Thursday, July 31, 2014

Loteria, Piñatas, y Abrazos

Hi friends,

It's been a while since I've posted. Sometimes inspiration comes in waves! Don't worry, another post with a YAV Year in Photos, 2014 Edition is coming your way soon. It's pretty crazy looking back at the YAV Year in Review (The 2013 Portion!) as I sit here in my house sweating on my final week in Tucson... 

This is my final blog post with BorderLinks. Other than organizing and leading delegations, I have done a lot of the behind-the-scenes work (like we all do), and one of my responsibilities has been managing our BorderLinks blog throughout my year as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer. And this post is actually about the closing time for a few of us at the BorderLinks HQ: Maria, Rhonda, and I will be moving on to other things; Alex is also finishing up his term of volunteer service through the Methodist US-2 program, but he will stay connected to BorderLinks as he soon begins graduate school at the University of Arizona; and our Summer Civic Engagement Program is winding down with staggered end dates based on the program schedule they chose.

So with a few of us heading different directions, on Thursday, July 24th, we decided to reflect and celebrate. BorderLinks held a potluck with staff as well as the summer interns and guests they invited from their placements at local organizations. Here are a few pictures from the day!

Maria, Alex, me, and Rhonda on our despedida (goodbye party) day. 

We filled our plates with tamales, rice and beans, fruit salad, greens, jicama, and more! Here are Barbara and Natalie from Iskashitaa, along with their intern through BorderLinks' summer program, Gina - who is from my home church, St. Luke! It was fun to see Gina in Tucson some this summer too, and I'm glad she had a good experience and learned a lot here in the Borderlands too.

After the meal, Suzette called out the cards for loteria, similar to Bingo and a good way to practice your Spanish.

Alicia and Rhonda were the victors of loteria! Alicia chose the maraca, and Rhonda the small Mata Ortiz pot. 

And then we moved outside for a piñata. I get to pose with our Awesomeness Director, Atyana on the left.


Piñata queen?

I am so grateful for all of the experiences I have had here in my year with BorderLinks. This work has challenged my head and my heart in ways I never imagined. I never thought one job would have me working with groups of teenagers to octogenarians, cooking for 40, driving 15 passenger vans in Mexico, interpreting on the fly, reading endless articles about immigration, making YouTube videos, facilitating tough discussions and reflections, doing ab breaks and running errands  and talking in Spanglish with coworkers, having silly dance parties and more.

And now, I have to reflect on my year with this incredible organization. Thing is, this is not something I just do, reflect on, and move on from.

It’s not an isolated experience that will sit in photo albums on Facebook or on shelves in my new apartment.

It will walk with me in my next steps in life.

It will accompany me in memories, connections, inspiration, and knowledge.

It will infiltrate my career path and further education.

With each BorderLinks delegation, we ask our participants to walk through the circle of praxis: see, think, and act. Reflect upon what you saw, experienced, and felt, and use that reflection to guide you into action based on that experience. Don't let this intense experience and firsthand knowledge of these issues just sit here in the Borderlands, don't compartmentalize it and let it collect dust in your brain.

Connect it back to your daily experience, your home community, and work to see how what happens here on the border is not isolated. Immigration issues especially affect this entire country, not just in our citizenry's relationship to the system of immigration policy and enforcement, but in how our communities are changing and are challenged. I tell every delegation that even though I grew up a few hours from the Canadian border (but have never been to Canada...), I see much more the effects of our relationship with our southern border than with our northern border. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the rings of traditionally whiter and whiter suburbs, and traditionally white small towns and rural Minnesota are seeing growing Latino populations.

So my question throughout this year has followed this see, think, and act model for how I will bring this experience with me wherever I go. Now that I know that I will be going back to my college town of Northfield, MN and will be working with students and families in the brand-new position of Community Schools Coordinator, I know that I want to keep exploring education access and different models of education, using what I’ve learned in my own educational career as well as the models of experiential education and popular education here at BorderLinks. Part of my new position will actually be focused on building that bridge from these experiences with Latino communities and communities affected so much by migration, to serving the Latino community in that Minnesota town that has its own migration stories.

I have been so fortunate to have met so many incredible people this year that will continue to inspire me. My work with BorderLinks itself is built upon connections to different individuals and organizations with varied perspectives. BorderLinks attempts to build bridges, to get people with diverse opinions into the same room or at least on the same trip schedule, and to draw people from a polarized world of yelling at one another through the media into understanding one another at a human level. The thing about being present in the Borderlands in such a polarized context is you see so many people trying to do something, to do what they can with their time, their talents, and their heart.

Thank you, BorderLinks. I will miss my coworkers and this community, but don’t worry: you’re all coming with me back to Minnesota.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sanctuary Success!

Hello, dearest readers,

Today, I am overjoyed to update you all that in big Tucson news, Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, who was given sanctuary by Southside Presbyterian Church while facing a deportation order, has received word that he has been granted relief from deportation! This husband and father has been granted a stay after much community pressure argued that he was a perfect example of an undocumented resident who should never have to worry about being deported. To clarify, his "stay of deportation" is provisional for one year, so he will have to reapply every year unless a more permanent solution comes with immigration reform or his case is closed. 

Thank you to everyone who signed the petition to the government, provided financial support, went to the nightly vigils, stayed with the family at any point during the last 26 days so they would never be in the church alone, helped spread the word, and held this family in your thoughts and prayers.

For background in case you missed my two previous entries about this radical act of hospitality, check them out here: Sanctuary Part TwoSanctuary Update).

In those 26 days, the community here was in constant work mobilizing local folks to support in various ways, and mobilizing the wider community to petition the government for Daniel's case to be closed. One way Tucsonans stood with the family was attending nightly vigils with the family. Various members of Southside helped put together a reflection and music over this period, so Southside YAV Amy Beth took the lead on a couple, as well as former YAV and current housemate Steph, who roped me in as well. Steph asked me to help her with the vigil music on May 28th, so I in turn convinced my co-worker and incredibly talented musician Nancy to help me too. It was a blessing to be with the family, to be with Steph as she poured out her heart in both English and Spanish, and to meditate through music with Nancy. 

That night we learned through talking with Daniel that because could not work or provide for his family during this time, he was getting stir-crazy cooped up at the church. Thankfully, someone donated painting supplies, so he produced several paintings about culture, family, immigration status, etc. during his time. Here he is with his son Carlos and two of his masterpieces.

Then on June 1st, Amy Beth and I got up at 7am on a Sunday to watch this amazing woman, Pastor Alison (AKA Amy Beth's supervisor) rock an interview with Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC about Southside Presbyterian Church's action to take an undocumented father into sanctuary against federal deportation orders. Yep, she was one of those cool, knowledgeable people that was Skyped in to the news for her expertise! Check out this clip: Pastor Alison on MSNBC with Melissa Harris Perry

It's been amazing how the word has spread locally and nationally. Here is just one article about the closing of Daniel's case, and there are many more circulating. Feds grant stay to immigrant living in Tucson church

Speaking of press, it was beautiful to see this month of sanctuary come to a close with a press conference at Southside. My co-workers Nancy and Rhonda joined me at noon on June 10th, and I'm thankful I brought my good camera this time!  

Here is the family being interviewed before the official press conference.

My housemate Steph and Pastor Alison preparing the blessing in Spanish.

The family after being clapped in, as they were when Daniel entered into sanctuary.

The service included a beautiful balance of legal updates and spiritual components led by Pastor Alison and organizations such as Keep Tucson Together and SEIU Arizona. Sarah from Keep Tucson Together (a free legal clinic that operates out of Southside) praised the sacrifice of this family, turning their lives upside down, Daniel not being able to provide for his family... "But they did it because the alternative was worse: young Carlos growing up without his father... It should never have gotten to this point - his case should have been considered as low priority and closed long ago... His case highlights the importance of communities to prevent more deportations like he was facing."

Here Daniel delivers his thanks and a powerful message, interpreted by Steph. "Everything here was an experience of love... To others out there like me, you are not alone. There is a community supporting you. I'm just one voice... Others are afraid to come into the light, and I'm here to tell you to not be afraid to come out and fight for your families." 

As they had done for one of Southside's services, Daniel and his aunt (who happens to be the choir director at their church) played a couple of worship songs in both English and Spanish. So beautiful.

Daniel's pastor led a prayer as well, saying "la oracion puede mover montañas," "Prayer can move mountains." He thanked God for grace, for God's hand, for strength and mercy in this time, and he gave thanks to Southside for continuing to help those in need. 

As the family had been welcomed into sanctuary with a blessing by Pastor Alison, they were shepherded out with a blessing.

After these emotional moments, the press had their time with the family and community. Here's Pastor Alison rocking more interviews.

The family strides out of the church doors, just for the press :-)

This is just one case. But it means so much to this family and to the wider family of Tucson. Just check out Daniel's son Carlos' Letter to the President

Reminder: about 1,100 people are still being deported every day, and thousands are in limbo and being held in detention centers, holding cells, and makeshift warehouses. These are children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Hijos. Madres. Padres. Hermanos y hermanas. They belong to someone. They are important to someone, so they should be important to us all. Community support has worked and can work again! Ni una mas deportacion, ni una mas separacion de familias!

In fact, Rev. Dr. Miguel de la Torre who has been staying at BorderLinks the last few days has a challenge for you: A Call to Communities of Faith. (He has been staying with us at BorderLinks to film for his upcoming documentary "Trails of Hope and Terror," as well as leading a couple reflections on the Bible and deconstructing privilege and oppression. Check out his film project here: 

 He gave this talk at Southside the very day of Daniel's big news, and  makes a compelling argument that the actions of sanctuary taken for Daniel's case should be much more widespread. What do you think? Are you ready to provide radical hospitality to our undocumented brothers and sisters?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sanctuary Update: Petition the Obama Administration to Close Daniel's Case!

Good morning, friends!

Today is a high of 106 here in Tucson. 106. Fifty degrees hotter than the high in the Grand Canyon where we YAVs retreated to last weekend - it even sleeted on us for a few minutes. Pictures to come!

Summer is upon us, and the soundtrack to my thoughts is always this song: "Smooth" by Rob Thomas and Santana. Beyond the realization that I now sweat on my six-block walk to work because it's 80-something before 8:30am, it also hit me that schools finish earlier out here. I had to lead my last Zumba warmup at Ochoa Elementary's Monday morning assembly a couple weeks ago already and say goodbye to Ms. Cameron and her fifth-grade class I volunteered with on free Friday mornings, as well as to the amazing Ms. Tina who runs the show in the front office (and rocks the Monday assembly exercises the weeks when I couldn't do Zumba). Yesterday was my first day walking to work past the K-8 school, and the empty schoolgrounds were a pretty different dynamic than elementary and middle-schoolers playing sports and games and sometimes greeting me, complimenting my work attire, or asking me to get their ball that went out into the street.

The saddest part was missing my favorite adorable 70-something year-old crossing guard and exchanging either "Good morning" or "Buenos dias!" Gracias por sus sonrisas cada mañana, señor, y que tenga un buen verano! (Thank you for your smiles every morning, sir, and have a good summer!)

We in the cities will find a way to survive, to find swamp coolers or air conditioning or swimming pools. But please keep in mind all those without shelter, as well as all individuals considering migrating through Arizona's Sonoran desert with possibly only two out of the five-plus gallons of water vital to making it to Tucson.

The real reason for this post is that I have an action for you. If you haven't read it yet, Sanctuary Part Two is the latest news about how the Tucson community is confronting the Obama administration on its record numbers of deportations, especially with regard to non-violent incidents (such as traffic stops) that tear people away from their beloved families and communities. Southside Presbyterian Church responded to one deportation order of a beloved father and took the family in sanctuary, and two weeks later, there is still no word from the government. You can sign this petition to Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson that calls for Daniel's case to be closed: Tell the Obama Administration Close Daniel Neyoy Ruiz's Deportation Case.

This is just one tangible case we are facing here in Tucson, but 1,100 individuals are deported every day, traumatizing families and communities. If you feel called to support other individuals facing deportation and separation, check out the #NotOneMore campaign - you can either look at their website or sign up for their email list to stay on top of open cases asking for community support. Community voices and pressure from the people have been shown to work to get their community members released from detention and/or granted relief from deportation, so please add your voice and encourage others to do the same!

Peace and love,

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sanctuary, Part Two

Yesterday, I was proud to be a witness to a profound act of faith, conscience, and true family values.

If you are not currently in Tucson, it was perhaps easy to miss this Tuesday article... Tucson church ready to offer immigrant family sanctuary today

If you are wondering why I write "Part Two," it is because Southside Presbyterian Church has been there, done that. This "sanctuary" thing. To write an extremely concise history lesson, more than 10,000 Central American migrants seeking refuge from violence and persecution in the 1980's (and due to the US' role in the conflicts were refused refugee status) slept on Southside's floors in just a few years, and after 30 years Southside will once again provide sanctuary to resist the US government's deportation orders. 

This time, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson opened its doors to a man facing a forced removal order, as well as his wife and 13-year-old citizen son. This family, the Southside congregation, and other members of the Tucson community argue Daniel Neyoy Ruiz is a perfect example of a solid community member who should be granted discretionary relief from deportation. Daniel's "offense" was to cross a border without proper documentation in order to provide a better life for his wife and future family, and he was "caught" in 2011 when he was pulled over for smoke coming out of his car. 

Two months ago, he was given a 60-day voluntary departure order, which was set to expire Tuesday at midnight and become an order of removal, meaning Border Patrol could grab him and forcibly deport him anytime after 12:01am. It has become Border Patrol and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) protocol to not go into "sensitive spaces" such as faith-based centers and schools unless an order comes from high up the chain of command, so we are praying that holds true in this case. Too many families have been separated by this government's attempts to enforce immigration law, and the Southside community, supported by a wider network (including my home church St. Luke Presbyterian!), is trying to provide a safe space for this family in the country they consider home.

At around 5:30pm on Tuesday, we welcomed Daniel and his family, followed by press, into the kiva, Southside's sanctuary built in a circle in honor of native traditions in this region. 

Daniel, his wife, and their 13-year-old son are surrounded by clergy of various religious and faith traditions, as well as members of Southside church and the Tucson community at large. 

Pastor Alison Harrington of Southside and Pastor Randy Mayer of Good Shepherd UCC (and Borderlinks' board co-president) led the welcome and prayer for the family in English and Spanish. Pastor Alison posted the words on her Facebook this morning, and I copied them at the end of this post. 

Reverends Alison and Randy, as well as other clergy read Bible verses to highlight why we are called as people of faith and conscience to give this family refuge. 

Attorney and immigration rights activist Margo Cowan called DHS (Department of Homeland Security) last week to close this removal case, but they did not respond... So she specifically brought this case to light and proposed it for sanctuary at Southside because it falls squarely within what the Obama administration has determined a good example a community member who should not be deported just because we can.  "Daniel is like so many others we have not had the pleasure of coming to know," she said. "We are going to keep this family until his case is closed... We're here to say to the U.S. government to close his case."

(Apologies this iPhone picture is blurry...) With an interpreter at his side, Daniel took the mike to extend his gratitude and say a few words. "For these last three years I have been filled with fear that I would be separated from my family. I have tried to work for my family... I have seen all the changes in my son since he was little, and now that he is an adolescent, he needs me more than ever... The only thing I ask is to be able to stay with my family."

Pastor Alison again returned to the pulpit, proclaiming, "We at Southside are not strangers to Sanctuary; we know the blood sweat and tears of Sanctuary. We know that we don't have another option because our faith calls us to stand against injustice."

As you can see, Southside is not alone in this. Daniel and his family are in fact not members of Southside, but belong to an evangelical church in the community which is also supporting this act of sanctuary. Pastor Alison also gave a shoutout to St. Luke Presbyterian in Minnetonka, Minnesota (!) as well as Most Holy Trinity Catholic church for stepping up. It was wild for me, a member of St. Luke, to have seen this Tucson church ready to offer immigrant family sanctuary today article just Tuesday morning and then see a flurry of emails from my home church regarding this resolution that Pastor Alison highlighted in this press conference:

"We ask for your prayers of support:

We the Session of the St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka, MN, have voted unanimously to support our sister church, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, in their decision to provide sanctuary for Daniel Neyoy Ruiz. This action includes asking for a special offering to monetarily support Southside in their ministry to Daniel and his family. 

Daniel is facing deportation at 12:01am on Wednesday morning. In response, Southside Presbyterian, beginning tonight at 5:30, will be offering sanctuary to Daniel and his family. Despite being an ideal candidate for prosecutorial discretion, Daniel, unfortunately, worked with an attorney who never asked the government to administratively close his case. Daniel, like so many others, slipped through the cracks and is now facing permanent separation from his beloved wife and 13-year-old son.

Daniel and his wife Karla have contributed to the Tucson community for 14 years. They are active in their own church; Daniel also plays in the Rondalla as part of the music ministry at other local churches. Their son Carlos knows no other home. As a student at Challenger Middle School, Carlos ultimately hopes to one day become an immigration attorney so that he may help other mixed-status families like his to be able to stay together."

As Pastor Alison declared, "Sanctuary is not just a family finding refuge in a building, but also finding shelter in a community..." So we showed our community support by the clergy first laying hands on the family's shoulders, followed and surrounded by the rest of the community members gathered. 

And what would it be without some singing!

Following the conference/service, Daniel and his family interviewed by various members of the press. According to Amy Beth, my YAV-mate serving there under Pastor Alison, apparently today there has been a constant press presence at Southside, and Daniel said he felt a bit like an overnight celebrity.

As promised earlier in the post, here are the words Pastor Alison Harrington and Pastor Randy Mayer spoke to commence this act of sanctuary: 

Welcome into Sanctuary
leave fear behind
and enter into this place with hope
for God is with you

Welcome into Sanctuary
leave worry behind
and enter into this place with faith
for we are with you

Welcome into Sanctuary
leave anything that burdens you behind
and enter into this place with joy
for the strength of God and the love of the people
will be like mighty wings covering you with protection
until you can return home together to live in peace
until that blessed day, welcome into Sanctuary. Amen.

Bienvenidos a Santuario
Dejen atrás sus temores
y entren a este lugar en paz
porque Dios está con ustedes

Bienvenidos a Santuario
Dejen atrás sus preocupaciones
Y entren a este lugar con fé
Porque estamos con ustedes

Bienvenidos a Santuario
Dejen atrás todo lo que los agobie
Y entren en este lugar con alegría
Porque la fortaleza de Dios y el amor de la gente
Serán como poderosas alas que los cubrirán con protección
Hasta que puedan regresar juntos a su casa a vivir en paz
Hasta que llegue ese bendito día, bienvenidos a Santuario.

Amen. Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers as they await an official ruling on Daniel's case, as well as the millions of other families who are separated by migration and deportations.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Border Mural Update!

Hi friends,

Just wanted to update you all about the Nogales border mural restoration I wrote about in What is "Border Art"?. Though the artist collective Taller Yonke did not raise as much money as they hoped through their Indiegogo campaign, they were able to get most of the supplies they needed and complete the restoration!

I was not able to go personally to participate in the repainting, but here are a follow-up article and photos from someone who was: Photos: Border Wall Mural. Pretty cool!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Un Granito de Arena" y Un Corazon de Oro

"Un granito de arena," a little grain of sand. Something God puts in our hearts to call us to make this world better. This world we live in. We are called to work to bring about God's kingdom here.

That is what Lupita told us, two BorderLinks participants from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder and me. Lupita was our host mom for less than 24 hours, but she surely made an impression on us.

With a language barrier, the group's experience with the three Nogales families could have amounted to a warm place to sleep, lots of smiles, and three amazing home-cooked Mexican meals. Which would still be a great experience, especially with this probably non-comprehensive list of dishes we scarfed down...

gorditas - literally "little fat ones", which resulted in plenty of jokes that our host moms were going to make us little fatsos with their incredible spread, depending on who's making it these are kind of like a thick tortilla stuffed with perhaps meat and/or cheese
sopes - small, thick tortilla topped with ingredients like beans, cheese, and veggies
enchiladas - rolled-up tortillas typically filled with meat and/or cheese, smothered in sauce
taquitos - an abundance of flour and corn tortillas to stuff with ingredients like rice, beans, queso fresco (a soft but crumbly cheese), and the host moms' competing salsas
arroz con leche - rice pudding, with or without pasas (raisins)
horchata de coco - a sweetened rice milk drink with cinnamon, this version made with coconut water
sopa de albondigas - meatball soup
calabaza con crema - calabaza is a general term for gourds like pumpkin/squash etc., and in this dish one host mom sliced zucchinis the long way and topped them with cheese, sour cream, and chile verde (green chile) 
agua de pepino y limon - cucumber and lime water

Meet our three host moms: Blanca, Chayito, and Lupita! Photo by participant Will Kropp.

... but with one Spanish speaker placed in each household, everyone could learn more about each other, especially the humanitarian work our host families are doing to serve migrants in their community. Only one of the participants spoke conversational Spanish and felt comfortable when we asked if she would be her house's Spanish representative, and it also helped that we were able to place her and three other participants with a family who spoke some English. In the other two homes, my co-leader Cecilia (an amazing 71-years-young woman from Nogales, Sonora) and I played the resident interpreter role, as per our job.

The challenge is continuing to function in two languages, only one being your native tongue, for hours upon hours until your brain no longer recognizes one language as distinct from the other. When we sleep in dorms, the leaders can turn off our brains for a while to fully recharge. When we stay with host families, we have the opportunity to join our participants to continue learning from and being inspired by these wonderful new friends and caretakers after the first dinner with all participants and host families. That means when we break off into our own homestays, our interpreter brains are still on. I even half-woke myself up in the middle of the night trying to translate a conversation in my sleep, only conscious enough to realize it but not enough to stop myself. I guess work followed me into my dreams that night!

But so it goes, and so I am grateful. Spanish is not my native language, so I do my best. I still have plenty of vocabulary to learn, plenty of slang I've never heard before, and sometimes plenty of clarification questions to get the full meaning of someone's story or inquiry. But to understand Lupita's words that night and to be challenged with the task of translating her poetry and expressiveness and emotion, to translate well, was truly a blessing.

We all learned at dinnertime a little more about the three host moms, their experiences living in Nogales, and the volunteer work that they have done to serve migrants passing through the city, and after preparing for bed, my two participant housemates and I had the chance to sit down more with our mama Lupita.

Amy, Jenny, and I asked Lupita to tell us a little more about how she started working with migrants around twenty years ago, to which she replied (the following is a gisted translation from Spanish), "Whenever I would do my errands, I often passed by this road, and I would see migrants under a bridge, trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to help them, but I didn't know what to do either. So I prayed. And then God gave me un granito de arena, a little grain of sand, and I knew I was supposed to bring them food. That is what I can do, I can bring them food.

So I started making bean burritos and taking them to the migrants under the bridge, and I talked to my neighbors about it. Soon we had eight families, but we couldn't afford to bring food all the time. But we could every month, every fifteen days, every week..."

She likened it to the Bible story of Jesus and his disciples feeding the 5000 - how in the world were they going to do that with just five loaves of bread and two fish? They brought what they had, and all were able to be nourished.

"Even though the problem you are trying to solve seems enormous, bring what you have, and God will provide the rest. I could make food, but I would see them with their white lips from dehydration, and their blistered feet and other injuries. I do not have medical training, so I couldn't provide medical aid. Someone else had to do that."

And they did. Lupita's initial efforts became eight families, and then the Jesuits came and helped to broaden and coordinate the efforts to what is now the Kino Border Initiave and comedor - a tented cafeteria that serves meals twice a day to people recently deported from the U.S. and those who may have just reached the border from further south in Mexico or Central America. Lupita is now one of a few volunteers that are actually compensated for their service and go in to the kitchen on-site to cook - this labor of love is now her job from 8:30am-12:30pm Mondays-Saturdays. Sundays other groups come in to serve.

Here is me, Lupita, Jenny, and Amy - our homestay in Nogales. Lupita has such a big heart, a heart of gold, un corazon de oro. But she also clearly discerns what she is called to do and is capable of doing.   

Throughout this year, I have met so many people who have found their grain of sand. Including Lupita, here are just a few of them.

This is Shura Wallin. She was deeply concerned by the effects U.S. policies were having on the Borderlands, and how the expanding border walls were funneling people into the Arizona desert. The Tucson Samaritans started first to drive vehicles into the desert to do water drops, search for people, and attempt to actively prevent death in this dangerous terrain, and Shura took this model about a half hour south to Green Valley. She never thought she'd have more than a few residents of the mostly conservative retirement communities join her, and she was astounded to build a network of over 200 volunteers. Shura not only does the work of going out on known paths of migration to provide food, water, and medical care to those in need, but she makes the time whenever we call on her to educate others and pass on stories from these humanitarian efforts. She has found her granito de arena, combating deaths in the desert and educating others on what she feels called to do.

Here is what UUCB had felt called to do. The group had brought donations of new socks, toothbrushes, and toothpaste as well as some used clothing. We delivered many of the items to people at Grupos Beta and the rest to the Juan Bosco shelter. Photo by participant Will Kropp.

Here is Hilda of the Juan Bosco migrant shelter in Nogales. She and her husband opened the shelter over 30 years ago and they keep it running with funds primarily from family and friends. Some days they serve up to 350 men, women, and children, meaning those days they put extra mattresses on the floor when they run out of bunk beds, and serve meals in the cafeteria in shifts twice a day. 

And finally, Rick Ufford-Chase, who after a few weeks discovered seminary was not right for him and showed up on in the Borderlands at age 23 in 1987 (the same age I showed up here in 2013!). He learned about the U.S.' role in conflicts in Central America and how Central Americans were fleeing from the violence in their homelands, only to be deported from the US-Mexico border rather than recognized as refugees. He quickly got involved with humanitarian efforts, among them helping to start on-the-ground organizations like No More Deaths and Humane Borders, as well as the education and awareness-building component - BorderLinks!

We finished our UUCB delegation with the No More Deaths 10 Year Anniversary special service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, with Rick Ufford-Chase as its guest speaker. "We still dream of a day when the reality is not this suffering, and when this work is not necessary," he said. Those words echoed part of Hilda's message, that when she and her husband started the migrant shelter over 30 years ago, they hoped migration issues would have been solved by now... They never imagined having to do this work for so long, but they keep on keeping on because people need them.

I was so moved by his sermon, and perhaps you will be too. You can listen to Rick's sermon here: "No More Deaths: Love, Courage, and Resistance in a Time of Empire" 

One final quote I'd like to highlight is this: "Every day you wake up, you have to choose to save the world or to savor it." Can we do both? Can we choose to do both instead of choosing between those two options? The jury is still out, so I'm going to try to do both. Hopefully this resonates with a few of you out there, so good luck to you as well!

Especially for all you YAVs out there trying to save the world in your placement communities, remember, bring what you can bring and nothing more. Who knows, you may inspire others with your light and love, and God will do the rest.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What is "Border Art"?

Hello again, friends!

Today's topic is "border art." First, BorderLinks' main educational work is in hosting groups from around the U.S. here on the U.S.-Mexico border to experience different perspectives on immigration, sustainability, and other themes, but from time to time we are also called upon to do workshops for local groups from religious communities, schools, and other organizations. In the middle of March, Margi, Alex, and I set out to Phoenix to visit Paradise Valley Community College (which is the nicest, most sculpted, most tech-savvy community college I've ever seen... Pretty cool place, actually!), where we were asked to give two presentations on border history and one on border art. After weeks of preparation by the three of us and Indira, another awesome co-worker, we were ready to present, with Alex taking the lead on border history, and I on border art.

In prepping for the border art presentation, Margi and I teamed up and felt pretty overwhelmed and initially directionless. What really is "border art"? There were so many ways we could go, but we decided to bring a different aspect of my undergrad life into my work by focusing on the relationship between art and politics. In doing so I hopefully made my two toughest and most amazing profs Al Montero and Silvia Lopez proud! They were the ones from whom I took the majority of my interdisciplinary International Relations and Latin American Studies courses from, and in each class there was some component of critical cultural theory and examination of how artistic and political spheres interact. I'll get more into this later, but pause for now!

I know I'm posting this a bit after the fact, but that is because it ties into something much more immediate. Normally I would write a whole blog post and tie it to an action item at the end, but because this has a deadline in just a few days, I want to put it in here before I lose you to the blog post length! You'll see the name Taller Yonke later and get to read more about their work, but for now, here's the time-sensitive message:

Border Mural Restoration in Need of Funding!

Taller Yonke is an artist collective in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and again I will write more about them later. BorderLinks sometimes brings groups down to visit with them to hear about their work in the community that has gained them international recognition, including murals and sculptures around the city and positive engagement with youth. 

They were the first artists to do art on the actual border wall itself that runs through what used to be called Ambos Nogales (Both Nogales) and blocks Nogales, Arizona from Nogales, Sonora. Much of their work on the wall was commentary on migration, but one mural in particular is a copy of a Zapatista work in southern Mexico depicting how land should be of the people. My dad and I actually witnessed this mural, along with other works on the border wall by Taller Yonke, in 2007 during my first experience with BorderLinks and the U.S.-Mexico border on a delegation with a group from our church, St. Luke! So this mural does hold a special place in our hearts!

My 2007 photo of the mural from our St. Luke delegation.

You can click the link here to learn more, but here is part of the message written by Dan Millis (from Sierra Club Borderlands/BorderLinks board member) about the importance of this project: "Many of my friends from both sides of the border helped paint the colorful, bucolic scene of El Mural de Taniperla with help from arts collectives like Taller Yonke.  Before Border Patrol wrecked this wall and built a new one, the mural showed a community at peace, with people, animals, masks and spirits in a landscape as night turns to day. 

Border Patrol wanted a taller wall, one that would be harder to climb and easier to see (and shoot) through.  In 2011 they got it, and we had to scramble to save the Taniperla mural.  Luckily, Congressman Grijalva stepped in, and the mural was cut into 34 pieces and put in storage, where it has been ever since.

Artists at Taller Yonke have secured a new location near the border to display this unique public art, and the border wall relics on which it's painted.  Near a highway, a railroad, a bus stop, and the international border crossing, the mural would be seen by thousands every day."

They do need some financial support to make this restoration possible. As of April 11th they are at $390 out of their $1000 goal, and every bit helps. Please consider donating before their April 14th deadline! They will be starting the restoration process on April 19th and hope to get materials before then. Here is the link to learn more and to contribute if you choose to do so: Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Thank you for your consideration! 

For fun, here is the group photo from our 2007 St. Luke BorderLinks delegation!

And now switching gears...
To begin my border art presentation, I first wanted to hear a little bit about the drawing class I'd be spending the next hour and a half with, so I asked them their name, their own migration story (whether of their family or what brought them to Arizona and/or that classroom), and their favorite style of visual art to do themselves. 

The next line of questioning was a little trickier. I then asked, "How do you visualize the border? When you think of the border, what comes to mind for you? What kind of images?" If you, my readers, would like to follow along with our workshop activities, you can take 5 to draw and/or write how you visualize the border… I also made sure that my classroom participants that day knew they were doing "border art" and encouraged them to keep that in the back of their minds too.

And then the slides began... 

Is this what anybody was picturing in their mind’s eye? Phew, the Borderlands can be beautiful, right? This is an aesthetically pleasing work of photography, right? Do you notice what’s on the left of this photo though? The border wall itself... Humanity is interacting with the natural world and has put a physical structure to delineate a space we’ve constructed. 

How about this? Without the boots, this would be a simple desert landscape. But with that simple addition of a pair of broken boots left behind by someone migrating through this terrain just outside of Green Valley, a photo that is still aesthetically striking can be analyzed in multiple layers given its political context. 

These are all photographs of the border... What thoughts or emotions do these last few images bring out? 

Because of the work we at BorderLinks do, educating people about the reality of life in the Borderlands through firsthand experience, the main theme we tried to focus on here is the relationship between the aesthetic and the political in art. In this workshop we wanted to engage with some of the reality of the Borderlands, how national/international politics affect the Borderlands, how what happens in the Borderlands affects the rest of the country (I’m from just a few hours away from the U.S.-Canada border, but I feel much more the effects of U.S.-Mexico border politics with upswings of Latino populations in both Minneapolis/St. Paul and also in small-town Midwest… people from Mexico and Central America are working on farms, in factories, and plenty of other economic pursuits as well), and what does art have to do with all that? 

I argue that this region, the Borderlands, is a highly contested space. For a little bit of historical context, since the 1500's, people in political power in this region have included First Nations, Spain, Mexico, and the United States… That affects reality today for people in this region. Black, white, and brown people are all negotiating for claim to this space, to resources, to their heritage and culture, and to power. These days, the Arizona-Mexico border makes the news for immigration issues, drugs, connections to cartels, violence, etc.  

Especially in the last 20 years, after the passage of NAFTA, we have seen how economic and political policies have contributed to a new reality on the border where more goods and money are flowing across, but we have invested in infrastructure and enforcement to restrict the movement of people. People are trying to make the space safer so their people can live in peace, and people are also trying to make a living by smuggling others to their better life. And we need to remember that people live in communities on both sides of the border, a line constructed by people, and they relate to these realities and perceptions in different ways.

In the picture above, the border wall outside of Agua Prieta is captured in photography. The first picture was as well actually. We have a wall between two friendly nations. Does that seem strange to anyone? Have you seen the border? Certainly wasn’t always this way, and not all pieces of the U.S.-Mexico border look this way... The wall first started in urban areas - President Clinton started it to “get tough on immigration” and every president since then has expanded it. Clinton began with trying to restrict movement to disappear into the urban space and the movement of people on the other side… And then it expanded outwards, covering longer stretches of the border until the only long stretch only covered by barbed wire and/or vehicle barriers is Arizona-Sonora desert (meanwhile other areas have a 3-layer deep fence), and the political thinking was the desert would be such a deterrent that people would stop trying to cross because it’s such dangerous terrain… But people still cross the border without authorization for economic, political, safety and other reasons (like the gross inadequacy in availability of temporary visas and a years-long wait time for a green card - if you're eligible), and because border enforcement infrastructure is thinnest in the most dangerous terrain, that's where people try to cross.

The Borderlands used to have much more cyclical patterns of migration where people would come north for work, especially on a temporary basis, send money back home, and then maybe go back home after a few months, or maybe they’d come especially for a harvest season when agriculture needs more hands on deck, and then they go back home. But now, if it’s so hard to cross, what about people who are already here? If they came here without proper documentation, or if they overstayed a visa and became an undocumented resident, they’re less likely to go back to their home countries because it would be so hard to come back – people may be separated from their spouses and children, they may not be able to go to their mom’s funeral, they can't visit sick family members, etc. 

The reasons for migration haven’t stopped, so has migration? Of course not. It’s just gotten more dangerous as migration routes now have to send people through the most hazardous desert terrain, so people have started dying in the desert. 3000 people have perished in the Arizona desert in the last 15 years. 3000. And around 6000 along the entire length of the border. That we know of. The desert has a way of disappearing remains or at least making them unidentifiable with incredible speed. And in these last few years, even as the number of people crossing has gone down (for various reasons including the U.S.' recession), the number of deaths has remained about the same because of this funnel, meaning there is actually a greater likelihood of death in an attempted crossing.

So now we see people aren’t necessarily deterred (as the U.S. government would have it) by the political policies trying to make it harder for people to cross, but instead they’re facing more danger, and perhaps more likely to try and stay in the U.S. once they get here. This is part of the contested space of the Borderlands, and also part of the current immigration reality as it affects the rest of the U.S. – thinking about growing Latino populations around the country. How may we see this new political reality through art?

To preface the meat of the presentation, I argued understanding political context for “border art” is vital. I also asked because of this notion of a politicized geographic space or region, can we ever completely divorce art from politics? Or is all “border art” by necessity political, or capturing a political reality? I like to think of three categories:
1) Purely aesthetic – art as an expression of creativity created for its aesthetic value
2) Art for its aesthetic value, but perhaps capturing political reality
3) Art as a vehicle for a political message, like protest art or political cartoons
And these categories certainly aren’t cut and dry… So I want you all to think about different approaches to the aesthetic-political relationship and the aforementioned questions. 

As we went through a few more images, I began with the actual physical space of the border wall. This piece is done by the artist collective Taller Yonke that I mentioned before, based in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. They do “public art” - they wanted to beautify their city of Nogales, and recognizing there were not many spaces for art like galleries and museums, they wanted to make art accessible to the people. So they started doing murals all over the city and getting contracted to do it, but they gained international recognition with this piece: "Border Dynamics." This photo is from its current installation at the University of Arizona, but it was the first piece to actually go up on the physical border wall.

As I mentioned, we sometimes bring our groups down to talk with Taller Yonke in Nogales, and they talk about the actual wall as a taboo - everybody knew it was there, of course, as it cuts right through the city of Nogales to separate Arizona and Sonora, but people felt like it was untouchable. So the artists wanted to make the wall feel accessible to people on both sides of the border and get people talking about what’s affecting the broader community.

Can you tell what side is the U.S. and what side is Mexico? This is always an interesting question to pose to groups. According to the artists themselves, "On both sides of the wall, down to our muscles, without seeing our brown or white skin, we are just people, and you can’t tell who is trying to put up the wall and who is trying to take it down." Wow.

This is just one example of "border art." I continued on with my presentation, including themes such as protest art, political cartoons, and a sampling of how artists in the Borderlands and beyond attempt to represent the space that is the border region. I hope I gave you some food for thought, and thank you for considering financially supporting art on the border!