We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"El desierto es feo"

Dear friends, below is a reflection from a good friend of many of us in the Kairos community, Kat B. She recently made her third trip to the U.S./Mexico border volunteering with No More Deaths. I was moved by her reflection and wanted to share it with you all:

I am having trouble concentrating. I am currently watching lectures on the pathophysiology involved in the Gastrointestinal system. As I read over causes of liver failure and symptoms of jaundice, I picture the Guatemalans that my friend Rafael* told me about. The ones he had run into while attempting to cross the desert. The ones who had not had food or clean drinking water in 10 days and were so jaundiced that he could see the yellowed tint of their skin and eyes. Saddened, desperate, starving faces with bloodshot yellow eyes fill my mental space as I try to read what causes jaundice and the intricacies of a liver failing to do its intended job.

These images are replaced by the body of a man under a scorching sun, fallen in the dirt, being eaten by birds... another horror that my friend Rafael witnessed. "El desierto es feo." The desert is ugly. "Es muy peligroso!" It is very dangerous! "Yo no trataré de cruzar otra vez." I will not try to cross again. Rafael is only nineteen. He limped into the clinic in Nogales, Sonora that Thursday morning. He tells me he was in the desert for 4 days, was picked up by his ride in the US, a tire blew, and the 60 people crammed into the vehicle ran as the border patrol chased them. They were separated. He was apprehended by BP. They choked him with his shirt and shook him, demanding to know where the others were. The BP who did this was a tall man, very big ("con musculos?" with muscles? I ask, "No!" he laughs, "Fue muy gordo!" He was very fat!), brown hair, brown eyes with a Latino partner who did nothing to stop the abuse.

As we treat his blistered feet and wrap his ankles and knees (bruised and swollen from a difficult fall in the desert), Rafael and I become friends. He shares that he likes The Doors, showing me a shirt in his hand, and we start to sing a couple of the songs together. He talks of his home and the hot springs and the beauty of the place. He stands up and comments on how much better he feels. I call someone else over, who is fluent in Spanish, and ask her to translate some of the more complex instructions for taking care of himself. When she is finished, they are talking some more and he looks pointedly at her and asks her to ask me a question. "¿Piensa que es malo que nosotros los mexicanos tratemos de venir a EEUU?" She turns to me "He wants to know if you think that it is bad for Mexicans try to get into the US" I am completely taken off guard. "No!" I say. And stop. There is so much more I want to convey. Of course I don't think it is bad. I am mortified beyond explanation of the way our government treats human beings, of the unethical treatment of a people whose land we stole in the name of war and claimed as our own. I am ashamed at our complete lack of hospitality. Although those who know me would not mistake me for a patriot, the words "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" often run through my mind at times like these. Rafael explains that he thought all "Americans" (a term I use loosely as all those living in North and South America are Americans, something that was pointed out to me by friends while I was in Guatemala) were ojetes (assholes) but he was glad to meet us because it meant that we did not all hate Mexicans and that some of us were cool.

Earlier that week, a group of us were returning from Josseline's shrine (in honor of a 14 year old girl who died while trying to cross the desert -- whose body was found by a No More Deaths volunteer, her feet submerged in a pool of water, her green shoes placed carefully beside her) and standing in the middle of the dirt road was a man. I leaned out the window as we got closer. "Hola! Buenas tardes. Como esta?" Hello! Good afternoon. How are you?
He indicated "so, so" with a wave of his hand. We stop and get out of the car. We saw that he was with another man. Alonso* and Gabriel* both appeared very tired. They explained that they had been in the desert for 5 days with a guide that was going too fast and not allowing them to rest (we were only about a 2 day hike from the border, which indicates to me that the guide was rather lost). They couldn't keep up and so left the group about 2 hours before. We took vitals and checked feet for blisters. They said they wanted to go back to Mexico. As we talked, we discovered that 7 years ago Alonso had come to the US and lived in Chicago for 5 years. About 2 years ago, he returned to Mexico with his wife and two children because he wanted to go home. He was returning to Chicago to make some money to finish his house. I asked where in Chicago he had lived. He was my neighbor, literally a few blocks away from my current home. He is my age. Had he lived in the US a little longer, we might have crossed paths that were more mutual, paths that were not made of dirt and desperation where one of us was in danger of severe dehydration and the other one in danger of being completely unaware of her own privilege.

My time with No More Deaths felt different this time. I am still processing why, but one thing that I can name is that it felt more mutual. As much as I like to believe I am aware of my privilege and biases and racism, the fact that this time felt more mutual tells me that I have not been as aware, am still not as aware. If it felt more mutual now, it goes to reason that I felt some superiority during my last few times with NMD. Superiority of which I was unaware, am still unaware. In the past I felt sorry for the people we ran into, I felt great sorrow for their situation. This time, I felt something more like kinship with them. We are in this together. This affects me not just because it affects you and I have met you, it affects me because we are interdependent. Suffering by any one human affects all human beings. We should all carry this burden. I do not believe I do this well and I am just beginning to name it... to realize it and what it means... but it is a beginning.

I also came back with hope this time, rather than the overwhelming despair I usually feel after returning from the border. I returned to Chicago motivated to get more involved in immigration issues here. In returning after past experiences with NMD, I have wallowed in my own sadness, feeling like the only thing for me to do was to move to Arizona and do the work full time. The border, however, is everywhere. There is much work to be done here, in Chicago. There are people in our community here, in my neighborhood, that live in fear of deportation. They may have even considered whether or not they would try to cross back into the US if they were deported and ripped from their family, their home, our community. I am sadly uninformed about immigration issues in my own backyard, in my own community. I am shamefully unaware of how it affects the communities here. Yet another sign of the privilege I hold, to be able to chose whether or not an issue is worth my noticing it. I am motivated to change that. To become more aware. To become an ally to my neighbors. To become more interdependent. Please join me.


*names were changed