The following post was written by Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, assistant minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, N.C. She recently took part in the February 2013 BorderLinks: Immigration Justice Tour with the UU College of Social Justice.
Today is day three of our delegation. Our group hails from as close as Phoenix, Ariz., and as far as Massachusetts. In some sense it feels like the trip is going so quickly, and in other ways it feels like we have been together for a long time. It is a paradoxical journey, one that brings us into deeper connection with one another and with our own spiritual path at the same time that it shines a bright and unforgiving light on the harsh realities of life in the borderlands.
We began our journey in Nogales, Mexico, where we spent the night at Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (Home of Hope and Peace, or HEPAC), a community center that provides education and support to children and adults living in Nogales. The philosophy at HEPAC is that there is no time to wait for the government to change the laws — the people must create their own hope and justice here and now in Mexico, to make life better for the people today. We also visited Grupos Beta, a government-run agency that assists migrants who have recently been sent back from the United States. The people we met there were profoundly inspiring as they shared their stories. Though they had been through unimaginable difficulty and had been separated from their families, they remained hopeful and determined to make a better life for themselves and their families one way or another.
In addition, we have walked one of the migrants’ paths in the desert with a humanitarian aid volunteer and heard a presentation from Mike Wilson, who is a member of the Tohono O’odnam nation and leaves water in the desert on tribal lands, defying the orders of the tribal council. Tomorrow we will visit Immigration and Customs Enforcement and meet with a public defender.
Our experiences so far have been at turns heartbreaking and shocking, inspiring and hopeful. We have seen the ways that U.S. policies and the militarization of the border create a humanitarian crisis beyond what I could have imagined. There are “death maps,” which show red dots where human remains have been found, and there are places where there are so many dots on top of one another that you can’t see where one ends and the others begin. We have seen some of the things that have been left behind in the desert — prize possessions dropped in a moment of desperation, photos of dog bites and feet blistered beyond recognition. And we have heard stories of the triumph of kindness and compassion, even in the midst of these tragedies.
I find myself intentionally sitting in midst of this complicated reality, letting the complexity simmer. The borderlands have been at a crisis point for a number of years, and the situation is not improving. The political landscape is bleak. And yet, the people I have met over the past few days give me hope for the future. My faith calls me to give voice to the voiceless, and this trip is giving me concrete tools, poignant stories, and real lived experiences that will help me to do so.
I have long believed that the greatest gift that Unitarian Universalism has to offer the world is an ability to inhabit the place of paradox. At our best, we understand that, in the words of Francis David, “We need not think alike to love alike,” and that life is full of paradox. We live our lives together in a complicated web of opinions and beliefs, and we do not expect that we will all agree. And in the midst of that, we figure out a way to live together in peace and harmony. Immigration policy and the reality of life at the border are complicated issues with multiple stakeholders and no easy solutions. We have an opportunity to share our unique perspective and continue to organize and advocate for change.