The recent Presidential election has me practicing the piano again. Bach is especially helpful. I can’t think about politics or 45 (Trump) when I play the piano, and this is a good thing. When my concentration goes awry, which is often, Bach’s symmetry and elegance go out the window, and my playing is a jumble of notes that fly in all directions. The major chords become minors, and the harmonies are lost. It is like fingernails on a blackboard. Even the dog winces.
I have to be grounded and focused to play Bach. It is my centering meditation. These days Bach is my salvation.
Yesterday I attended a Green Valley Samaritan meeting at 8 AM, and there were close to one hundred people in attendance. Most had gray hair. All were looking for guidance, phone numbers to call, letters to write, or something tangible to do that would impact the crisis of people crossing our desert trying to reach a loved one.
We heard a report from a Samaritan witness who attends Operation Streamline regularly. Operation Streamline is the court proceeding that attempts to fast-track undocumented migrants through our court system in groups. Migrants have representation by lawyers, and most are encouraged to plead guilty for the crime of crossing into the United States without the proper papers.
The Samaritan told us of a man who explained to the judge that he had been caught by Border Patrol agents somewhere in the desert. He was told to remove his shoes and socks, and was ordered to run across the desert floor barefoot. After a few minutes a Border Patrol agent chased him on an ATV, running him down like a frightened, injured animal. His feet were blooded. The man told this story to the judge on this shameful day in court. The judge shrugged it off. Things happen. A teen’s death in the desert
I cannot get this image out of my mind. It is February, and the mornings and evenings often approach freezing. A man is forced to remove his shoes, and run across the thorny, rocky desert floor while a Border Patrol agent has an adrenaline rush and chases him down. The agent can now claim that the migrant was fleeing the scene.
Struggling with how to impact these atrocities that are occurring close to my home, I sit at the piano and mangle another Bach Invention. I focus on my fingers, the music, and try to get my bifocals just right so I can see the notes. I am a privileged white woman playing the piano, trying to shake off the image of a young brown man running barefoot in the desert, hunted down like a deer.
There is something terribly wrong with America today.
I remember Mr. Trump back in 2015 announcing his candidacy for President of the United States. In his very first speech he labeled the undocumented migrants heading north from Mexico as rapists, thieves and drug smugglers. He railed that they were raising havoc in our cities and countryside. I was stunned back in 2015 when I heard this, and his tone has not wavered. Why does Trump view Latino immigrants as terrorists, tax evaders, criminals and drains on social service networks?
Sleep does not come easy these days. Each morning I do not want to read the morning headlines, and yet I cannot avert my eyes. It is like driving past an auto accident, not wanting to look, and yet I must take a peek at the carnage. I wait for someone to organize another demonstration. I make phone calls to Congressional Senators and Representatives I have never heard of. I spend way too much time on Facebook reading every news breaking story.
Today I went to el comedor, the Kino Border Initiative aid station that feeds and counsels thousands of migrants each year. The mood is tense; the men and women look tired and hungry. It is forty degrees inside the small shelter, and some of the travelers are shivering.
A few days ago Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos sat at one of the tables at el comedor surrounded by ten microphones and reporters from all over the world. Brought into the US at age fourteen, she was deported to Nogales, Sonora after twenty-one years of life in Arizona. Living in Phoenix raising her family, and trying her best to work and survive, she did not have the proper papers to stay here legally. Lupe obtained a false social security number in order to get a job, and eleven years ago was caught with this fraudulent identification. As part of her probation, she reported to an ICE office each year. She never missed this yearly visit. Without warning she was picked up and deported to Mexico while making her annual check-in to the ICE office. Looking frightened and bewildered, Lupe sat in front of the array of microphones. Her children spoke eloquently about their mother, and her life centered on family and hard work.
I stare at Lupe in the news photos, her face strained, and her eyes wide with distrust and disbelief. Then I study the faces of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, two of 45’s top national security advisors.
Who are the real criminals here?
US Presidential advisors with frequent communication involving Russian intelligence agents about campaign manipulation and policy matters in Ukraine and Crimea, before Trump is even inaugurated? (not to mention business dealings in Russia)
Peg, Ciccio and Matt keeping the faith at el comedor
Why is it so difficult to carve out an immigration policy that treats people with dignity and respect?
And to be honest, I cannot blame Trump totally for the sweeps of the past 3 weeks. Obama’s immigration policies resulted in 2.4 million deportations of undocumented immigrants during his eight year tenure. Most were “non-criminal.” Just like Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos.
Looking over the comedor at the room full of young men, I talk with a migrant and his small son from Honduras. He takes out his cell phone and shows several Samaritans a photo of his slain brother lying on a street in a pool of blood. With a dispassionate face he clicks through the photos on his cell phone. He is fleeing his homeland and faces the same fate as his brother if he returns. His little boy has dark curls and races around the tables chasing after the resident cat. The father is planning to cross into the desert with his young son, seeking safety and work in the USA. The Samaritans are horrified with this plan.
The Honduran is the perfect candidate for political asylum. His brother has been killed in Honduras. This young father cannot return to his home. He has a photo of his murdered brother. He probably knows who killed him. The KBI staff will explain the asylum process to him. Asylum is not without its own perils. Both father and son will most likely spend time in a detention center in the US. Chances are he will be separated from his son. He is a victim without a voice, caught in the crossfire of the politics of 45.
When all else fails, dance
Today is Valentine’s Day, and another Samaritan and myself walk around with a pan of homemade cake with pink frosting dotted with sugar sprinkles, and we serve up this confection on napkins to a waiting group. Samaritan friend, Julie, stayed up half the night baking 4 cakes for the migrant travelers that we serve today. The men are delighted with the gift of sugar and frosting, and wolf down the cake with gusto. A couple of guys try to mooch an extra piece.
It feels good serving these Latino men and women, when so often they are the ones serving me—in restaurants, hospitals, as housekeepers, gardeners, nannies, and farm workers.
Listening to the stories of the travelers’ journey
Later tonight my husband and I will relish strawberries covered with chocolate on this Valentine’s Day. Probably they were picked by a Mexican farmworker bending over in the fields of Minnesota or Oregon. Possibly this farmworker is here today at el comedor after a deportation due to a minor violation—cruising through a stop sign, or driving without a license. I think about his fingers plucking each strawberry in a field a thousand miles away so I can enjoy this chocolate covered Valentine treat.
Holy Angels High School students tour Tumacacori Mission, home of an early traveler, Padre Kino
Peg Bowden has written a book, A Land of Hard Edges, available in most bookstores in southern Arizona, your local library, or Amazon.com.
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The Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans is a non-profit organization; the mission is to prevent deaths in the desert. Information and contributions can be directed to:
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. The 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. BCA is now a 501 3(c) nonprofit entity. The website is: www.bordercommunityalliance.org