Peg Bowden reports from the AZ/Mx Border: On Burros and Chocolate
I sat in a doctor’s office yesterday half-listening to the TV which was tuned into Fox News. This is the week that the infamous anti-immigration Arizona bill, SB1070, is up for debate in the Supreme Court. Arizona is big news again. Flashing across the screen was a poll stating that 68% of the people in the United States favor the Arizona bill and think that anyone in this country without proper documentation should be deported. Period. The rest feel that comprehensive immigration reform is needed. Maybe 10% are simply undecided about the matter.
So 68% of Americans want to kick out the “illegals.”
And so I entered the exam room of my doctor, a Mexican American man raised in a suburb of Laredo, Texas. He is competent, gregarious, and has asked me now and then about what it is I do at el comedor in Nogales, Sonora. So today I ask him how he decided to be a doctor. He was raised in a family of many children and not enough money. His schooling was mediocre at best. Working in a gas station throughout high school he would do his homework in between gassing up the cars. He was always marked down on his papers because they were dirty and full of oil stains and grease. This still rankles him. His math papers were perfect, but he was docked 10% because of the grease stains.
He tells me about seeing migrants pass through their yard when he was a little boy. His mother would tell the weary travelers to drink from the garden hose, and then would run inside to prepare food for them. And she would ask her son, who is about eight years old at this point, to take the food outside to the waiting migrants. My doctor spoke of how he hated this chore.
Lennon’s words of peace (Nogales graffiti)
“There is not enough food to feed everyone in our own family! Why should we give these strangers our food when we don’t have enough ourselves? I hate doing this!”
And his mother would put her hand on his head and say in Spanish, an old Mexican proverb:
“How can a burro know about fine chocolate, mi hijito?”
How can a little boy so young really understand what is going on here? How can a little boy understand that when you see someone who is hungry and tired and thirsty, you give them water and food and a bit of shade. You share what you have. You help those in dire need.
Harsh lessons in the desert
She told him that someday he would understand.
My doctor told me that it took him many years to understand. He points to a photo on the wall of his mother, a beautiful Mexican woman with a classic profile and long black hair. It is obvious to me that he reveres her as a saint. His mother taught him well the lessons of compassion and how we treat those in need. His skill as a doctor reflects the gentle spirit and tenderness of his mother. I’m lucky to have him as my doctor.
the Virgin and the squash
And I think about the august body of Supreme Court Justices sitting in their black robes making decisions about literally millions of undocumented people living in this country, and those crossers trying to get here. Add to this the Arizona State Legislature, so firm in their belief that more prisons, more Homeland Security, and a bigger wall is going to make Arizona safe and prosperous.
I would like them all to spend one hour in the presence of the migrants I see weekly at el comedor. How can you criminalize the migrants if you have never met them? If you have never looked them in the eye? If you have never swapped stories about their children, their wives, their hopes and dreams? And then I would like them to re-think the pat answers I get from the 68% about being “illegal.” The laws and policies concerning immigration are wrong, inhumane, and they don’t work. It is the burro trying to understand the nuances of fine chocolate.
Caring for the woman from Chiapas
The answers are not simple. And the wall is one expensive boondoggle which will never work. What is missing from the equation has to do with the compassion and kindness I have been taught to expect from the United States. We are better than these endless arguments about states’ rights and Arizona law superseding Federal law, or vice versa. We have somehow gotten on the wrong track here. It reminds me of that essay from college days by Thomas Aquinas about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is an endless debate leading nowhere.
We are wasting time. People are dying, probably today, not far from my home. Mass migration has been happening for more than a decade from our neighbors to the South. Probably 99% of migrating people are in desperate economic straits. They are not smugglers hauling a load of marijuana. Most of the illicit drug trade comes through the major ports of entry in trucks. Not on the backs of immigrants.
They want to work. We owe them the decency of humane treatment. Mexico needs to step up to the plate, and so do we. We’re in this together. God knows there is a lot of work to be done, both here and in Mexico. Just look at our highways, our bridges, and the rotting crops in the fields. Perhaps the lesson here is to work together in the best interests of the suffering people at our borders.
kitchen clean-up at the comedor
Forget the wall. Try and understand the nuances of fine chocolate. Even if at times we seem to act like a bunch of asses.
It’s all pretty basic, really. My mother taught me the same lessons as my good doctor’s mother from Laredo.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
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