Well, it has been just 3+ days down here in Tuscon and today as well as last night were quite incredible! Last night we each had a home stay. 13 of us in one house with Rosalinda and her husband Tony, and the other 7 stayed with Guadalupe.
I (Maddie Justin) stayed with Rosalinda with the big group and it was fantastic!! As we pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell Tony and Rosalinda welcomed us with open arms and hearts, telling us that hot food was ready for us on the stove that involved chicken in our pasole; after not having meat at Borderlinks it was quite a treat to have some in our home cooked warm meal. After dinner and some informal fun chats with everyone, Rosalinda sat down with all of us around the dining room table and told her incredible journey to the United States and how she has now ended up where she is, as well as encouraging us to pursue our dreams and not let anyone tell us we are less than anyone. It was a lot more than that but i can only say so much through words on a blog.
I (Sarah Hansell) stayed with Lupe with six other girls. It was challenging for me because me and two of the other girls didn’t speak any Spanish, and Lupe spoke only Spanish. But with three other girls translating for us, we still managed to talk with her about what we’d learned so far, her work with Derechos Humanos, the human rights organization which advocates for immigrant rights and reform that we’d learned about earlier in the week, and chat with her about everything from ourselves to the 2012 presidential candidates. She fed us delicious and flavorful beans, rice and this zucchini and corn dish, and chorizo, eggs and tortillas the next morning. We also got to play with her little black miniature bichon frise Negra.
The next morning we drove to the Green Valley retirement community, where we met the co-founder of the Green Valley Samaritans, Shura, who had moved to Arizona from Berkeley, where she worked with the homeless, to a house in the retirement community with her husband. The desert where immigrants die every day was literally in her backyard. She co-founded the Green Valley Samaritans thinking it would be a small group, especially since she and her husband lived in an ultra-conservative area. However, the group now has 180 members who go out into the desert looking for immigrants, bringing water and food, and also looking for what others overlook–what the immigrants leave behind. She has a table in her house that has little children’s shoes’ and clothes, water bottles with burlap sewn around them, books, family pictures, underwear…the list goes on. We learned some facts that shocked us–such as the fact that many women start taking birth control a couple months before they try to cross because it’s not a matter of if they’ll get raped (usually by the coyotes–the men who charge them to guide them through the desert, but sometimes by others in the group) but when and how often. The fact that women would not only risk rape, but fully acknowledge and in a way accept that this will happen to them if they cross, and yet still make the decision to cross, demonstrates just how bad their poverty or conditions are in Mexico.
Walking through the desert was also an eye-opening experience. It was crazy that we found so many remnants of human life lying sun-bleached and torn to pieces in the desert — clothes, water bottles, children’s backpacks, shoes…. Just think, what is someone going to do in the desert, surrounded by cacti, possibly scorpions and snakes, and under the up-to-120 degree sun, without shoes? What made the whole thing real for me was when Shura was leading us through the desert and stopped in the middle of her sentence because she saw someone who she thought might be an undocumented immigrant in the desert. She raced toward where she had seen someone calling out in Spanish, don’t be afraid, I’m here to help, do you need help? In that moment our group dropped silent, and the reality of this situation hit me. This wasn’t some desert hike, and these weren’t backpacks and shoes that had been thrown away like trash because they weren’t needed anymore. These were the bare necessities for survival that people had left behind because Border Patrol had come, because they’d had to run, or for some other reason we can’t ever know. Although the people Shura ran after were just Americans, they could have been undocumented immigrants in desperate need of water, food, and help. It was eerie to be in a place where people had died, will die, and may have been dying as we traveled through it.
Later in the day, we went to Casa Mariposa, and intentional community of people living together simply and sustainably. Casa Mariposa offers hospitality to those in need–specifically immigrants who have just been released from detention centers, often at nighttime, and have legal documentation to be in the US, at least temporarily. The people they take in have no place to stay, at least for that night, and in some cases have been being held in the isolated detention centers for years. Some still have to show up to their court date to see if they can stay in the US. Some are seeking asylum from countries they are afraid to return to. One man who is still in a detention center but is in contact with Casa Mariposa is afraid he will die there because he has kidney problems, and has seen another man die there. Another man, Marco, has been there for six years. He is afraid for his life in his home country, Brazil, because of his sexual orientation, and would rather stay in the detention center, basically imprisoned indefinitely, than return to his home country. To pay for Marco’s bond to get him out of jail, Casa Mariposa must raise $7000 more. Imagine being in jail, possibly in contact with no one because you can’t afford a phone call, or everyone you know is in a different country or undocumented, dealing with the physical and mental stress of imprisonment, not knowing when you will get out.
We learned so much today, and my brain is still reeling from all the new information. But we saw and learned things that gave us hope amidst all of the injustice and suffering we learned about and witnessed. We saw Shura, a passionate woman who could be spending her retirement golfing and playing pinochle, but instead chooses to go into the desert trying to save lives, sometimes six days a week. This is a woman so full of life, passion, spark and sass that she inspired all of us. We saw the people of Casa Mariposa creating a home whose soul purpose (oh, puns) is to deny the American idea of a house with fences meant to preserve one’s own domain, and embrace the idea of a house meant to share with others — anyone who needs its sanctuary. If we as Americans could start seeing our time and space this way — as something beautiful to share with others — then we could begin to change the way people think.
Maddie Justin & Sarah Hansell