one, don’t know that our southern border policy currently accomplishes much other than to criminalize the poor who attempt to come to the United States and look for work.  During my time as a YAV, I have privately struggled to intellectualize the issue and figure out what would be the ideal way to stem the flow of drugs and organized crime into our country, while allowing law-abiding citizens to pass freely between the United States and Mexico.  But I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.  Bad on me, I guess.

But whatever political opinions we come to on our own, I think it’s important to remember that those who come here are not simply part of a “brown wave,” or looking to “steal jobs from good, hard-working Americans.”  They are people, with hopes, aspirations, fears, and dreams, just like you and I.  They are people who simply want to escape poverty or violence in their homelands, and feel they have no other choice but to leave.  I will tell you now about one of them whom I just met Thursday in the MRC.

His name is Javier.  We didn’t exchange many words on this particular day.  But after he had already eaten with a group of men from the overnight migrant shelter, I simply asked if he would like some of my juice.  He declined, and asked instead (very politely) if he could use our telephone to call his girlfriend in El Paso.  “Of course,” I told him.  She wouldn’t get off work until at least 4 o’clock, however.  So Javier settled into the chair in front of where I sat, at the desk in our office, at the back of the MRC.  And he waited, and waited some more.  After a few moments, he spoke again, and I realized he was tearing up.

Es que quiero buscar a Dios, hermano, pero no sé cómo…” he managed, as a tear dripped from his face.  “I want to search for God, brother, but I don’t know how…”  I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I just sat with him and waited patiently, hoping he would tell me more about himself.  Javier and I sat in silence a bit longer, then I asked him where he was from, if he had been to the United States, and where his family was.  He told me he was from Chihuahua, that he had family back there as well as in San Diego, El Paso, and Denver.  He had spent time with his family in all three cities, but was separated from them now.  He helped himself to a Kleenex as he was telling me this, and I asked him what he was planning to do next- re-enter the States, or go back to his aunts’ home in Chihuahua.  He wasn’t sure, but underscored that he definitely wanted to leave Agua Prieta as soon as he could.  I loaned him the phone now, and he called his girlfriend in El Paso.  She must not have gotten home from work right on time; the first two times we called, she wasn’t there.  After a few more minutes went by, Javier tried again, and she answered.  They spoke briefly, while I tried not to listen in, and respect their privacy.  When Javier was finished, he hung up, and seemed visibly reassured.  He thanked me, and turned to walk out.  “Dios está contigo,” I told him, as he walked out, and he thanked me once again.

Others I’ve spoken with in the MRC the past couple of days have had to hitch rides all along the Mexican border recently- from Monterrey to Matamoros to Naco and back to Agua Prieta- in order to get where they are now.  They are, in the most literal sense, sojourners- strangers in a place strange to them.  But we are, of course, fellow citizens of the world.  And as Christians, we believe that we are all beloved by God.  As we go forth, let’s work to make all with whom we share this earth feel a bit more beloved.  Let’s remember Javier.

Heading Home

I’m heading home early tomorrow morning, and pretty excited about it.  I’ve missed my family and friends from home lately, and I can’t wait to see them again.  Christmas, as always, is sure to be a fun time filled with lots of company, good food, and warmth- literally.  But over the past couple months, I’ve seen firsthand just how many people struggle to afford such material comforts.  Lately, I haven’t been seeing too many people coming in for help at work, because the Border Patrol has been sending deportees back through Nogales.  (It’s easier for them, coming straight down south from Tucson.)  But in years past, (so I’ve been told by other fellow volunteers and community members) as many as 30, 40, or more people were coming into the Migrant Resource Center every single day for lunch.

I haven’t had nearly that kind of flow since I’ve been here.  A couple weeks ago, we had about 6 or 7 middle-aged men who were staying at the local Catholic shelter, and they came for lunch every single day.  Therefore, I’ve been able to spend some time with individual people, learn their names and backgrounds, and even develop some friendships.  Here I’ll tell you a bit about just one person I met this past Saturday.

Over the weekend, our YAV site coordinator Alison was visiting with the folks who comprise our Steering Committee, and we had agreed to meet at the Migrant Resource Center, my workplace.  A young man came in.  Melissa attended to him, warming up some burritos in the microwave so he could have something to eat, and I didn’t pay him much attention at first, since the group of us was getting ready to tour the town and find somewhere to have lunch.  But after a couple of minutes, I left our office area to go over and grab some supplies from the storage area.  As I walked by the young man, I asked him if he had eaten enough- I expected him, like most other migrants who I’d seen up until this point, to say, “Yes, thank you!” or “Yes, of course!” or something to that effect.  But he answered no, that he was still very hungry.  And so I went back to the refrigerator and got some more burritos ready for him.

I knew that the group was getting ready to leave, and figured this would probably take a little while, so I told Alison to have the group go on without me to their first stop, and then come back for me in a little bit.  As the group made its way outside, the young man asked me for a change of pants, socks, and shoes.  I told him he was welcome to come back into the office space and choose from among the clothing we had available.  He said he had been walking too much, and as he picked out what he needed, he removed his footwear.  While I didn’t look too closely, I could tell his feet were not in good shape- he had some patches of skin between his toes that looked black, and an unpleasant smell reached me from the other side of the room.  I wasn’t sure what to offer him for blisters other than some Neosporin and Band-aids; he gladly accepted them.

By this point, the guy had already had two servings of burritos, but I could tell he was still hungry.  So while I prepared him some Ramen noodles, I finally got around to asking his name.  Santiago, he told me.  And then he went on to tell me why he had been walking so much.  He hadn’t been deported, but he had tried to cross the border somewhere over to the east, by Chihuahua.  He said the Border Patrol had found him, but that he had managed to escape and cross back into Mexico closer to the Douglas/Agua Prieta area.  Why was he trying to cross?, I wanted to know.  He said he was trying to get to Tucson to see his mother.  His brother lived there as well, and had just recently had a baby boy.  But the baby had died unexpectedly, and the funeral was planned for sometime in the next couple days (meaning today or tomorrow, at this point).  It seems tragic to think that anyone should have to break or flee the law simply trying to reunite with family for such a tender, heart-breaking occasion.

People cross the border undocumented for a variety of reasons- this case is probably the most unique I’ve encountered to date.  I didn’t think to ask his age yesterday, but Santiago seemed around my own age.  As I sit here typing, counting down the minutes until my shuttle leaves to take me up to Tucson on my way home, I’m haunted by what Santiago told me about his own experience.  I would hate to have to go through what he did just to try and reunite with my family.  No one deserves that.

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More to come next post about another friend I’ve made recently: Horacio.

My mini-sermon at St. Mark’s Presbyterian

This past weekend, Jake, Brenda, Melissa and I went to Tucson to help out with a fundraising event Friday night at St. Mark’s Presbyterian, to benefit both  Cafe Justo (the coffee co-operative here in Agua Prieta) and a local family-run pottery business.  We were also invited to give a sermon in front of the congregation Sunday morning, taking turns speaking about our experience so far working here.  The following is a copy of what I wrote in preparation for my turn; since it turned out to be longer than I realized, what I actually said in church was shorter than this.  So if you like, you get to read the whole thing!

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The Story of Ruth & My Time Spent with Migrants on the US-Mexico Border

Good morning, everyone!  My name is Chris.  First of all, I’d like to thank you for having us to St. Mark’s for this morning’s service, and for the Taste of Chiapas event on Friday night; you have a beautiful church building here!  Peace be with you all.

I don’t remember if I’d ever even heard the story of Ruth and Naomi before this past week, to be honest.  I read the four chapters of the Book of Ruth with an open mind, wondering what I’d discover.  What I found puzzles me, as I think it would most of us.  Having lost her husband, why would Ruth leave behind her own homeland of Moab?  Naomi reminds Ruth that indeed they no longer have any significant ties to one another now that she has lost her male relatives.  Being unfamiliar with the story, and also with the historical context in which it takes place, I wondered at first whether perhaps Ruth might have felt she had no better choice for a prosperous life.  ‘Would a widow be able to re-marry in ancient Judah?,’ I wanted to know.  ‘Did her own husband leave her with little or no wealth, perhaps?’  But economic circumstance doesn’t seem a likely motivating factor based upon the information we’re given; in Ch. 1 Verse 9, Naomi tells each of her two daughters, “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband,” implying that re-marriage was a culturally acceptable option in that day.  And while one of the daughters-in-law bids her a tearful goodbye, Ruth refuses.  She appears bound by filial piety, and says not only “Where you go, I will go” but also “where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”

The story doesn’t provide us with much background as to the relationship between the two women, merely that they lived together in Moab for “about ten years.”  As women often married in their early years in that time, I might venture a guess that Ruth may have been relatively young when they first met.  Her relationship with Naomi, her new mother-in-law, was probably especially formative to her identity.  Ten years, after all, would seem like a longer time to one in her twenties than it might to someone much older!  Naomi, in telling others to no longer call her by her given name, but rather Mara- meaning ‘bitter’- believes that God has forsaken.  The loss of her husband and her sons has left her so down-trodden, Naomi appears not to consider herself worthy of further affection.  But ten years must have provided enough happiness for Ruth not to let such a relationship go so easily.  She is willing to travel to Bethlehem, in a faraway unknown land, to continue to be with Naomi.  Not only has she no assurance of finding a husband, but furthermore we can assume she was leaving her religion behind also, as Naomi’s words imply the peoples of Moab and Judah did not worship the same God.  For this commitment, Ruth ventures into the unknown, and eventually is rewarded by Boaz, who allows her to work his fields, advises her to find company among his other female workers, offers her harvest to share with her mother-in-law, and eventually weds her.

Lately, the Biblical story I’ve reflected upon most, regarding my own migration to the Border region as a YAV, has been that of Moses- twice, he leaves behind his homeland of Egypt to find new life in the desert, taking nothing with him but his desire to be free.  I’m happy to have found another story that parallels Exodus, one that has a central female figure, in telling of a leap into the unknown.  Like Jake (and Brenda), I am from far away, and I have my own reasons for feeling that I have left behind some form or another of famine in my own homeland, in Michigan.  But the kind of emptiness I might describe to you would be largely about emotions or spirituality.  The reason why the YAV program exists, and one of the reasons why I hope we continue coming back to the Church, is because famine (for far too many people) is not merely a metaphor.

I recently borrowed a book from Mark Adams called, “They Take Our Jobs!” and 20 Other Myths About Immigration; in light of Trump’s dubious run for the presidency, and my own new job placement, the title certainly grabbed my attention.  The introduction to the book reminds us that migration is simply “any movement of humans (or animals) from one area to another,” while immigration involves human crossing of government-established international boundaries, and is therefore only a function of the idea of the state, as first developed in 19th-Century Europe.  You’ve heard Jake refer to himself as a migrant, and I think it’s important for me, and all of us Americans who travel abroad to call ourselves if not ‘migrants’, then simply ‘travelers’, but never ‘ex-pats’; such a choice of words communicates that we don’t think we’re more entitled than others less fortunate with whom we share the planet.  I’d like to tell you briefly about some such folks I’ve met in the past couple weeks since I first found out I’d be working at the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta…

—-two different young men from Chiapas who spoke indigenous languages, including one about my own age with an injured ankle

—-couple who wanted to reclaim husband’s belongings (he had been deported in June of this year, he had never been given back his belongings), wife (carrying a little girl with her), showed me her valid work authorization card, but said she had never been instructed how to apply for a visa that actually allows her to enter the United States.  Mexican immigration refused to advise her when she asked for help; instead they sent her to us in the Migrant Resource Center, despite the fact that helping people apply for visas is completely beyond our scope.

—-woman who came in asking about her daughter arrested by Border Patrol, wanted to know where she was being held; I called the Mexican consulate to find out where she was, and subsequently the Detention Center in Florence, AZ to confirm her whereabouts.

—-two different men who spoke English fairly well, one of whom needed to go to the local Elektra (similar to Western Union) and arrange for his family members to send him money.  Since he wasn’t carrying Mexican ID with him, (agencies that arrest undocumented immigrants often confiscate their belongings, money and even ID cards) he would need a volunteer from the MRC to show his/her passport and set up an account on his behalf.

…these are people for whom, as I mentioned, the word ‘famine’ is, more than likely, not just a metaphor.  These are people who feel that they must leave their homes in order to attain a better life for themselves or their families.  Sadly, many of them feel incentivized to come to the United States illegally, which involves a dangerous desert crossing.  At our orientation in Stony Point, New York, we were advised that this is one such societal problem that we as YAVs cannot eradicate; we can merely walk a while with the poor.  And indeed, until we as a people demand a more merciful border policy (one that stems the flow of drugs without punishing the poor simply for seeking to escape poverty) there will be plenty of poor people who just might appreciate someone else to walk with- perhaps someone like me, perhaps someone like you.

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To anyone reading- sorry that I haven’t updated since leaving Orientation!  Been up to a fair amount in the last couple weeks…   

For one, I’ve toured different sections of the border wall.  Way to the east of Douglas, the wall abruptly ends and becomes a stretch of vehicle barrier with barbed wire draped across.  On the Mexican side, and far to the west, you can drive through the desert to a tree where people from No More Deaths and other volunteers leave water in the shade for migrants, and walk about 100 meters over steep hills, railroad, and parched earth to see the wall tower 20 feet or more over your head.  Here you would find sections where the lower half of the wall raises and lowers to allow Border Patrol vehicles to pass, or to clear away downed trees and other wreckage that could cause flooding if they obstructed enough rainfall.  I’ve been told that migrants do sometimes drown in the ditches that appear alongside the border wall.

But for those attempting the dangerous trek across the Mexican state of Sonora and into the Arizona deserts, the greatest danger is, of course, exposure to extreme heat and dehydration.  There are other hazards, too.  Some people break legs or twist ankles while climbing/jumping the wall, others develop terrible sores or blisters on their feet

Anyways, I feel like I have more to report now that I know I will be a coordinator for the Migrant Resource Center here in Agua Prieta.  Those who give their time in the MRC do their best to make migrants feel comfortable.  The Center is supposed to be a safe space where those in transit can come and have a free meal, receive some new clothing and basic medical care if they need, and share their experiences.  Volunteers ask migrants where they’re from, how they’ve managed to arrive in Agua Prieta, what their reasons for making the journey north might be, and whether they’ve just been deported.  If migrants claim any abuse at the hands of authorities, the MRC keeps a careful record of it.

Here are some examples of people I’ve interacted with in the past couple of days.  A young man (close to me in age) asked for new underwear, and I was embarrassed to find that we didn’t have any in his size on hand.  But he gladly accepted a larger pair of briefs.  A woman, probably in her early thirties, came in on Monday and showed us her feet.  On one of her ankles was a sore or scab at least the diameter of a golf ball; one of the ladies working my shift gave her some calamine lotion, criss-crossed some bandages over the wound, and offered her a clear new pair of white socks.  Then yesterday, another guy about my age came to us with a bad ankle.  He was having a hard time putting weight on it, so we gave him a crutch and took him to the hospital.  I do not know if his ankle turned out to be broken, or what happened to him.

I don’t know much about any of the folks who come to the Migrant Resource Center, really.  So far I haven’t been interviewing migrants myself, so while I’ve seen a fair amount of people enter the MRC in the past week or so, I don’t know their names, what they did/do for a living, what their families are like, what’s important to them, why exactly they left home, or what they hope for.  I just know they’re seeking something better.  I don’t believe I can give them that by passing out clothing and bean burritos, but hopefully, by being there, I can at least remind them that others care about their dignity.

First post: leaving in 4 hours!!!!

Hi everyone!  I’m Chris, and I’m serving as a YAV with the PCUSA this year.  I’ll be in Agua Prieta, Mexico (right on the border with Arizona) and this blog is where I’ll be writing about my experiences.

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”
~Psalm 139: 7-12

Singing these verses together with SO many people my own age the past few days, every night before bed, just may have given me my faith back.  I’m sad to be leaving Stony Point tomorrow morning (especially at 4am……), but excited and hopeful about what’s to come.

I STILL don’t know what work exactly I’ll be doing when I get to Agua Prieta, and I am super anxious about that, but…… I have faith.  Somehow.

Also, sometime I may want to backtrack and briefly explain about our trip into Manhattan a couple days ago, and the congregation that invited me into its church this morning for a send-off.

Also, what do you think of the name of my blog?  It could be a working title.  Is it too silly?  Does it make sense?  Let me know.