After two days of early mornings, speaking Spanish, meeting with empowered women and Border Patrol agents, and traveling through borderlands in Arizona and Mexico, we spent the day at Borderlinks. While it was a more restful day, two people from an environmental conservation organization and a humanitarian group came to talk with us about their work and their connection to this contested border. These people provided new perspectives about actions that they take, actions that we can potentially adopt in future.
WHAT WE HEARD:
Dan Millis, an advocate and educator for the Sierra Club, provided us with a different issue that the wall creates: the environmental impact. The wall not only acts as a dam during monsoon season, but also prevents wildlife migration and impedes survival. When googling the US-Mexico border, the images that appear are of the wall and of green-striped Border Patrol vehicles instead of the landscape, including the rivers like the Rio Grande and various national parks. The Sierra Club is at the forefront of environmental issues at the US-Mexico border, trying to protect endangered species that are at risk of going extinct due to the problems that the border wall creates as well as holding Border Patrol accountable through litigation for their destruction of nature. The border wall introduces issues for human beings, animals, and the land itself. Millis emphasized that walls don’t work as people have climbed over, passed under, and gone through. If those strategies are unsuccessful, people attempt to go around the wall, which in turn forces people to enter the desert. The Sonora desert is extremely dangerous due to its unbearable temperatures, rough terrain, and people like Border Patrol, who try to prevent immigrant crossing. The Sierra Club provided us with a new perspective of the border wall and borderlands.
Belín, a mother of four, a wife of an ICE detainee, and a member of Paisanos Unidos, an organization that provides legal assistance for immigrants, spoke with us about her involvement in the Tucson Immigrant Community. The long-term goal of the organization is to acquire Municipal IDs from a credit union for immigrants, including transgender people, so that they might possess a form of documentation to show if approached by law enforcement. They also are working on pamphlets to help immigrants know their rights and try to prevent detentions by creating human barriers using their bodies to prevent border patrol cars from leaving. Members additionally provide moral support for families who have been separated due to immigration. The actions of Paisanos Unidos demonstrate the ability of the civilian to intervene between undocumented immigrants and law enforcement officials without the use of violence.
WHAT WE SAW:
We walked from Borderlinks to a shrine a couple blocks over called ‘El Tiradito’ or the Wishing Shrine. Adorned with candles and photos of loved ones, this shrine is the only one in the U.S. “dedicated to the soul of a sinner” which is explained in the story of a man who was buried there and died fighting for the love of a woman. The walls of the shrine house letters and prayers from the heartbroken, asking for the healing of the heart. We saw the relevance of this shrine in relation to the migrant experience as prayers for missing loved ones. We saw the emotions these individuals poured into the shrine, we saw the optimism present within the harsh border issue. The shrine showed a sense of longing and heartbreak for love ones, which is something we read about extensively in literature about the border.
The love we saw at the shrine was also seen in our meeting with Belín. A mother of four, she was late to our meeting because she had to take one daughter to a doctor’s appointment and had to pick up another from home. She came into the room at Borderlinks with her children close by her side. As Belín informed us of the nature of her job, her two daughters interchanged between sitting in her lap and eating cookies on the floor. She explained how immigration issues have permeated into her own family. Belín recounted one moment where she and her husband were driving down the highway when a police car came by. The children were worried that their parents were going to be taken away. Despite the fear clearly present within the family’s life, we witnessed the love that keeps them together. Nearing the end of a very intense week of depressing emotions and complicated issues, it was very comforting to see the love of this family. To meet a family going through the problems of immigration, we were able to see the most human side of the issue, something that we have not had much of a chance to do thus far.
WHAT WE FELT:
Today was mostly centered around a discussion of how we can move forward with the knowledge we have acquired over the course of this trip. We brainstormed ways to make these issues more prevalent within our own communities at Kenyon and at home. The group sentiment was centered around the want to help but the fear to fail. None of us want to compartmentalize this experience and store it away as just another event. But for many of us, the task of continuing the dialogue can seem paralyzing and daunting. After free-writing in our journals about what the next steps will be, the group shared our hopes and fears as a whole. We all recognize the value of this type of learning environment and have grown extremely thankful for the relationships we have been able to develop with each other in such a short amount of time. Our ability to have conductive conversations and move forward when there are disagreements is something we wish to emulate among the rest of the relationships we have with students at Kenyon. We recognize the privilege we all have to be students at such a prestigious liberal arts college. Instead of feeling guilty for the opportunities we have been given, we have decided it is more productive to use our privilege for the greater good. Our Borderlinks leader, Cy, told us that college is the greatest place to test out activism. We can use Kenyon to find ways to be proactive. We can take advantage of the resources we have in order to keep moving forward and doing our part. Although we have come up with ways to continue our work with the immigration issue, we still have doubts about our abilities to move forward. We leave today with a few questions:
How do we apply what we have learned on this trip to our own communities?
How can we make sure that we use our experience with the travel seminar to make a difference?
But we also leave today with hope:
There are people out there that care, and they are doing their part. We also care, so we can surely do our part as well.