Agua Prieta, Mexico
He had taken the train.
Photos c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation, 2007
His name has faded in my memory. I remember his name as Jesus, like so many of the others. But maybe it wasn’t.
He had taken the train. Like many of the others that people call “Mexican,” he was from Guatemala. Like the others, he had grown corn, until the bottom of the market fell out, until it cost more to grow than he could make selling.
Like the others, he needed money to live. Money to send home.
Like the others, he couldn’t afford the bus ticket north. So he took the train.
Exposure, they call it.
Photo c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation, 2007
It seems like a diagnosis from a hundred years ago. A word on an autopsy from the ancient world, like tuberculosis or leprosy.
They take only what they can carry on their backs, the Mexican shelter workers tell us. A backpack with a sweater, some electrolyte drinks, water. Then, when the coyote tells them they’re close to the border, they drop it all and run. They don’t want to be weighed down.
Outside Sasabe, Arizona
We read the Bible in the desert whenever we can.
One of the pastors in our group volunteers to lead the last meditation, which we time to line up with our visit to a Humane Borders water tank in the desert. She speaks about the Samaritan woman at the well and her conversation with Jesus.
We’ve crossed over the border again, back into the United States, and are in the region where migrants most frequently travel: the west desert around Tucson.
The water station is simple and unassuming. In other locations, these stations have been torn apart and vandalized by angry residents who resent the migrant traffic that comes through the area. But this one is intact: a simple tank with a spigot of clean water that people can fill their bottles with before traveling on.
“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” -Matthew 25:35
Photo c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation 2007
Benjamin Hill, Mexico
“I watched a man the other day at the feeding program,” said Father Quiniones as our group sits in a restaurant in Benjamin Hill, Sonora. “How many tortillas do you think he ate?”
We had only met Father Quiniones a few minutes before, but we could already tell that he was a storyteller. We had already learned from Rick, our leader, that Father Quiniones had two great passions apart from the church: loving the stranger and telling a good yarn. “This many,” he said. He held up one palm, then turned it over for each multiple of five. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty. And then an outstretched pointer finger: twenty-one.
“Twenty-one tortillas!” he said.
Photos c/o CPT Borderlands Delegation, 2007
It’s about time.
After years, a comprehensive immigration reform bill is set to hit Congress, and it’s rumored that something may actually happen. People have been waiting a long time. For many of the attendees of today’s immigration reform rally in Washington and other rallies nationwide, it’s been too long. Too long.
I started thinking about immigration in 2007, when I actually met some immigrants.
With the support of my church, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group trying to “get in the way” of violence worldwide. We saw the border, and we also saw what was on the other side: decreased job opportunities, high prices for , and thousands of people trying to make ends meet, even if it means a 70-mile walk across the desert to El Norte.
This week, to kick off What I Saw Wednesday, I’ll be posting daily about what I saw on the border. I have no easy answers, not even any political solutions, just stories about Jesus the migrant.
God was there, I was there, and this is what happened. This is what I saw.
I had been there for eleven months.
Eleven months of walking along the train tracks, through the rice fields to school. Eating beef braised in chili oil, stir-fried spinach, dumplings with chives and pork, rice. Eleven months of drinking chrysanthemum tea and eating tangerines at a teahouse by the river, hearing people say foreigner whenever I walked past, linking arms with friends. It had been eleven months of teaching classes of sixty students, mouthing along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in another language, walking two blocks from an upscale shopping mall to a market selling live fish and chickens.
I could have talked about it for the rest of my life and still have more stories to tell.