Bombs and Dreams

I’ve spent a good deal of my life pondering the bomb and devastation by war. Growing up in Chicago in the 1950s I remember air raid drills, kneeling in a damp basement at my elementary school, my face touching the floor, hands over my head. As restless third graders, my classmates and I would peek at each other, wondering how long we had to remain still and quiet on the musty tiles. I would wait for a bomb to drop, not sure if this was the real deal.

Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline

My older brother, George, would reassure me that there were stockpiles of Nike missiles and atomic bombs buried underneath the city in huge tunnels.  There was nothing to worry about.

We are the strongest, safest nation in the world,” my teachers would tell me.

Somehow the vision of living in a city astride tons of weaponry didn’t subdue my anxiety much.

State Street, Chicago

State Street, Chicago

After moving to Tucson I remember well the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and I imagined a mushroom cloud hovering over the city.  A friend and I had an escape plan, a cave in some nearby mountains that we had explored. We decided to have a box of food and supplies ready in case the Russians attacked the U.S.

I remember not being able to study that week in October, the week of the stand-off between the Russian submarines near Cuba and our own military arsenal.

Blue desert

Blue desert   (photo:  Marty Ethington)

Then came the assassinations: President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy. It felt like the fabric of democracy was coming undone. There were the Kent State killings, the Vietnam War demonstrations, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, and the worst domestic terrorist act of my lifetime, the toppling of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001.

All of these events have at their core a violent means to an end–the use of weaponry to kill people.

This past week has been another drama of nerves:  Syria is gassing its own people, killing innocent women and children. President Obama’s initial response is a call for a limited air strike. Then Russia’s Vladimir Putin writes an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, with a plea to the American people for negotiations with Syria’s President Assad and a supervised dismantling of chemical weapon stockpiles.

The world is left dizzy and perplexed. The Russian bear is telling the U.S. to slow down and talk things over.


a morning prayer at the comedor

a morning prayer at the comedor

I applaud President Obama’s deliberations and restraint at this crisis point. I am dubious of Putin’s motives, but I welcome the clarity of his thoughts in the New York Times editorial.  One can only guess at the future, but we are taking a breather.

As a person growing up during the 50s and 60s, I’ve watched and been moved by the power of non-violent confrontation. Gandhi and Martin Luther King stand out as leaders who changed the course of history without firing a weapon. It is tragic that their own lives ended with the shots of bullets. They paid the ultimate price, but they succeeded in making sweeping cultural and political changes by simply standing up to the empire, the ruling class, the politicos.

New shoes for Max at the comedor

New shoes for Max at the comedor

There are times when military force is necessary. But only as a last resort. First you try diplomacy, negotiations, and anything else that doesn’t involve a Tomahawk missile or a baseball bat.


Give me your tired, your poor

Give me your tired, your poor

In late July, 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting three of the DREAMers who were instrumental in orchestrating a non-violent demonstration in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico. This is the story of the DREAM 9. (DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.)

These nine DREAM students have lived virtually their entire lives in the U.S.  As infants or small children, they were brought into our country without documents. This is the only country they have ever known. The United States is their home.

DREAMers walking toward the border

DREAMers walking toward the border  (photo:  Mary Ethington)

All nine DREAMers voluntarily went back to Mexico to visit family and relatives. Some had not seen their relatives for many years. Then on July 22, 2013, they linked arms and attempted to walk back into the United States through the Nogales port of entry. They were dressed in graduation caps and gowns, and paraded through the streets of Mexico with a large crowd of supporters behind them before attempting to cross back into the United States.


Reject racism

Reject racism  (photo:  Marty Ethington)


Bring them home!” was heard on both sides of the border. The crowds were growing and feelings were passionate as the DREAMers marched through the Nogales streets of Mexico.


If you won't let us DREAM

If you don’t let us DREAM

The Santa Cruz Community Foundation (SCCF), the Kino Border Initiative, and the Samaritans joined this DREAM 9 demonstration on the U.S. side, along with our two SCCF summer interns, Marty and Catie. The mayor of Nogales, Arizona, and his wife were among the crowd of demonstrators, as several hundred others carried signs and shouted slogans.

Bob Phillips (SCCF Director), Mayor Guarino of Nogales, AZ., and his wife

Bob Phillips (SCCF Director), Mayor Garino of Nogales, AZ., and his wife


We arrived at the border wall at the same time as the DREAM demonstrators in Mexico.  With energy and emotions running high, the Mexicans put their hands on the mesh metal wall trying to touch the Americans on the other side.


Catie Born, Ruby Firecat Dean, Bob Phillips of SCCF

Catie Born, Ruby Firecat Dean, Bob Phillips of SCCF

For several minutes there was heightened intensity as Mexicans and Americans reached out to each other. Both sides began pounding on the wall, and the streets rang with the din of the metal fence reverberating and vibrating. Slogans and shouts of “Unafraid and Unashamed!” filled the air.

One of the organizers, Muhammad, a young man from Iran who has lived in the U.S. since he was a small child, wore a t-shirt displayed with “I Am Undocumented.” This was a demonstration organized and fueled by young people in their 20s, mostly college graduates, and many were undocumented themselves.

DREAM demonstration at the wall

DREAM demonstration at the wall  (photo:  Marty Ethington)

We were surrounded by Federal agents and U.S. Marshals, all of them armed. I thought of the 1970 Kent State confrontation with police and realized that we were sitting ducks. To be honest, I was frightened, exhilarated and running on adrenalin, wondering what I was doing here in this mass of people.

Meeting Mexico at the wall

Meeting Mexico at the wall

There was a line of U.S. Federal officers and agents standing at attention in front of the wall, and a line of clergy facing them. Behind the clergy were the demonstrators. After several frenzied moments of shouts and slogans, things miraculously seemed to calm down.

The presence of Fr. Sean Carroll, director of Kino Border Initiative, and John Fife, retired minister and social activist, added order and gravitas to the potential chaos.  Other members of the clergy were there as well, all dressed in their clerical clothes—a line of peace which quieted the stirring emotions on both sides of the fence.

The power of non-violent activism felt courageous and powerful. And tenuous.

Father Sean Carroll prays with DREAMers

Father Sean Carroll prays with DREAMers  (photo:  Marty Ethington)

When the DREAMers attempted to cross back into the United States at the port of entry, they carried letters petitioning the U.S. government for humanitarian parole. They were immediately arrested and taken to a private detention center in Eloy, Arizona. After 17 days of incarceration, which included a hunger strike and the mobilizing of many of their fellow migrant inmates, the DREAM 9 were released on parole.  A few had been placed in solitary confinement.

Their legal struggles are just beginning. They must argue their case for asylum in an immigration court, and this process could take years.

Unafraid and unashamed

Unafraid and unashamed

What these brave young men and women did was challenge an inhumane policy that prevents them from living and working in this country—a result of circumstances they did not create. Their parents brought them here because they wanted to feed them and provide a better life. This is not a crime. It is never a crime to feed your children and create a safe home for them. Never.

It is instead an act of heroism.

The demonstration was well organized, and most importantly, non-violent. The media coverage was impressive. The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and Al Jazeera were all there with microphones and cameras.

Bring Them Home

Bring Them Home

The DREAMers showed us that human needs must take precedence over borders and archaic laws. When laws are not relevant, they must change. We cannot make criminals of people who simply want to eat, and are willing to work hard for their sustenance. We cannot criminalize their children either.


More frijoles?

Lorena offering more frijoles at the comedor    (photo:  John Toso)

I applaud the courage of the DREAM 9 and I still smile when I think of the day we reached out toward Mexico touching the hands of those on the other side of the wall.

These young people pushed the envelope.

The voices of the people were heard on July 22, 2013. Let us not forget their message.

The DREAM 9 are: Lulu Martinez-Valdez, Marco Saavedra, Lizbeth Mateo Jimenez, Claudia Amaro, Adriana Gil Diaz, Mario Felix Garcia, Luis Leon-Lopez, Maria Peniche-Vargas and Ceferino Santiago.

a moment of joy at the comedor

a moment of joy at the comedor

The Green Valley Samaritans is a non-profit organization whose mission is to save lives in the southern Arizona desert.  Their website is:  www,

The Santa Cruz Community Foundation is a non-profit organization focusing on the economic, cultural and philanthropic needs of southern Arizona and the borderlands.  Bob Phillips, Director, can be reached at:

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

I endorse the activities of all of these organizations.

Peg Bowden can be reached at    Please direct comments to my email.   I will post your comments on the blog as they come in.  I love your input, so don’t hesitate to respond.  –Peg


~ by Peg Bowden on September 16, 2013.

13 Responses to “Bombs and Dreams”

  1. Hi Peg,

    I got the email re your blog and read it with an open heart. I would like to thank you for your efforts on behalf of the poor and struggling. You are very much appreciated!

    Tom Regnier
    Minnetonka Beach, Minnesota (May – Oct)
    Green Valley, Arizona (Nov – April)

  2. Bless you Peg, your work and dedication is commendable.

    Dave Lewis
    Ensenada, Baja California, MX

  3. Dear Peg,

    There’s more than one writer in your family 🙂

    Yours is the best account I have read of this heroic event. I’m sorry I was unable to be there.

    With admiration,

    Mike Bruwer

    Tack into the wind.
    — Buckminster Fuller

  4. My husband and I were visiting in Budapest, Hungary, this summer and got to talking with a couple our age. I told them how we were afraid of being bombed by the USSR and getting under our desks at school for protection. I asked them if they were afraid of us bombing them and did they prepare for war. They said “no” and looked at us as if we were nuts.

  5. Love it! Maybe we are nuts. –Peg

  6. What a powerful post. I, too, feel exactly the same. I often don’t surround myself with information regarding war and violence– (as a hypersensitive person, some days those things have the effect of me crying for days)– but your blog is a grounding space for me, your commentary intelligent and compassionate.

    My history teachers in high school were borderline conspiracy theorists– and there’s always a hint of that flavor when I approach news stories. Who is benefiting from war? Always someone is.

    I pray. This is what keeps me sane.

    Sending blessings to you

  7. I so enjoyed reading your post and am looking forward to my involvement with the GV Samaritans and other related activities. Thank you for your touching and informative post. Vaya con Dios!

  8. Peg- How very brave you are!! How powerful your words are!!! I just wish there was some way your words could be heard by members of Congress.
    Keep me posted about your book!!

    Bette Mulley

  9. When people ask, “Aren’t you afraid to go to Mexico in this day and age?” I reply, “Heavens NO; I spent my teenage years on the south side of Chicago!” :))
    Carol Wilson

  10. Hi Peg,
    Enjoyed your posting…..your writing is moving & expressive. Especially of interest was your accounting of time spent in Oaxaca. I love that area & am a little envious of your experiences!
    Martha Lazich

  11. Wow! This is a powerful entry!! The pictures really add to the impact! Thanks for your work. Mary Lou

  12. Hi Peg,
    Thanks for the blog. I appreciate the thought and work you put into it. I am hoping that this latest Putin/ Obama effort will lead to the elimination of the chemical weapons in Syria and create an opening for peace talks. I am still sceptical, but I guess that comes with old age.

  13. It is good to see the excellent photography of Marty Ethington, of Ohio. Marty spent the entire summer here on the border in an internship program with the Santa Cruz Community Foundation. Among their many activities, Marty and a second SCCF intern, Catie Born, of California, participated in searches conducted by the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans, and assisted in providing humanitarian aid to a migrant, age 17, whom we found in Arivaca sitting on the side of the road.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *