This post was written by Pat Caren from the UU Fellowship of Marion County Borderlinks trip in November 2015.
To cross a desert on foot is to risk your life. In Cochise County, Arizona, more than 260 people have perished this way since 2009. Every Tuesday evening in the border town of Douglas, the Healing Our Borders Prayer Vigil is held in remembrance of those and thousands of others who have died. In November, I participated in this moving experience, one of a delegation of fifteen from the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice.
Presbyterian minister Mark Adams led the vigil. Other participants included a group of Presbyterian Youth and other human rights workers and concerned individuals. We loaded 260 or so white wooden crosses into a shopping cart. Each took three and we lined up along the street that leads to the Mexican border. Most crosses bore a name and dates of birth and death.
Beginning with Pastor Mark, each held up a cross and spoke the name on it. Everyone else said, “Presente!” Then the cross was laid against the curb and its holder moved to the end of the line. Down the street we progressed. When my turn came, I did my best to pronounce the name. Everyone echoed, “Presente!” As we set down our last cross, we took another from the cart and continued, announcing names, “Presente,” laying them down.
One of mine had no name, only “Mujer no identificada.” Who was she? Certainly someone’s daughter, probably someone’s sister. If married, where was her husband? Represented by another cross? Or did he survive to go on, unable to report her death or claim her body? Did she have children? Were they waiting for her to join them in the US or did she leave them behind to find work so she could feed them?
And why, oh why, do we not know her name? Were her remains so scattered that no clothing, papers, or possessions could be traced to her?
After the last cross, save three, had been laid down, we gathered in a circle. One by one, Pastor Mark announced two more names and another unknown, “Presente!” and he laid each cross in the center of our circle.
Standing in the night, listening to prayers for the families of the fallen and for both of our countries, remembering the dead and praying for a peaceful solution, I was struck by the tragedy of so many hopeful lives cut short.
Whatever you may think of those who were lost, about their motivations, their judgment—they were living, breathing souls, like you and me, with hopes and dreams, struggles and sorrows. Some died alone, some in the company of friends or loved ones. And even the unknowns, the No identificada, were loved and mourned by someone.
We returned to the parking lot, picking up the crosses as we went, mourning for our brothers and sisters, those children of God, whom we never met on this side of the border between life and death, but who had become real to our hearts.
Pat Caren is a member of the UU Fellowship of Gainesville, FL, where she volunteers on the Social Justice Committee and is a key coordinator for Family Promise, a program to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence.