In Nogales, pain was almost always sharp. Burns and blisters from the desert. Anger at the system that dropped them off at the border. Fear of the close-by drug mafia. Moments of chaos and confusion and frustration often welled into tears for men and women alike.
I learned much about particular injustices in the US immigration system and countless instances of border violence directed against migrants. The suffering is very real and very acute at the moment of crossing or of deportation. But I always knew there were more to the life stories.
Here in Tierra Blanca, I step into the longer story. For example, one elderly man came through the shelter this week with a deformed wrist and hand. He described to me how his hand was cut off in the Guatemalan civil war and then stitched back on. He fled Guatemala 25 years ago and ever since then he has been migrating. Too threatened in his home country to live there, but unwilling to give up his visits home in order to establish permanent residency in the US. Soon after he left, his two brothers were killed in the violence. He was out of the country when his oldest son was killed by a car. Because of his job in the US, he helped his two married daughters buy houses. Twenty-five years. Years of going back and forth. Years of suffering and accomplishment. Years of luchando.
Because it is this lucha that migrants, and the many poor who do not migrate, undertake for a lifetime. The fight to protect their family from ongoing violence. The struggle to find work to feed their families. The fight to give their kids an education. This journey from south to north, whether it is their first time or their fifth, is only a part of that fight. The US immigration system is one among many antagonists and deportation is relevant only in their past or their future. In the present, rather than seeing many tears, I mostly see determination. Determination to keep fighting.
So how do I respond to this life-long journey? In some ways, it is easier to love in moments of crisis. When people just need to soltar (to release) with someone who listens and lets them cry. It is harder to know what to do here. Migrants here are more closed because they have to be – openness and vulnerability are unsustainable. All I can do is treat each one with respect and love. To be present and not need my presence to be significant. We are just a few hour stop on this long journey.
After more than a month here, I am often weighed down by the silent desperation of deep-seated injustices that cannot be eradicated even by the best of immigration reforms. I don’t wake up every morning thinking my presence makes a grand difference. But I wake up every morning to love people for a few steps of the journey. A few moments of the fight.