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.

Week 6 (Christina)

It’s the same thing over and over: sad, disappointing, horrible, frustrating, depressing, and helpless. And I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t talk about, let alone write about it, after the fifteenth time. It all feels like overkill. My feelings and thoughts feel like overkill. I don’t know how people deal with it on a daily basis—make a life out of all of the misery—when I feel like I can’t even do it for a summer.

We talk so much about what divides us from the rest of this movement. Everyone always talks about a racial divide. And in some places that’s probably true. But the biggest divide for us doesn’t appear to be race. Nor does it seem to be sex, as might seem to be another logical suggestion based on the past. No, here we all feel different because of economic status—of class. And the guilt I feel comes from that. And the presumptions that precede us when we enter a room come from that. And there’s nothing we can do about it. Sure—we could give away everything we have and ‘join the people.’ But what would that help? And that feels the same as everything else: sad, disappointing, horrible, frustrating, depressing, and helpless.

Week 6 Viviana

What does the color of my skin mean in this activist community?

I did not come to the desert as a self-identifying "woman of color" from Duke, but have been made hyper-conscious of it during the last six weeks. Why are members of certain border organizations all of the same race? Why can't we question it? Why isn't it already being questioned? Before arriving, I might have said that there was no reason to question it--we are all drawn to a common cause, regardless of race and culture. But there is such a poignant difference between groups. Racial makeup is by no means a measure of efficacy or authenticity--yet why are my group members and I are afraid to bring it up in conversation with community members? It feels like the untouchable topic; the elephant in the room. How can we ignore race? Particularly in the racially charged environment in which we work?

The fragmentation of the activist community here makes me uncomfortable. Imagine the work that could be done if all groups came together! But, instead we allow ourselves to stand divided by our own micro-borders, our own inability to listen and compromise. My own feeling is that all groups acknowledge the division, but have already concluded on their own that collaboration is impossible and unnecessary to the achievement of their objectives. How can we stand divided in what we call a "war-zone"? One voice at a time will not change policy and I am frustrated by the pride and reluctance that keeps us from screaming at the world as one united front.

The irony of it all is the fact that our border problem cannot be solved without the collaboration of the US and Mexican governments. We speak of national borders and lines as the enemy. Why not address our own micro-borders first?

Week 5 and 6- Lucy


my week at no more deaths. it's very difficult to truly explain how i experienced arivaca and the sonoran desert.

living at the camp made me experience two very different emotions. on one hand, i experienced an emotional high from the community that welcomed and embraced me everyday. every single volunteer at the camp surprised me with their wisdom and knowledge. Everyone was so sensitive, caring , and compassionate. i felt like if we could all see the desert then we could all love each other again. the second emotion was of intense grief, i don't understand and still don't understand why i get these rights, and freedoms, and privileges but someone else doesn't. i don't have to cross a desert for a small chance. i will never been tortured in a parasite infested wash. i will never leave my two daughters.

i know the blog that i am writing right now doesn't seem to make much sense nor is it very concrete and directed but it is simply impossible for me to recount all of my experiences there.

i met a man who came back to Mexico to visit his dying grandmother. he has two children, two daughters, one is 2 and the other is 4. he has a wife and a home in Colorado. we met him on the side of the road. he waited for a car that would never come. he touched my life and i felt so connected to him. but we were so separated because i have the privilege to travel as i like. i have the freedom to not be hidden but he doesn't have that right. he is waiting for a car that will never come. i am in a car that is simply passing by. i am simply passing by. maybe our eyes well meet and in those moments maybe my humanity is truly bound to his.

***

i think i have to write my 2 weeks at the desert in conjunction to my week back in tucson. noel asked me today if i felt "civilization" was foreign, or rather if i felt strange to be "back in civilization." the truth is that i do. i truly feel estranged to this place. rachel mentioned that my life is sorta defined by conflicting statements. the truth is that i can't make up my mind. being back in civilization makes me face who i was before the camp, creates a confrontation between myself. i am so confused. what should i do with my life. how do i live ethically? how can i come back to the desert next year? then i think about my classes, and new boots, and a dress that is lost in the mail. i want to feel connected but i am so disconnected. sometimes 'i get it' other times i want to forget about it.

life is pretty simple for me as a duke student. i am incredibly happy to be where i am. i live without consequence and often without concern. i do what makes me happy, what makes my family and friends happy. i watch tv, i check my email, and i read books. but being here, being in tucson, living with consequence and with concern is so foreign to me. i don't know whether to run away or to embrace this new change. life was simple but now it's not. it will never be as simple as it had been.

it's no longer a question of not knowing but rather not doing. what if i realize and acknowledge this conflicted situation and what if i walk away? how will i live with myself like that? how can i ever go back to my simple duke life? what if i never want to! what if i do want to? what if i'm ashamed and torn either way? what do i do now?

Week Six (Group)

yaThis week's highlights included:
  • Visiting the Tucson Sector Border Patrol
  • Attending the Duke '12 Sendoff Party
With the whole DukeEngage group back together again, we drove down to Nogales, AZ where the local Border Patrol headquarter is located. There we met with with one of the sector supervisors Omar. He began our tour with an overview of Border Patrol history.

From his presentation, we learned that Border Patrol began with the purpose of enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1924. Initially, Border Patrol was headquartered in Tubac but later moved to Tucson in '26. Today, the Tucson Sector Border Patrol has jurisdiction over 3/4 of Arizona and 261 miles of the border. They are currently operating with 627 officers and 100 or so of other personnel. During the last fiscal year, they made 90559 apprehensions and confiscated 300077 pounds of marijuana. Omar then went on to talk about Border Patrol's latest security efforts. He talked about the radiation devices they use at checkpoints, the development of Ballard fencing, the use of pepper spray saturation in the tunnels, and the promotion of bike patrols. Throughout his presentation, Omar was also open to questions as well. Consequently, we asked about recidivism, the role of diction, relation between migrants and marijuana trade, and how he views his job as a Border Patrol agent.

During our tour of the office, Omar showed us the muster room where agents are briefed and assigned positions; the equipment room where agents check out necessary equipment; the video control room; and the temporary detention center where migrants are detained for up to 24 hours. The facility was not overwhelmingly large; yet, it had all the necessary space and equipment for operation. There were cubicles, meeting rooms, park lots with overhangs, and a plethora of inspiration posters lining the hallways.

After our two hour tour, we returned to Tucson, and before we knew it, it was time for the Sendoff Party. There we had the opportunity to meet with Duke alums and incoming freshmen. The party was held at a local home and was a small but intimate affair. While we shared what we have been doing in Tucson, we heard various responses and points of view on the immigration issue. It was valuable for us to see how even Tucsonians, who live in the Borderlands, can agree/disagree to various degrees over the issue.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kumbia Kings - Mi Gente

Kumbia Kings - Mi Gente: http://youtube.com/watch?v=eBLyrjlCwdE

Here is some music with a catchy rhythm that invokes some of the issues we have been reflecting upon.

~Jose

Gorbachev on the U.S./Mexico Border Wall

http://youtube.com/watch?v=qGk2iec8v7Y

~Jose

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Week Five (Karen)

On our way to Arivaca, Saturday, July 12.
Turning around, I saw him standing along the side of the road, leaning against the concrete barrier. White shirt with baseball hat turned around. His face was so familiar.

That’s when I realized that he was one of the first few men we met at Las Madres in Nogales, and there he was again on our way back from Benjamin Hill, Sonora, Mexico on Thursday. It was just so unexpected; I was caught off guard. What are the chances, I yelled. I wanted to bang on the window to get his attention, but then I was afraid he would not remember us.

There was time to discuss as we were waiting in line to cross over border, which was when Norma broke the news. The chances of seeing this man was actually quite high because we were right outside of Nogales, where Las Madres is located. The medical aid trailers and mobiles we had just passed was Mariposa, the aid station operated by No More Deaths.

While our sighting of him was no longer as magical as moments before, it was still amazing that we would see him again. And it was good just to see him. He had said that the bump beneath his eye was a tumor and that bump seemed smaller than the weeks before.

Seeing him made me wonder about everyone else we had crossed paths with.

Week 5 - Jose

The week began and ended with me shadowing at the dental clinic all day. I was really happy to arrange, in conjunction with my DukeEngage “Encuentros de la Frontera” mentors, this shadowing experience because the clinic is a community health center that accepts people from all socioeconomic strata with diverse health conditions. People can qualify for reduced health fees and even free dental services. As a result, there are a lot of patients who have never in their life had a dentist or a doctor evaluate their health status.

While in the clinic, I was able to see a lot of dental procedures, and at the same time I learned a lot about the purpose of doing every single little thing they do. For instance, one of the dental hygienists told me that taking x-rays of the teeth and the surrounding bone not only gives the dentist information about the approximate age, teeth wear/personal habits, and oral hygiene. Often, it can also help the dentist identify early health conditions that the patient might not yet know like discovering that a patient is suffering from osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis. Since dentists are sometimes the first health professionals that the patient has ever met, this is important because dentist can make a referral to a doctor (in this case, a physician at the same community clinic) that can perform a more precise screening and thus treat the health condition at an earlier stage. This not only saves money to the US health care system, but it also preserves the general well-being of the individual. Since the dental clinic allowed me to interact with patients who have other severe conditions and/or who needed extensive dental care and oral health education, all of these learning experiences further showed me the importance and widespread need of oral care in the US. They definitely reaffirmed my desire to pursue dentistry and convinced me that I will someday, hopefully, make a difference in my community.

During the middle of the week, I had the opportunity to talk to several people from BorderLinks and the surrounding area in Tucson, Arizona. I found a familiar theme while talking with all of them: You cannot do anything in the US if you lack legal documentation. This defines everything you can or cannot do. You cannot cross the US-Mexico border to visit your relatives who live just across on the US side (whereas US citizens are allowed to cross freely to Mexican border towns and their identity is not questioned until they reach the checkpoint twenty-some kilometers south of the city-limits); if you are critically ill in the desert, you cannot be transported to the hospital by anyone except BORSTAR and Border Patrol (and these organizations can take hours before they arrive and find you in the desert); and you cannot get a job that reflects your studies obtained at another country (even if you are a doctor or dentist which could potentially benefit US health care by increasing access to patients who could not afford it before). Talking to individuals from this community has raised some questions I had not asked myself before – a big one being “How can this be solved so that these problems can be stopped?” As I continue my quest for a possible solution, I hope to continue learning not only from the organizations I work with but from the day-to-day people I encounter in life.

Week Five (Christina)

Just another week in Tucson…work, play, and a little bit of drama. This week was much more focused on the work—small daily activities that almost make one forget that life here is so complicated on an emotional level. We even got in some play, taking in a Rooney concert at a local venue, Hotel Congress, on Tuesday night. Part of the drama came Thursday night when Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County (including Phoenix) came to town. As one news reporter put it, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio came all the way from Phoenix to promote his new book, but local Tucsonians had a message of their own.” As he sat in Barnes and Noble for the signing of his new book, Joe's Law: America's Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and Everything Else That Threatens America, protesters of his horrible immigration policy stood outside. Also in attendance were local media and Fox News.

Friday night was our first Coalición de Derechos Humanos event, a film screening for The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández. The film itself does an amazing job of telling the story, and it comes highly recommended. As Tommy Lee Jones narrates, one learns the story of an 18-year old United States citizen killed by members of the United States National Guard on United States soil. The event went well. Immediately after the event, we returned home to BorderLinks to prepare a meal for the 15 volunteers spending their week with No More Deaths (including Lucy, of course!). After spending all night cooking, we made the trip to Aravaca once more on Saturday to deliver the food and spend some time at the No More Deaths camp. As it’s been rather wet there (yes, in the desert it not only rains, but monsoons), we had quite the adventure getting the 12-passenger van into camp.

And then, on the way back to Tucson Saturday night, we were all reminded of that emotionally complicated life. As we drove away from camp, we spotted a man sitting on the side of the road. “Do you need food, water, aid?” we asked. “No, no, I’m fine,” came the reply. “I’m waiting for my ride. But could you give me ride to the nearest gas station? That would help.” I have a hard enough problem saying no to people who don’t actually need my help—who aren’t in a state of desperation. But unfortunately in this case, simply helping would have been illegal. All we could do was leave him by the side of the road. And the emotional complexity came back.

Week 5 Viviana (new and improved)

I checked out last night. In an instant, everything was out of focus.

Today...
I bought a ring engraved with the Celtic symbol for healing.
I watched as a mother cried over her imprisoned migrant son.

We live in an open wound. We are all hurt.

During my time in Tucson, I have learned, first hand, the emotional stress that doing this sort of work can have on people and organizations. It can be self-destructive if one doesn't stop, step-back, and breathe. Acknowledge that you need to leave. "When the ground beneath you starts a shakin'..." Escape. Sit outside and listen to the rain. Read poetry. Believe that hope can be found in emptiness. Let the raindrops splash against your toes. And breathe. Notice the birds. Be in the moment with your body, conscience of the way the breeze feels against your face. Breathe. Listen to your body. Sleep when you feel tired. Cook a healthy meal to remind you of loved ones. Be present. Sunday was my day to breathe. It was difficult to stop and allow myself to say "I need to breathe today", but I feel healthy now. I feel alive and hopeful. I've shed the weight from my shoulders and soul.

As an activist, need one be a martyr? I think about my future and wonder if it is nonsensical to think of a volunteer program as the best use of my time. Is that where I can be most effective? Or would my time be better spent working with a policy-change oriented NGO? My preference for the latter is frustrating and selfish. I have heard both perspectives during my time here. I have spent time with both types of activists, and wonder if aid work is something I should pursue. I think that what I see as futile martyrdom is putting oneself into a poor neighborhood and helping distribute bagged lunches for a year. I realize that people who do this sort of work are dedicated to the community they serve. But I feel like my participation would only contribute to the application of a new band aid over the situation. The sort of hands-on aid that I believe would be as worth-while as working in an NGO office would be spending my time in an impoverished town developing long-term sustainable change based on an analysis of root causes. There is such responsibility that comes with entering an oppressed community. Dropping in, leaving a crate of supplies, and leaving is helpful in its immediacy, but irresponsible in its inability to plant the seeds needed for larger social change. It is the contradiction and paradox of activism that I am working to sort out for myself.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Week 4 - Raquel

Arivaca, Arizona. The epitome of smalltown, southwestern America. Population of about 1,000 people and probably twice as many livestock. Also my home for this past weekend of July 4-6.

My weekend in Arivaca began with a bang. Literally, as a fireworks show was part of our Fourth of July evening on one of town’s many ranches. Our DukeEngage group had traveled out to Arivaca in order to volunteer with the No More Deaths camp and drop Lucy off. Our invitation to a Fourth of July barbeque was a great surprise as it allowed for something familiar in the midst of the newness of this rural desert town. While I was unsure of what exactly to expect at a barbeque in the middle of ranch country, as I’m a vegetarian, I assumed that I’d consume a lot of mayonaise covered side dishes. As I waited in line for food, I surveyed my surroundings. They were far from what I expected of the desert. There were grassy plains surrounded by fences crafted from an array of materials. This was a far cry from the dry sun scorched wasteland I expected to see. As the line moved forward the available fare soon came into view. Just as I had conjectured there was an assortment of pasta and potato salads but there was also fruit and festive Fourth of July cupcakes. I filled my plate and then found a seat on the stone wall dividing the ranchowner’s sideyard from the horse pastures. The views from my perch on the wall were amazing and from my position I watched as the sky exploded with the vivid colors of sunset.

My views of the sky became increasingly more breathtaking as the fireworks show of the evening began. As fireworks exploded into the evening sky, the ranchowners horses began to stampede, due to the sensory overload caused by the fireworks. The view of the stampeding horses and fireworks was incredibly majestic and a great way for me to end my first evening in Arivaca.

During my second day at the No More Deaths camp, I went out with the group’s morning patrol in the desert. A desert patrol can include many different tasks but in my group’s case our goal was to carry water to a couple of No More Deaths many water drop points. I was incredibly nervous as we prepared to head out for our hike. I had no hiking experience up to that point and I was certain that hiking in the desert would be extremely taxing. As I walked along the unfriendly desert trails the weight of my backpack along with the two gallons of water made my shoulders burn intensely. I really wanted to leave one of my water jugs along the trail which we traveled on rather than carrying it to the final drop off point. It began to feel as though every pore on my body was releasing droplets of sweat which in turn became a network of rivulets streaming out of my skin and subsequently being trapped in the cloth of my shirt. After what felt like miles of this process of lugging water, sweating and rehydrating I saw a blue bin up ahead and given this encouragmant, began to increase my lagging stride. By the time we reached the bin in which we could leave our water, I was slightly out of breath and I worried about whether or not I would be able to continue this difficult work in the hours before we returned to camp.

As it would turn out I was able to succesfully complete the physically challenging task of dropping of water for the migrants. During our last couple of hikes I thought about the relatively coddled conditions which I trekked through the desert and contrasted that with that of the migrants who followed many of the same trails. The experience trully left me in wonder about the inner strength which is evidenced by the migrants who make intensely difficult and long treks through the desert.

Week 4 (Rachel)


I heard a story the other day. It was a story Gandhi liked to tell.

Once upon a time, there was a town along side a river. One day a man went down to the river and was startled to see a baby floating atop the water. He quickly rushed to save the child that was near its death. The next day he found a home for the orphan. Yet to his horror, the following day there were several infants floating down the river again! He rounded up helpers to grab the children from the cold river. The infants continued to come throughout the week. Realizing that this was a serious problem, the town devised a complex plan to gather the abandoned children and locate adoption families. Years passed and the town continued to save the babies as they floated down the river. Yet no one ever bothered to travel upriver to see why the babies were being discarded. No one went to the root of the problem.

This weekend we camped out in the desert with No More Deaths. We went out on patrols with the other volunteers, dropping off water and food along the migrant trails, always on the lookout for anyone in need of our help. Four patrols went by and we found no one.

I turned to one of the summer volunteers and asked how they can stand it. How can you stand those days when your efforts seem fruitless? I hiked for only a weekend and I was frustrated. Their answer was that No More Deaths is like a temporary solution, a band-aid on a much deeper wound. They are catching the babies as they float down the river, headed toward their death. But most of all they are trying to realize a change in the system.

Don’t you think we wish we didn’t have to be out here? But if we didn’t do this…who would? Our government is refusing to take action to prevent the death toll which is now in the THOUSANDS! In fact, it has intentionally pushed the desperate migrant into the harsh desert in hopes of deterring crossing. But this “natural barrier” will not halt the man determined to feed his family. Thousands are crossing every week. We call No More Deaths a “civil initiative” in that the action begins at the grassroots, and hopefully will soon influence Washington to make a policy change. We hope that one day this tent won’t be out here. We hope that one day the people of the United States will go to the root of the problem. We hope that one day they will look to see why the infants are being discarded upriver. Do the American people know why this migration is taking place? Do they understand it? Do they even bother? No. Right now we are trying desperately to catch all those that are within our reach, but it is difficult, we certainly fall short. We need to get to the root of the problem. We must get to the root of the problem before it’s too late.

Week 4 - Jose

This week I got to go on two Samaritan runs in the desert. I got to meet a migrant who had been walking for 7 days. When we encountered him, our Samaritan nurse and I offered him medical help (it is one of the few things we can still do legally). He had run out of water and food, had really red eyes, and had several blisters in both of his feet. This latter condition had slowed him down from the coyote and the rest of the group, which had left him behind. He had become extremely thirsty and had decided to drink water from a cattle tank. I remember the first thing he said was that he felt nauseous – an expected symptom after drinking the parasitic water from cattle tanks and walking in the desert for so long. I knew we could only offer limited help. We gave him a Gatorade so that he could recover the electrolytes lost, Toms pills for the stomach ache/nausea, and a little snack because he had not eaten for 2 days. When we left him, I felt really powerless, not only because I knew I could offer limited medical help but also because under the federal law, I am prohibited to help migrants in any other way besides offering him food and water. It is then that federal policy can become ironic to some individuals: you are allowed to take better care of a dog that crosses an invisible line than a human being who comes with humble intentions to get a job that nobody else wants in order to help his family (this even helps the US economy because taxes are often withheld by IRS after every paycheck and are never returned to this worker because he cannot fill out an income tax).

In addition to the Samaritan experience, I got a TB test and watched several videos about HIPAA and prevention of disease contraction/transmission. After I was done with all this, I began my dental shadowing experience at El Rio Community Health Clinic. I just had 30 minutes to observe before the clinic closed, but I had the opportunity to see a patient receive a comprehensive teeth cleaning and two teeth extractions.

Near the end of the week, I traveled with the rest of the DukeEngage group to the No More Deaths Camp to stay for the weekend. We hiked different well-known migrant trails, but we did not get to encounter anyone. We visited different aid stations where we left gallons of water and picked up the ones that were empty. Very frequently I encountered unpaired shoes in the desert – only one shoe was being left behind! I started wondering what all this was about: Are they now hopping through the desert? How can they survive this place when their soles of their feet have cactus spines? Who is responsible for such suffering: their ignorance and unpreparedness when crossing the desert? The lack of explanation/knowledge from their coyote? Or our government’s decision to enact Operation Gatekeeper which forced migrants to cross to the desert? Perhaps we will never arrive to a consolidated conclusion.

Week Four (Karen)

Escaramuza, a Mexican equestrian team, performing at Tucson's San Juan Fiesta. 
I suppose my Week Four blog comes late not because I don’t have time to write but because I don’t know where to start. Tennessee had mentioned atop Mt. Lemmon the idea that “researchers who go to Cuba for one week write a book. Those who go for two weeks write an article, and those who go for longer don’t write anything,” and I am starting to feel that restraint.

I feel a sort of complacency; in a sense, I am stuck in a rut. But perhaps it’s because I like to be constantly on the move—wake up early, sleep late—so now having a consistent schedule feels a bit restrictive. I know that one day I will have to face the facts and work a 9 to 5 job, but for the time being, for as long as I can, I hope to escape the mundane “real world” lifestyle.

As I had mentioned to Charlie at the beginning of our DukeEngage program, I want to learn more about myself from this experience, and more importantly, I want to know if policy work is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Someone once mentioned to me not to major in public policy, which I will be, because writing memos is like writing wish lists. You have to wait, and the waiting time for change is not worth a whole career. While I do believe that someone has to enact change for change to happen, it makes me wonder what path I should take. What cause is worth my whole-hearted dedication? What job or role should I take? It seems like I should know. I will be declaring my major next semester after all.

I’ve learned a lot these four and now five weeks. It’s just that I don’t know how all these things, from things I’ve touched to the people I’ve talked to, will affect my life, how things will piece together. Will something long-term come out of it?

And I only started considering politics/law/policy at the beginning of my junior year in high school. Anything before that was a mixture of wanting to be an interior designer, fashion designer, architect, artist, marketer, advertiser, film director, band manager/roadie, world traveler, and hotel critic so that I could be part-time world traveler. Nothing ever really “realistic.” I remember when I was seven, I told a friend that I wanted to be an artist. She responded, “Artists don’t make any money.” After that comment, I never thought about being just an artist.

Something similar happened after coming back from our No More Deaths trip this past weekend. My family was frustrated by what we were doing in the desert. It was weird to have to defend myself, but it was not unwarranted. I have to admit that I wasn’t too sure myself of where I stood coming into Tucson, and I am still trying to build my case so to speak. I did like how Rachel, a North Carolina State graduate student who is working with No More Deaths this summer, framed the U.S. immigration issue with the veil of ignorance, a very PubPol 116, a Duke public policy course on ethics, reference, during our reflection Saturday night. But regardless confrontation coming from a person so close was difficult. I felt like I did when my friend told me that being an artist was not a viable option.

So perhaps the point of this blog is to sort things out in my head. It seems a bit selfish to talk about my dreams, hopes, future, etc. But this is what I have been thinking about.

Week 4 (Christina)

It was beautiful. And horrible. All at the same time.

Patriotism and humanitarianism. The definitions of these remain ambiguous. The love for one’s country, and the love for all humanity. Shortly after we arrived here, we were instructed to create a poster of the things we hoped to get out of the summer. Now, half way through this experience, I’m still working on what I wrote and said. My poster read “In Unity and Justice for ALL.” Ironically, this line comes directly from the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America. I also included the words ‘patriotism’ and ‘humanitarianism.’ When explaining my poster, I expressed my feelings about defining them. “I love my country,” I said. “but I’m not always proud of it. But I am American for a reason.” I’m discovering that maybe true patriotism and helping to make your country the best that it can be. And for you, maybe that doesn’t include humanitarianism. But for me, it does. For me, they both come down to one thing—helping people.

These are the things I thought of after living the most patriotic day of my life. July 4th was, as it should be, beautiful. But it was also horrible. We left for the No More Death’s camp near the small town of Arivaca, Arizona, at noon on the 4th of July. When we reached the camp, we joined the other volunteers on the evening patrol for the day. A patrol with this organization includes hiking well-trafficked migrant trails in the desert carrying water and food and providing medical aid to anyone in need. After the patrol, we were invited to attend Arivaca’s 4th of July celebration. Held at Arivaca Ranch, it was as stereotypically patriotic as one can get. Burgers and hotdogs on the grill, country music blaring, and horses and kids running free. Soon after the meal, the fireworks began. And you could have painted a picture. Purple mountains majesty in the background, fireworks in the sky, and horses stampeding through it all. Never was I prouder or guiltier to be taking part in it all. That night, as I camped out under the stars in the desert, I thought about privilege (as I often do here). I got to enjoy that amazing scene because I am American. And that’s all some people want—the good ol’ American Dream. And who are you or who am I to judge them for that? And though I’m not always proud of what we do, that’s patriotism. I have the ability to change the things that shouldn’t be because of the opportunities this country provides. I love being American.

The next day, we rose at five in the morning to prepare for the morning patrol. On the way to the site where we would be hiking, one of the experienced volunteers told us about a scene we may encounter. You see, the desert is beautiful, but it holds some of the most horrible secrets in its beauty. A “Rape Tree” is one of these secrets. A tree containing a woman’s underwear or bra, it is what one may call a ‘trophy’ of where a sexual assault took place. Not only is the desert a naturally deathly place, it becomes even more dangerous for woman. Oftentimes the coyote, or guide, of a group will use his position of power to take advantage of women travelers. Then, as if the act itself isn’t horrible enough, he displays the assault to the world. It is impossible to even try to understand such behavior. After hearing of this atrocity, we could only hope not to see it. On the evening patrol that day, three of us saw “Rape Trees” first hand.

The desert was beautiful. And horrible. All at the same time.

Week 4 Viviana

Ghosts haunt the desert.

Desert spirits of a dark and mysterious nature have always traveled these trails...those who worship desert gods know them to favor retribution over the tender dove of forgiveness.
-Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil's Highway

We walked a dry, rocky trail. The sun poured over us. We could hear the ambient insect drone of a hot summer day; the harsh shuffling of our feet against the desert ground. Sand and rocks. Socks. Two backpacks. Floral women's shoes. Small remnants of human life lining the barren trails.

I watched the ground intently as I walked back, afraid of the thorns and fire ants below my feet.

Yellow sand, brown rocks, gray rocks.

Yellow sand, brown rocks, gray rocks.

Something glimmered. We stopped. A ray of gold light shot up from the sand. Something metallic was lodged between the rocks. We reached down and pulled. A cross. A beautiful rosary buried in the sand. I gently wrapped my hand around it, running my fingers over the small gold figure of Jesus. This was someone's companion, someone's protector. Someone prayed with this rosary. It was precious to someone. Sacred to someone. And now it was in my hand.

I'm still holding on to it. I'm troubled by the privilege of assigning value to someone's belongings. But I want to honor the migrant who owned this rosary; to celebrate the beauty of their humanity, the sorrow of their crossing.

They entered the gates of hell the moment they entered the unforgiving desert.

Fantasmas frecuentan el desierto.

Week 4- Lucy


Week 4. it's been a long time. i really can't remember mexico at this point. another group came to borderlinks last saturday. apparently, they will also be working with the children's camp there. i can't say that i'm not a little jealous. when rachel discovered some more photos of Alberto and Miguel in Karen's facebook albums, i didn't know whether to smile and laugh or to feel slightly guilty. after all, we were able to leave Mexico. we came back to the US and no one even checked our passports to make sure it was us. Noel, unfortunately doesn't not know Alberto and Miguel and cannot tell me how they are doing. it seems that i have completely lost touch with them.

at 12:00 today, we will be leaving for the No More Deaths camp in Arivaca. i can't say that i'm not scared because i am both scared and excited. on one hand, i've been doing patrols with the Samaritans so i shouldn't really be worried about the desert extremes. but on the other hand, i'm feeling like i'm on this giant cliff where i can see a change being made to myself and to my spirit. yet, i don't know how i will deal with the change. talking to viviana and karen today, i realized that i will be both emotionally and physically beaten when i returned. if nothing else, i will sure hurt like hell in my muscles.

yesterday, with the Samaritans Jose and i along with two Samaritans traveled to the No More Deaths camp to help find a lost migrant. apparently, the man was abandoned by his pollero. Luckily he happened to have a cell phone. he called his family in mexico, reporting he was near a house and surrounded by cows. if you know anything about southern arizona, you will know that it is cattle country. in other words, looking for someone in the sonoran desert is like looking for a needle in a hay sack.

on our way to the camp we met up with some members of No More Deaths. they had found a woman with two children--7 and 8 years old. what business do children have crossing the desert? what business? they had also discovered a man who had also been abandoned. he had been walking for 7 days and was only 20-30 miles away for the Border. he had been drinking cattle water aka water that's littered in parasites, for 3 days. he said his heart and lungs hurt. he wanted to carry on even without a guide. we bandaged his feet and off he went. he was going to washington and he wanted to know how far, how many miles.

"Days brother, days..." - mike wilson

it's encounters like these that really make you wonder. people killing people everyday. moms and dads who can't bring enough to feed their kids. familiea eating corn tortillas and salt while we spend what they make in 8-10 hour day on one cab fare to the laundry mat.

i saw a migrant child become infatuated and amazed by an iphone.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tucson Speaks

video

Documenting the documenting (Tennessee)

In the dorm at Borderlinks Karen, Viviana, Christina and Lucy work on editing the groups first documentary piece. 

The DukeEngage crew spent several days over the last week practicing their audio and photography skills. They then hit the streets of Tucson to interview locals about their perspective on immigration. The responses they gathered were then edited into one short slideshow. 

It's been really great to spend the last week in Tucson with this crew. I'm struck by their motivated and inquisitive nature. There's no doubt they are bringing a lot of heart to this work. 

Thanks for sharing the experience with me. 
Tennessee Watson
Center for Documentary Studies