Peg Bowden’s Border Report for Thanksgiving: A Real Thanksgiving

By on December 4, 2013

Show Your Goodness

•November 14, 2013 • 9 Comments

In a few weeks I will be a migrant. Flying to Los Angeles to join with our children and grandchildren, my husband and I will migrate to California for a Thanksgiving holiday. It is an American rite that we take for granted: we move about freely and travel once or twice a year to be with family and friends. There will be feasting around a dinner table with four different conversations going at once. Then games and more talk will follow in the living room. We will return home exhausted, yet satisfied that the kids are OK.

Migrant wearing "Show Your Goodness" t-shirt with Samaritan Sharon

Migrant wearing “Show Your Goodness” t-shirt with Samaritan Sharon

This week at the comedor I spotted a man in a bright red t-shirt which said, “Show Your Goodness.” The man was on the move. He needed shoes and jeans, and thankfully we had just the right sizes for this fellow. His plan is to travel to Jalisco to be with his family after the death of a brother. After living in the U.S. and not seeing his family for several years, it is important for him to grieve with his siblings about this loss. Funerals and illnesses are common reasons why Latinos travel to Mexico. Many are aware that it will be difficult to return to the U.S., but family ties trump the dangers of crossing our borders.

Samaritans gather clothing at the comedor

Samaritans gather with bags of clothing at the comedor       ( photo:  John Toso)

Another man, whom I will call Eduardo, is wearing shoes with flopping soles and no socks. He is a short man with a round, open face, and he wants to talk.

“I take a 9 ½ size shoe. Can you help me out?”

Around his neck is a lovely blue rosary which he has fashioned out of recycled plastic bags.

“I learned how to do this in the detention center in El Centro,” he tells me. The craftsmanship of the rosary is impressive. I examine it closely and cannot believe that this is made of plastic throwaway bags.

Silence and reflection

Silence and reflection        (photo:  John Toso)

He is from Modesto, California, and for four months has been struggling to get back to his family and workplace.  Eduardo shows me his business card; he is a small business owner and manufactures granite counter tops, a lucrative enterprise. Living in Modesto for twenty-two years, Eduardo was brought to this country when he was six years old. He is married and has four children, all American citizens.

A collage of family memories

A collage of family memories

Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a carefully folded photograph of his family taken on a poolside holiday. Eduardo’s eyes are wet with tears as he explains how he got here. Four months ago he headed to the grocery store to buy milk and forgot his wallet.

He was stopped by a police officer because the tail light on his car was not functioning. Of course he didn’t have his identification or driver’s license with him and was taken to the local police station. When his identity and records came up in their system, it was discovered that he was undocumented. He was immediately deported back to Mexico and has tried several times to cross and return home.

His life changed because of a burned out tail light.

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

As an entrepreneur with several employees, he is desperate to return to his business and his family. We talk about his girls, his work, and the abrupt end to the routines and comforts of his life in California. He has had phone calls with his wife and children throughout this ordeal, but the challenges he faces are daunting.

Lupita creates magic in the kitchen

Lupita creates magic in the kitchen

As he leaves the comedor, he faces me and says, “Gracias for all of your help. I may never see you again. But I know what I have to do, and I’ll be OK.” He tells me he will cross without a guide, as he doesn’t trust them. He gives me a hug, crosses himself, kisses his rosary, and is out the door.

“Cuidado! You are a good man and I wish for you a good life with your family,”  I call out to him as he leaves.

Samaritans assisting a lost migrant on a desert search

Samaritans assisting a lost migrant on a desert search    (photo:  John Toso)

 

I ask God to keep him safe and give him strength to get back to Modesto.  My prayers these days are like those of a child. I ask God to protect people from my government. During these moments at the comedor, I don’t know what else to do.

 

My family, my life

My family, my life

So here is what I take away from this day at the comedor:

1) When families are separated, people are torn apart at a deep, primal level. Grown men cry. I see it happen every week.

2) If we pass only one thing in Congress regarding immigration reform, let it be family reunification. We must end national policies which separate families. It is tearing at the moral core of this nation. Our children’s children will ask us one day how we could allow such tragedy to occur as a matter of national public policy.

3) We need a legal employment structure that allows for workers to move back and forth to Mexico and Central America, protecting both migrants and American employees.

4) Our esteemed U.S. Congress has 10 days left between now and the New Year to pass any kind of immigration legislation. It is a long shot that anything meaningful will come out of this legislative session. We all must vote during the next election and change the face of our dysfunctional Congress. Better yet, some of us must run for office and bring some light and hope to the disenfranchised and vulnerable peoples peering through the border wall.

Vultures at a water tank

Vultures at a water tank

 

5) The deaths in the Tucson sector of the Sonoran desert continue unabated in spite of the drop in numbers of deported Latinos. It is a blight on our collective conscience. The Samaritans continue to find people lost in the vastness of our desert. We find them walking in circles. Many are dying. The numbers are up from 2012, with 146 bodies recovered since January, 2013. There are more bodies out there; they just haven’t been found, and may never be discovered.

Alfonso, Samaritan Tracy, Lorena, and Samaritan Linda

Alfonso, Samaritan Tracy, Lorena, and Samaritan Linda

As I enjoy a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast in the coming weeks, I will remember the man in the “Show Your Goodness” t-shirt, and Eduardo, who is heading to Modesto.

Our beloved country, a country of hospitality and a tradition of empathy towards the tired and the poor, needs a good wake-up shake at the shoulders. We accept the labors of immigrants, but deny them their humanity.

These people are literally my neighbors, just on the other side of the fence.

Please direct your comments and thoughts to Peg Bowden at pegbowden@yahoo.com.

The Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans is a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent deaths in the desert.  Information and contributions can be directed to:  www.gvsamaritans.org

Kino Border Initiative directs the activities of the comedor in Nogales, Mexico.  The mission is to help create a just, humane immigration policy between the United States and Mexico.  Their website is:  www.kinoborderinitiative.org

The Border Community Alliance is an exciting new organization in southern Arizona focusing on the economic, cultural and humanitarian needs of the Arizona borderlands.  Non-profit status is pending.  Contact Bob Phillips at: rtp9@earthlink.net   for more information.

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