What a Good Breakfast Will Do: Dancing at The Comedor
Migrant journeys in the desert: Make a Joyful Noise
•January 20, 2012 •
by Peg Bowden for Arroya.org
When I was a child growing up on Chicago’s South Side I attended the local Baptist church. My earliest memory of Sunday School was memorizing the 100th Psalm:
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord – All ye lands…”
As a small child the verse brought up visions of dancing, clanging cymbals, bells, singing, and in general just having a good time. I couldn’t figure out why the Baptists didn’t dance and their parties were pretty staid affairs.
It was punch and cookies in the church basement.
Where was the joyful noise? Perhaps it is no coincidence that I took up percussion later as a teen in high school and still play timpani in a band today. I have always liked to bang on things. Music and celebration are an important part of my life. Sitting in hard pews listening to long sermons is not.
And so when our Samaritan group arrives a bit early at the comedor in Nogales, Sonora, breakfast has not yet been served. After a very personal and moving prayer by Fr. Martin speaking to the experience of migration and the separation from family and children, we all pitch in and help serve the 90+ group of migrants present today.
Passing the steaming plates of scrambled eggs with chilis, onions and pork, pinto beans, and a cheesy pasta, along with the hot coffee and atole de canela (a hot milk/cinnamon drink) the migrants once again bow their heads with gratitude and whispers of “gracias”.
And then the whole mood of the place suddenly changes. Sister Lorena, the nun in charge today, cranks up a boom box with some pretty wild salsa music and begins to dance up and down the crowded aisles.
The Kitchen Queen, Lorena, (yes, another Lorena) joins her in some amazing hip shimmies. Soon Shura, Samaritan founder, is sashaying across the crowded room as well. It is hard to stand still—the beat is infectious.
Suddenly one of the migrants leaps up before finishing his breakfast, executes some complicated dance steps toward the front of the room, and begins twirling Shura around in a wild and raucous salsa, complete with dips and dizzying turns. It is spontaneous combustion. There is clapping and swaying and yes, most definitely a joyful noise. (wish the Baptists from my youth could have seen this!)
After the revelry of this breakfast dance, the young migrant who has performed his salsa of uninhibited joy tells me he is from Ocotlan, Jalisco, a city near Guadalajara. He is a young man perhaps in his early twenties, and he has not seen his mother for five years. His eyes, sparkling with energy during his impromptu dance, now suddenly become clouded and sad. His hair is long and curly and is fastened in a ponytail. I remark on his long hair, and he tells me he made a promise to God that he would not cut his hair until he sees his mother once again. She lives in San Francisco and cannot visit him in Mexico due to “the laws of Estados Unidos.” Our dancing friend is determined to “cross” and see his mother once more.
A Samaritan offers to call his mother and tell her about this young man’s journey. We talk with him about the dangers of the desert and the long trek to California. He is adamant about this odyssey. He will attempt the journey. He reminds me of young men everywhere who do risky things and ignore the dangers and consequences.
And I will not forget the dance of joy that emanated from this young man, and his vow to see his mother again. The laws that entrap people on different sides of the fence are just plain wrong. Our dancing friend does not want to reside in the United States, nor does he want citizenship in the United States. He has a life in Ocotlan, Mexico.
He wants to see his mother.
And I want desperately to fix this.