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