Thursday, August 7, 2008

Week 8 Viviana (Thank you)

A few words among friends...

i'm back
my new being held up by the hands
of hope and faith
in tucson

i stand on a precipice
a new beginning
something big awaits

no more stalling
it's time

my heart races
something beautiful
to bloom
from my being

i return a different self
a self more able to self-nurture

stronger with my tribe
a new adventure...

Thank you to all of my new friends

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Week 5 (Rachel)

“The lost walkers lay on crisp white sheets, rolled through swinging doors, blinked at confusing lights and masked faces, hospital gowns, the smell of disinfectant and their own strange musky stench. Needles. Liquids. A sign flashed by: This Way Heart Center. People in green inserted electric thermometers in their ears. Hands in rubber gloves. ‘Are we contagious?’ one of them asked, but no one answered.”

This scene from Luis Alberto Urrea’s book, “Devil’s Highway” won’t leave me alone. It’s unsettling. The migrants in this scene are near their death as they are picked up by Border Patrol and brought to the hospital to be treated. The have been in contact with the people of El Norte for only moments and it is already apparent that their presence is not welcome. And not only is it not welcome, but it seems they as individuals are loathed. They have been with my fellow Americans for only moments and they know they are an ostracized people. Where does the hate come from?

“Are we contagious?”

What is that? What is that like to feel? I don’t know what it’s like to live in a country where both the people and government treat me like filth. Knowing everywhere I go those that pass by are looking down on me as if I am somehow their enemy. There is a tangible animosity in their gaze. But I just came here to work. I cannot feed my family in Mexico. We are starving and there is nothing left for us there. What is that? What is that like to feel?

What is it like to live in fear? What is it like to not allow your children to play outside? The Border Patrol could be making the rounds through the neighborhood, and you just can’t risk it. What is it like to have to drive to work separately from your husband because you would rather Border Patrol only deported one of you. What is it like to live in fear?

“Are we contagious?”

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Week 7 (Christina)

Judge: So it is your belief that humanitarian aid is never a crime, Mr. Millis?
Dan: Yes, Your Honor.
Judge: But you do understand that sometimes it is illegal, Mr. Millis.
Dan: Yes, Your Honor.

Amid all the greatness of the United States Judicial System, there comes this statement. In a Federal Courtroom, as Dan Millis testifies for himself in a lawsuit for littering, this blatant flaw in the system arises. Dan, a volunteer for No More Deaths, is being charged with littering on a Federal Fish and Wildlife Reserve. The said litter? Full, sealed, gallon jugs of water. You see, for Dan, saving lives trumps “littering” any day. And this very mindset is what brings us to court on this fine July day. He now faces up to $5,000 in fines or 6 months in jail, at the discretion of the presiding judge. All because, as His Honor made very clear, humanitarian aid is sometimes illegal. Yes, amid all the glory and honor of the United States Judicial System, arrives this twisted form of justice.

Week 7 (Rachel)

I am back in the courthouse.

This time it’s Dan on trial. He’s one of the coordinators for No More Deaths—the organization based in the borderlands to put an end to the great death toll that the desert takes on those who dare cross it. What is Dan being charged with? Placing gallons of water out for dying migrants is now to be deemed “litter.” What makes this situation even more absurd—if possible—is that when cited for littering, Dan and three other volunteers were actually filling up bags of trash to be packed out of the desert, as per their usual patrol activities. The catch is that this particular water drop was on a wildlife reserve and therefore littering is a serious crime as it damages the precious flora and fauna. This makes for an interesting predicament.

When did the survival of plants and animals become more important than that of human beings? As I sit in the courtroom, listening to the prosecutor and reservation guards argue Dan’s guilt, I have to wonder how important this wildlife reservation is to them. The legalities are frustrating. It is as if the legal system was waiting for its chance to target No More Deaths, to put an end to their humanitarian efforts. Yes, he was placing sealed jugs of purified water out on this reservation—but is this “litter?” I cannot help but see the parallel to how our legal system sees those who volunteers like Dan are trying to help. Do we not see the migrants as litter, just trash cluttering our society that can be treated however we desire? Historically, we bring in workers from Mexico when we need jobs to be filled but the second their presence becomes inconvenient for the “real” Americans…can’t we just get rid of them? Again, I feel like the humanity of the migrants is being pushed aside, they are not individuals with life stories and families to feed, but instead they are THOSE PEOPLE. We group the migrants together and label these brown people as one big nuisance. Why does the media present them like a burden on our society and not instead question why they are risking their lives to come here, dying in the thousands for something better? They are economic refugees and it’s not a pretty picture. No one wants to see the dilapidated and pieced together shacks that line the streets of Nogales. No one wants to hear that the children have to use the bathroom in a sewage pipe at their school. No one wants to see how our economic policies towards Mexico have actually created the surge of migration over the past decade and a half. We sanitize everything here in the United States. It is best to draw a thick line between the two nations, perhaps even build a fifteen foot wall to stave off the invasion. Keep the unwanted out. They are just litter anyway.

Week 7 - Jose

This week I taught my final CPR/Standard First Aid course at Southside Presbyterian church in Tucson, Arizona. It was an amazing experience to teach individuals who are activists of their community and to give this course in such sacred place - this church has a history of focusing on social justice issues since the 1980’s when the Sanctuary movement began, co-founded by John Fife. The class was full this time. I actually had one student audit the course because I had gone over the limit of 10 students per class session! The class went very well; they asked me a lot of questions about CPR and First Aid, and at the end of the class, they left confident about their newly learned skills. I was really happy for them. After all, this is the main purpose of the class: to make each student who takes the course to feel confident about using these skills that could, one day, save someone’s life. While at times this community service activity seems trivial, I think that little by little it will someday make some kind of impact in the community.

Additionally, I got to visit Sells, Arizona, the capital of the Tohono O’Odham Nation (a Native American group living in the Sonoran Desert of the US southwest and Mexican northwest). A group of us got to see the hospital. I was able to talk to someone who knows about the healthcare system at the Tohono O’Odham Nation and stumbled upon the question about medical/dental care and access. Having previous knowledge that part of the nation is on Mexican soil, I asked this expert: Do Mexican Tohono O’Odham receive the same type of medical/dental care as their US citizen counterparts? I was expecting for the answer to be “Yes” since the US government made a promise that any individual from the nation would receive free medical/dental access and care. Surprisingly, the expert said “The answer is complicated – yes and no.” While the hospital has doctors and nurses that offer medical care, not all specialties are being covered. For instance, there is no one who can perform general surgery and there are no ultra-sound machines in the hospital. In this case, the patient requiring any further medical help not offered in the clinic is referred to a pre-selected hospital in Tucson where the government has agreed to pay for the costs. Everyone in the nation may go through this, but there is a catch. While Mexican Tohono O’Odham people can come to Sells or any of the other three clinics to receive free medical care, they are almost exclusively limited to what is offered at the nation’s clinics. Having Mexican citizenship prevents them from receiving the same benefits that the federal government offers to US citizens. Even though they might have all their relatives living in the US, and they themselves could have been born at a remote area in the outskirts of Arizona and outside of the Tohono O’Odham clinics, the US government would not cover their expenses outside the clinic, say in Tucson, Arizona because they do not have a birth certificate that would prove their US citizenship otherwise. Since medical costs are expensive these days, Mexican Tohono O’Odham will just be able to receive basic medical and dental care.

The interaction between the Mexican and US Tohono O’Odham people parallels the relationship between US and Mexican citizens and border communities that were merely divided by an invisible line. These individuals are part of families that have been separated by laws and regulations that have broken the ebb and flow between both sides. As the Tohono O’Odham put it, “We did not cross the border, the border crossed us.” The same thing has happened to people in other border cities such as in Ciudad Juarez/El Paso and Laredo/Nuevo Laredo. Long-time neighbors are now divided by walls or other physical barrier and this has had noticeable repercussions. Such isolationist policies have divided these individuals into two very distinct communities with different life opportunities, yet with common relationships and universal goals.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Week 6 - Jose

The highlight of the week [or lack thereof] was my experience at the annual health fair conducted at Sunnyside High School in Tucson. The fair was open for anyone in the community of Tucson and its surrounding areas. Even people from Nogales, Arizona came to the health fair. The event was extensively planned; there were many different groups participating and volunteering at the fair. Employees from El Rio Community Health Center (where I am currently shadowing) were also there. The school had two gyms and a cafeteria that were full of volunteers and people from the surrounding community. There were groups giving away baby car seats, bike helmets, school supplies (by grade levels), doing pregnancy tests, and even conducting physical exams (including taking blood pressures and measuring blood sugar levels).

Having seen the flier from a fellow employee at El Rio Dental Clinic, I came to the health fair to volunteer at the dental clinic. There was practically no space for the dental clinic at the fair – we were doing dental screenings at the boys’ locker rooms since the cafeteria and the two gyms were occupied by different groups. It was really exciting even though we were only doing screenings, not exams. I was charting for Joyce, a retired dental hygienists in the Tucson area, who would look at the patient’s mouth and dictate to me whether the patient had previous treatment, needed treatment, had fillings, had cavities, and had/needed sealants. I helped her communicate to Spanish speaking patients by translating whenever it was needed. She knew the ins and outs of government-sponsored [health and educational] programs such as AXIS, Medicaid, Medicare, and even Head Start.

One Spanish-speaking woman brought her child for a dental screening because he was about to start Head Start and the program had required her to take him for a dental exam. After the screening, she showed us a paper that the dentist had to sign. Since we only had one dentist volunteering at the clinic, he oversaw what we did, but at the end, he decided he could not sign the form. The document asked for a comprehensive dental exam, not a dental screening; the former included x-rays and actual probing with the mirror and explorer while the latter was more glancing at the mouth and teeth to determine whether the child needed a referral to a dentist for immediate dental care (we could not use any instrument because we wanted to treat as many patients as possible, and we did not have sterilization machines at the school). Unfortunately, everyone including Joyce, the dentist, and I sadly saw her leave with her child and the document not signed. Before this, though, Joyce explained to her that Head Start was supposed to have given her a list of pre-selected dentists that Head Start had agreed to pay to cover the costs for the appointment. I imagine that the mother had decided to bring him to this health fair because it was a free dental screening, in an attempt to save some money, but in fact, she had the right and opportunity to take her child for a fuller dental exam. The heartbreaking part was that she did not know this; Head Start did not give her a list of dentist. Now, she had to go back to Head Start, ask for the list, schedule an appointment, and wait until that date to take her child to the dentist. To me it seemed foolish, unnecessary, and unfair that due to the fact that there was not good communication/understanding between the employee from Head Start and this mother, she had to run around the city to correct this problem. I wondered and still wonder today who is to blame for this issue – the mother because she did not speak English and/or because she did not know how this system worked; the Head Start employee for either not speaking Spanish or giving her incomplete information, or someone at a different level, perhaps at the governmental/policy level? Being interested in dentistry and volunteering at this health fair taught me a lot about how government programs work in conjunction with the health care system. Sadly, I learned about it through an undesirable experience.

Week Six (Karen)

Even though we visited Border Patrol, went out on a run with Samaritans, dined with Duke Alums and incoming freshmen, and witnessed community confrontation against Isabel Garcia, the one thing that stuck with me this week was President Bush's motorcade.

The procession. The pomp and circumstance. All for one man.

A home video of the motorcade; fast forward to 1:50.

Tucson went to great lengths to receive President Bush, and we first came into contact with his visit when the police officers and police cars lined up and down Broadway Blvd. blocked our path back from the Duke Sendoff Party. Bright lights and show of force brought fear and confusion, so much so that we thought there was a hostage situation amongst it all. To make things worse, no one really knew where to go. We followed a trail of cars, hoping that someone would lead us through a side neighborhood. Despite our best attempts, we found ourselves stuck between an officer, parked cars, and a line of lost drivers.

So Sarah pulled us over, and we waited. But we were not the only one waiting anxiously for the motorcade to past. On the corners, there were families sitting out on lawn chairs waiting. Suddenly, a roar approached, and a dozen or so motorcycles flashed by, quickly followed by a hodgepodge of other vehicles.

I missed President Bush's flagged limo among the line of vehicles. Perhaps that was the point. Disappointed? No, but more so annoyed that he brought our part of town to a halt. What for? A fundraiser for a local political figure. Yet, if you asked me if I would like to meet President Bush, I would still say yes. He is the president after all. It just amazed me how far Tucson went to celebrate his stay when it led to more inconvenience than celebration.