20 January 2015
Our group arrived in Tucson, Arizona on January 8th shortly after midnight, and we spent several days in a hotel there while beginning our study of immigration issues at the US/Mexico border. Our first activity on the morning of the 8th was crossing the border to visit El Comedor (a soup kitchen just across the border in Nogales, for newly deported migrants). We also heard migration stories from several women being protected in a woman’s shelter there in Nogales. For being our first day, it was flooded with a lot of emotional heaviness.
The next few days included visits to two different detention centers in Arizona, where a few of us got to speak with the detainees, a beautiful hike in Saguaro national park (where the biggest challenge was avoiding the Jumping Cholla cactus), and some much-needed relaxation time at the hotel. Sunday morning after church and lunch with members of the humanitarian project “No More Deaths”, we set out for Agua Prieta, where we spent a week in a community center just a short distance from the wall, which we visited several times. We experienced shopping on a maquila (factory) worker’s salary and cooking dinner and breakfast together, visited a drug rehabilitation community, heard from several passionate speakers on border issues, and participated in a vigil for those who have died crossing the desert in Cochise County. We visited a border patrol facility at the end of the week and heard their perspective as well. Our time at the border included a lot of U-turns, bathroom stops, and Spanglish as our group starts to get to know each other and figure out the sometimes chaotic schedule of each day together.
The biggest lesson I have learned this week is that I have grown up with an immense amount of physical comfort, and that what I have to go back to in the US is a privilege. I’ve never been out of the country before, and having a toilet that flushes every time and a sink I can drink and wash my hands from are things I’ve taken for granted for the last twenty years. I’ve also been privileged to live my whole life in the safety of Harrisonburg, and this week my sense of security has been challenged, too. Early Wednesday morning, a couple of us woke up to [what sounded like] machine gun fire nearby, and I had trouble falling back asleep, even though Agua Prieta is pretty safe during the day.
I’ve definitely been appreciating all of the prayers and support being sent our way. We will be heading to Guatemala mid-week to begin the next part of our trip, and I think we’re all looking forward to meeting our host families and developing a more steady and relaxing routine there.