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. 6000 people have perished in the Arizona desert in the last 15 years. 6000. 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!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

National Educator's Coming Out Day

April 9th is National Educator's Coming Out Day in support of all students regardless of immigration status! Last year I worked with many students in Northfield, MN, and this year I work in Tucson, AZ to educate myself and others about immigration issues. Access to educational opportunities can only help strengthen our youth, families, and communities so more people can thrive, achieve their dreams, and inspire others to shoot for theirs.

*** If you're an educator, please consider how you can better support undocumented students. One way is by checking out the Scholarships A-Z website and buying a t-shirt so students know they can come to you. I'm wearing mine! 
Josue from Scholarships A-Z, along with Indira, myself, Nancy, and David from BorderLinks.
Another is posting this graphic on your social media sites and helping it spread. You can also print out the photo and post it wherever you find helpful for students and fellow educators to know you are a resource for students regardless of immigration status.

*** If you're a student, think about how you can better support undocumented and DACAmented students. If you are undocumented or DACAmented, it is your decision to come out or not about your status to your friends and your educators, as well as your timing. If you so choose, here's the graphic for you! Also, know that there are educators out there that support you - we're out there and are there to work with you!

*** If you're neither a student nor an educator, I still encourage you to think about how you can best support undocumented students in their educational journeys. Learn about what is going on in your local community and your state regarding DREAM Act legislation, school policies toward undocumented students, access to financial aid, etc.

National Educator's Coming Out Day is led by United We Dream's Dream Educational Empowerment Program (DEEP) & Scholarships A-Z. Scholarships A-Z is an incredible student-led organization here in Tucson working with students, families, and educators regardless of documentation status to figure out pathways to higher education and also organizes for a more inclusive educational system through political and community channels. To learn more about them, check them out here:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"I fought and I won. And I'm free..."

Nothing simultaneously brightens your day and makes you think about the influence your country's legal system has on people than opening your home last-minute to someone who was released from immigration detention earlier in the day.

After months of thoughtful conversations about what community means to us and deciding we want our two spare bedrooms to be available to give hospitality, the Tucson Young Adult Volunteer house has hosted friends, family, and significant others. But we also made the decision to be open to hosting people fighting an immigration case or getting bonded out of immigration detention who need a place to stay temporarily, and tonight we were called upon to provide such hospitality.

I will refrain from using his name to protect his identity. We do not know many of the details yet, but in his home country of Brazil, he was persecuted for identifying as a gay man. He fled for fear of threats against his life and made it to the US-Mexico border, where he crossed the border and was caught about fifteen minutes afterwards. He sounded excited about it -- "I wanted them to catch me," he added when I perhaps looked surprised. "I wanted to fight my case." And then he was put in a detention facility in Florence, Arizona for six months to fight his asylum case.

My question is, isn't there another option to provide people a place to stay while they're undergoing the tough-enough battle to prove that the discrimination, persecution, and violence they experienced meets standards for refugee status? An option other than imprisonment for an undetermined length of time? I'll let you sit with that question too. I don't have a good answer for you (at least yet...).

He was released on bond today with support from the Rainbow Defense Fund, and from the moment Raul Alcaraz Ochoa (community organizer for the Rainbow Defense Fund and Southside Worker Center) brought him to our doorstep, he just kept saying, "I just can't believe it. I won. I fought and I won. And I'm free..."

The United States was his dream country, he said. "It's just such a beautiful country, and people from the United States are a beautiful people. Everywhere in the world I went, I always saw a person from the U.S. trying to help others." As someone who can be rather critical of the country I have grown up in and continue to live in, especially as I have seen how much damage representatives of our government and our country can do around the world, his perspective was refreshing. Thousands of people seek opportunities in the U.S. every single day. Some seek educational or economic opportunities. Some family reunification. Some are escaping violence or threat of violence and have to prove reasonable fear that they would be in serious danger if they were to return to their home country. Important note: the concept of "economic refugee" is not recognized by refugee law, which means you cannot be granted asylum for fleeing even a life-or-death economic situation. Less than ten percent of asylum cases from Mexico are granted precisely for this reason.

In our new friend's case, he had to prove to a judge that because he is a gay man, his life would be in danger if he returned back to Brazil. And here he is, in his dream country. Finally free and in disbelief. He could barely contain himself, and he would slip in and out of regular conversation in a mix of Spanish and Portuguese and overwhelming gratefulness to be out of detention and in this space of hospitality. And I am grateful as well that my house has chosen to be such a space so that we may learn from and be inspired by his light and his perspective, and maybe we will even learn a little more Portuguese!

Boa noite :-)

P.S. If you'd like to do your reading on seeking asylum, here's one helpful article: Asylum Seekers At US, Mexico Border Double. And here's information for the Florence Project, which provides free legal services to people in immigration detention. They do amazing work, and their staff happens to include one of our housemates - Steph Quintana - who was a YAV last year!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Help Fund the Southside Worker Center!

Remember how I challenged you to think about how you could get involved with border issues? Here's one way! 

Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa is an amazing organizer in the city of Tucson, fighting for the health of his community, an end to discrimination against all people on the basis of race/ethnicity/gender identity/sexual orientation/etc/etc/etc, and a halt to deportations of undocumented community members. His birthday is Wednesday, Feb. 26th, and all he asks is for donations to the Southside Worker Center! I've written a little about the Worker Center, but it is a center through Southside Presbyterian Church to organize day laborers in Tucson (primarily men who are undocumented), to negotiate with employers for fair wages and labor conditions, and to build a network of community support to call into action especially when a community member is harassed, detained, or facing deportation.

Thing is, they need some more funds, and fast. Check out Raul's video and how to donate here: Please consider donating today and helping the Worker Center continue their work to make Tucson a healthier and safer community - and give Raul a happy birthday!

This is just one of my pictures of Raul being amazing, leading a rally in response to police brutality against peaceful resistance to the detention of four community members.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Informate y toma accion! Inform yourself and take action!

Hi friends,

There's a lot going on in the Borderlands that I want to discuss, and I would like to follow BorderLinks' model of reflective action. In our education model we encourage both delegation/workshop participants and leaders to not just be consumers of facts and others' points of view, but to reflect upon what they've seen and done, and from there, act. How do you take home your experience in the Borderlands trying to synthesize the multiple perspectives that only make these issues more complex

This is a question that we ask ourselves a lot, and for me as a YAV, I have to ask myself how I am also reflectively guiding myself and others to action. Today, I'm thankful that consuming lots of immigration-related current events is part of my job, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to blog at work to try to process it all. But sometimes, I just... my brain is exploding. So my intention here is to share with you all some of what's going on in my world, and my apologies that some of these sections will probably feel disjointed! 

My last blog post included some highlights about my latest delegation, and from that, there has been some follow-up already with those students, which is amazing to see. We often don't know what participants do with their action items at home, but I've heard back from a couple participants after our almost two weeks together... 

With delegation wrap-up, I really try to emphasize that BorderLinks would love to help continue the relationship and keep extending the experience of understanding the US-Mexico border, so we are happy to connect people with resources and contacts once they've left our campus. Following this delegation, within the first week...
- I received emails from two participants asking for the contact information for a couple of the community members we met with here in Arizona
- Another is thinking about an internship with a humanitarian aid group here on the border. Two students asked me to be a reference for border-related internships and fellowships (which ahhh! makes me feel like a real professional!)
- And one of the students held a presentation that incorporated that music as well as movement and forms of media to communicate his reflections to the school. And to do that in just days - amazing!

And another messaged me a question that I thought would be relevant to share with all of you. The student asked, basically, "So when you know a community member has been detained by Border Patrol or ICE, what do you say when you call them?" This is a great question, and as you readers may recall, I've asked you to call Border Patrol for the release of upstanding community members - most recently here: Tucson Mom Detained.

Here was my response:
"The good news is that these days there are a few organizations and protection networks out there to spread the word quickly about a detained community member, and they usually put out a message to say to Border Patrol/ICE. It's usually something like, "Hi, my name is ____, and I believe ____ should be released from detention and/or be granted relief from deportation because_____ " I think the biggest thing you can emphasize when you call is that this person is a positive contributor to the community. Anything you can mention about community involvement, dedication to their family, educational and/or professional goals helps. People with those qualities are not supposed to be pursued for deportation, according to the Morton memo - that order was handed down for ICE to focus on people who have committed other criminal acts, especially violent ones, and emphasize discretion and deportation relief for upstanding members of the community..."

So that's just one thing you can do! And now... here's some more Arizona-related news that will help you understand my life and work a little bit better:

*** Please watch the PBS documentary "The State of Arizona." You can watch it here: until February 28th 2014

Here's more of Arizona in the national news! It still feels wild for the issues you're working on and their local context to make national headlines... A couple days ago, New York Times featured Tucson's Operation Streamline court proceedings, as well as Judge Velasco who holds the record for processing 70 defendants in 30 minutes.

Here Judge Velasco was also interviewed for the Washington Post (please pay attention to tone as well as language in the two different newspapers): Under Operation Streamline, fast-track proceedings for illegal immigrants
“The system is working well and the system is fair,” Judge Bernardo Velasco, who presides over Streamline cases here, said in an interview. “When you enter illegally you’re a criminal. You may not be a big criminal, but you’re a criminal. You can say ‘these poor people’ and all this other stuff, but they’re still criminals.”

And this, I just have no words.

Note: we need to keep in mind to separate individuals from the institution of the Border Patrol so as to not dehumanize the individuals who are doing that work. What we should focus on is systemic dehumanization by the institution, and if that cuts down to the individual level, that is what conversations are for. I happen to not agree with training kids to use deadly force against a human target in any circumstance. But clearly not everyone believes that way.

Beyond human rights abuses by Border Patrol at a systemic level, here's the update on state politics. While Pima County (that includes Tucson) has passed a resolution declaring the county "Immigrant welcoming" (County officially adopts "immigrant-welcoming" designation), at the state level there is new legislation proposed that "would make it a crime for a ‘person in the state illegally’" to use public infrastructure such as sidewalks and bathrooms...

At the community level, the Southside Worker Center and Southside Presbyterian Church here in Tucson are working to call out an employer regarding 6 cases of wage theft of our community members. Please inform yourself and others so all work is valued!  

I'll leave you with an excerpt from my participant's blog entry - and you can find the rest here on the BorderLinks blog: "Beyond Emotions and Enlightenments."
"I dare to say that the 11 days at BorderLinks went beyond what we expected. I would fail to sum up the experience of the trip if I limited it to a few emotions and enlightenments, because the entire time I felt as if I was being forced to question the things I was being confronted with. At times, I can honestly claim that I felt hopeless and angered by the injustices at the border. Seeing the grand monstrosity of the border wall itself and the blind militancy of the border patrol could do that to you. Having to leave Agua Prieta because of cartel-related violence also added to the intensity and immediacy of the issue. But it would be unfair to leave it at that negative conclusion, because BorderLinks always made sure to show us that not only was there was work to be done, but there was already work being done. By getting the chance to meet activists, Samaritans, public defenders, and other community leaders, we saw that the issues weren’t being neglected. In the midst of danger, confusion, and chaos, people do still feel compelled to act on behalf of those who need the help. The beautiful people at HEPAC in Nogales, Tierra Y Libertad Organization, Casa Mariposa, and all the other groups I have not mentioned prove that complacency is not acceptable. The incredible work they do impacts people daily. Over and over again, the people on both sides of the border inspired me to reject fatalistic thinking and instead move towards action.  
I left BorderLinks more compelled than ever to continue fighting for a better, just future for everyone. BorderLinks exposed the truth to us all. But the truth isn’t enough if we don’t act on it. As Jose David, a Guatemalan man I met at the Florence detention center told me, “Sigue adelante!” Move forward. In this case, we need to give the issue of immigration a human face. After all the people we met and worked with through BorderLinks, that is our responsibility."

You all are smart people. So please, check out the resources I have given you. If you are reading my blog, most likely you also have the internet, the TV, the radio, and personal experience at your fingertips. If you'd like more, hopefully I can point you in the right direction! Inform yourself, reflect, think about how you feel guided to take action in your community and/or in the political realm, and act!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Poetry and Pupusas

Hi friends,

I just finished another delegation, my third, filled with firsts. It was my first delegation with two vans because we had so many participants (and therefore both MaryCruz and I having to drive most of the time)... the first time thinking about logistics for 24 people... the first time taking into account BorderLinks' typical visits and incorporating interests of the group for almost two weeks of programming...

... the first time seeing where the border wall in Agua Prieta ends and a simple guard rail preventing vehicle crossings begins...

... the first time I had to take a group out of Mexico early due to safety concerns (we are all fine, thank goodness, and this is why we work with community partners on the ground who have a good read on the community)... the first time bridging two different colleges in one group... the first time having Latin@ participants with undocumented family members...

... the first time visiting the Nogales dump where people live and try to make a living sorting through trash to reuse/recycle/sell items...

... the first time meeting with amazing community partners such as Tierra Y Libertad Organization, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam...

... and the first time making pupusas - a tradition from El Salvador where you essentially fill thick corn tortillas with beans, cheese, and sometimes meat. What an awesome way to celebrate the end of our time together!


It was tough, and I am tired. But I've been filled with a writing energy that might run out soon, so I might as well run with it while it's here!

I had brought my first delegation to see part of a symposium at the U of A (University of Arizona) called "What It Means to Be Human," and that is where I first saw the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam share some of their work. It was amazing to hear youth voices and see youth strength processing everything that goes on in their community that is filled with trauma like inequality, homelessness, family separation, detention, deportation, language and cultural division, political tension. So when the group leader of this delegation mentioned it would be good to see examples of how the border communities are perhaps expressing the reality of the border through art and performance, I immediately thought of them, and the co-director Sarah Gonzales agreed to do a workshop with us!

Now, I've never considered myself to be a poet. I don't think anyone in our delegation would have considered themselves as such. So we entered the space not knowing what to expect and with a high level of apprehension about having to write and share our own work. But it was simply amazing how accessible they made spoken word and slam (the act of competing in spoken word). By the end, through a couple of amazing examples by the 15-year-old and 18-year-old workshop leaders, two simple writing prompts, and some performance advice, we all had written pieces and turned out a collective creative piece about where we consider ourselves to be from.

We were split into two groups, and one half wrote on "My city sounds like," and my half wrote on "My city tastes like," which leaves up to your own interpretation what "city" you identify with and what thoughts and memories you associate. Mine ended up weaving together contradictions I've found through romanticized ideas about the Midwest, my personal experience growing up in a mostly Jewish suburb of Minneapolis, and ethnic enclaves and urban struggles of Minneapolis/St. Paul. We all started from a simple premise and made it our own. At the end of two hours, we each were on our way to some amazing personal poems, and we had woven together pieces of our individual work and performed the whole. Wow. We amazed each other as well as our workshop leaders, and now we have some new skills we can hone and pass on to others.

You never know what will come out of you. You get to own your experience and, if you choose to, share it with others. Here's what I came up with in those ten minutes we got to write, and I'd encourage you to try the exercise too!

My city tastes like challah,
hotdish and savory and heartyness;
meat and potatoes to sustain you to grow corn for others.

My city tastes spiceless.

My city tastes like traditions:

My city tastes like salads in the summer and soup in the winter.

My city tastes like living off the land, feeding the community, but no grocery stores for miles.

My city tastes like charities, food pantries, and sometimes emptiness.

My city tastes like nobody wanting to be the one to eat the last bite.

There you have it. That's what I got for today. This was a really intriguing exercise for myself and these students to do in Tucson, coming from all different parts of the country. It was two hours where I could be a full participant as well, allowing myself to be guided by the workshop leaders. I really look forward to further collaboration with the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam, and potentially more writing springboarding off of these prompts as well!

Until next time!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Southside Worker Center Tool Library!

If you're either magically in Tucson and can give a physical item, or if you would like to send them a Home Depot gift card ASAP,  you will make it possible for members of the Southside Worker Center in Tucson to get more solid work opportunities and make Tucson healthier!

Brief background: the Worker Center is one of the ministries of Southside Presbyterian Church, and it is organized by and for day laborers who are primarily men who have immigrated from Mexico and Central America looking to make solid money to provide for their families. Through the Center they contract with employees, receive work and know-your-rights trainings, work to make their community safer and healthier, and support one another and their families.

Here are details from the desk of Raul Alcaraz-Ochoa, Organizer at the Worker Center (and amazing activist to boot)...

"The Southside Worker Center is working towards creating a rent-a-tool library so that workers can have access to tools they may need for a paint job, yard work, construction work and more!

Please contact us at or call us at 520-955-8165 if you are able to get us a tool donation OR a Home Depot Gift Card between now and January 15th. Thanks!"

Tool Wish List:

-hand saw,
-hoola hoe,
-weed eater,
-trash cans,
-face masks,
-sledge hammer,
-digging pole,
-trenching shovels,
-pick axe,
-gas tank.

-measuring tape,
-box cutting blades,
-power washer,
-paint gun,
-air compressor.

-wheel barrel,
-cuchara y radiador

-Air compressor,
-nail gun,
-roofing shovel,
-safety hat,

Thank you for your consideration!