On April 11, I gave my first-ever sermon at Brew City Church in Milwaukee!
I was invited to reflect upon my time traveling, and although it was difficult to summarize, I feel pretty good about my first attempt at preachin’.

Visit our church website to listen (scroll down to ‘Our Dependence on the Poor’):

http://www.brewcitychurch.org/audio/

Feedback welcome!

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By some miracle, my Dad and 16-year-old Spanish-studying brother James walked into my apartment in Nogales, Mexico last weekend to surprise me!

The visit was a really welcome break, and it was wonderful to see them en vivo after five  months of separation.

I am so encouraged by this visit – that they too have now seen a glimpse of the reality of the  border, and that I will not be alone in my experience when I go home. It was a joy to have  shared it, and I know they learned a lot as well.

Also significant: I had the chance to stay with them in a hotel that had HEAT over the  weekend, and I effectively thawed! Also took my first shower in probably 5 days. There are  some aspects of the Estados Unidos that you just gotta love.

Thanks for coming and giving me a burst of energy to continue on my journey, guys! Mad props for your detective work in finding me. I love you!

❤  katie

P.S. My brother is awesome. This is a given.

This leg of the journey has been characterized by heaviness. The reality and suffering here feels like a crushing weight, leaving me weary and searching for how I might stand up under it.

I have the privilege of spending two weeks volunteering with the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, México. Kino is a one-year-old binational Mexican & United States Jesuit organization working to address border and migration issues. I am working two meals a day at the comedor, providing warm food and sometimes clothing and medical care to the recently deported migrant.

Hundreds of people each day are dropped off in a Wackenhut private security bus into this economically depressed border city an hour south of Tucson, Arizona. They arrive with nothing more than some of the belongings they happened to have with them at the time of their arrest in an oversized plastic U.S. Border Security and Customs Enforcement bag, and a white slip of paper declaring their deportation date. The bag, their flopping tennis shoes disassembled during the detention center shoelace confiscation, unwashed hair, frequently a limp, and always a tired look of defeat identify each deportee as clearly as the border wall punctuates the imaginary line that’s on everyone’s mind.

Border wall at Mariposa entry in Nogales

While drying dishes after the breakfast meal or chopping cucumbers for lunch, story after story is generously shared. Some tell in perfect English of their 40 years in the States, having been brought there by their parents when they were 2 years old – it is the only life they’ve known. Others tell of their wife and kids still on the other side, and how they have no choice but to cross again – that life without their kids isn’t worth living. And many have epic tales of days upon days of hiking through the inhospitable desert terrain, thirsty and starving, robbed and raped, with bleeding blisters and twisted ankles, lost or separated from their group – only to be picked up by the Border Patrol most of the way to Tucson for a night in jail and back to square one.

Kino Comedor for the deported migrant

Looking into the tired eyes of my joking dish-drying friends in Nogales, now is not the time to talk about abstract policy or citizenship and the law. There is a place for those discussions, and I intent to be part of the structural change that will alleviate the situations of danger, risk, poverty, hopelessness, and separation from their families that these children of God currently find themselves in. But this place is the emergency room of the immigration debate – a place where a warm meal, a jacket with which to survive the 40 degree rainy weather, a place to stay the night so that you don’t have to sleep out in the cemetery, loving eye contact that restores dignity and respect, a patient open ear to your story, and space to decide your next move is the only thing that makes any sense.

In honor of this place, I would like to share a few testimonies from the friends that have won my heart in a matter of hours. I hope that their faces and dreams will remind us what we are actually talking about on the news or with our vote: precious human lives.

TESTIMONIOS

YOVANI is a 23-year-old Guatemalan man who has lived in L.A. doing construction work for 3 years. He went home to Guatemala for the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death, which is a culturally significant time for the family. When his mother passed away, because of the risk of not being able to re-enter the U.S. he had chosen not to go home, but felt that he needed to be with his family this time. He is now facing the dreaded risk of trying to return undetected. Yovani volunteered with us working very hard in the comedor for a week, spending his free time serving the other migrants. He has been picking up some day labor work around Nogales where he can, trying to save up a little bit of money so he can attempt to cross back to where his apartment is in L.A. He came back the two days before I left to make sure he could say goodbye to me – a really sweet guy.

Yovani’s story is a classic one for undocumented people living in the United States – the impossible decision when a loved one is sick or passes away of whether to go home or to stay safely in the U.S. I can’t imagine making that complex decision in the midst of grief.

JOSÉ MANUEL showed up the morning of January 18th in nothing but an open-backed hospital robe, paper-thin hospital pajama pants, socks, and flip-flops. He is 20 years old and tears of fear and defeat were openly streaming down his face. He had an unbandaged wound on his head and his eyes were completely red with blood. He shared with us that he had been in a car accident on the 15th while he was being driven, hidden, across the border. We later found the article describing what had happened to him here:

http://www.kvoa.com/news/crash-involving-illegal-immigrants-leaves-1-dead/

Because he had been hidden underneath the car, he couldn’t see what happened during the crash. The woman who died instantly was right next to him. He was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson where they removed shards of the vehicle from both of his eyes and put him in a neck brace. Two days later, on the 17th of January, they deemed him ready for release. Having cut his clothes off when he came in, he was sent out in the paper-thin hospital clothes and nothing else. José Manuel was deported on a night bus, dropping him off in the unfamiliar city of Nogales, México at a time of day that it is impossible to find a place to sleep or eat. This injured kid with no real clothing spent the night outside, with the temperature getting down into the 30s overnight. He arrived at the comedor in the morning. We listened to his story, fed him, got him some clothes, and took him over to a Mexican government deportee service agency (Grupo Beta) that got him a ticket home to his state of Puebla. I hope he has arrived okay.

José Manuel’s treatment really shocked me. He was a really sweet kid, and his tears were so scared and lonely – I felt like I could imagine how he was feeling, being exposed to so many atrocities and being so far from home or anyone who would love him or look out for him. He passed through so many hands between the hospital, the people processing his deportation, the bus driver who brought him over to México… and not one person said: ‘STOP! This is a scared young boy, in a fragile medical condition. Let’s get him some clothes, or let’s wait to deport him in the morning when it’s warmer and he can find a place to stay.’ Not one person was sensitized to his humanity and vulnerability. And I think it will take him a really long time to recover from being treated like that.

I met ANA JULIA at the Mexican government services center when we were waiting with José Manuel to get his ticket home. She has two daughters, one 22 and one 20 years old – just like my sister and I. She is from Oaxaca City, a very beautiful place that I have visited twice. We chatted a bit about that, and I asked her about her trip. She was on her way north to New Jersey to find her 22-year-old daughter, who had a new baby – Ana Julia had never yet met her only grandchild. She was moving through the Sonoran desert with a group, but had many wounds and told me she had been beaten up and raped twice in the desert by the coyote. The openness to share horrific personal trauma such as that with a near-stranger can only attest to the way deep suffering becomes almost casual conversation for migrants as many are so consistently experiencing trauma on their journeys.

amigo Felipe ("Pony") - a talented illustrator

The painful stories keep coming. The exhaustion I feel from absorbing these accounts doesn’t even begin to compare to what any one of these children of God has suffered through. As a citizen of the United States, I need to continue to hear testimonies of suffering at the hands of my country and take responsibility for them. This reality needs to compel me to action – to make me part of the alleviation. Our differences in citizenship were based only upon chance.
I never want to forget these faces.

Sisters Engracia, Imelda, Lorena, & Father Sean

Somehow in years of hard daily work, the Sisters who run the Comedor have maintained their energy & hope. When I ask how, they say the motivation comes from the migrants. The vitality of those who have suffered more than I can bear to hear about is remarkable. The generosity of the volunteers washing dishes, the trust of those who share their stories with a citizen of the country that has rejected them – I want to learn to draw on that as the Sisters have learned to do. I know it’s possible.

‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.
(Hebrew Bible, Jeremiah 22:16)


Other photos of interest from around Nogales:

Line forming outside the comedor - tienen hambre!

Art depicting migration (Mexico side)

Migration border wall art

our volunteer apartment

there have been many writing-worthy events lately! namely:

  • leaving el salvador
  • traveling with josiah
  • christmas in guatemala
  • san cristobal de las casas, chiapas
  • oaxaca
  • mexico city
  • el paso, texas / ciudad juarez …

in all of the activity, i have gotten way behind on reflection and writing and sharing of photos. i intend to go back and detail these adventures… but currently wanted to reflect on my most recent time in nogales, mexico. check back for more content in between!

in love, solidarity, and peace,

kati

I smell the fire boiling water to soften the maíz for tomorrow’s tortillas, its smoke stinging my eyes… a trickle of sweat travels down my spine, the sweltering heat trapped and amplified by the cinder block walls around me… I smile at the explosive sound of laughter of the beautiful dark-skinned children playing on the metal playground. I recall the generous and lavish hospitality offered in the most inadequate of homes… the shy smiles and downcast eyes of the women whose pena prevents them from approaching me to start a conversation… and the earnestness and authenticity of being with a people with open hearts, struggling to survive and seguir adelante.

It is already difficult to take myself back to the transition of leaving El Salvador. But it only takes a few minutes of cumbia rhythms and reviewing sweet photos, or unexpectedly hearing from a Salvadoran bicha to transport me back to what seems like an entirely different world. I couldn’t be more grateful for my experience with the open and loving Salvadoran people that I have had the privilege to be with for four months. I am grateful that they included me in their lucha – their daily struggle. I am grateful that they taught me to make tortillas over the fire, took me to their families’ milpas where they grow the corn and beans that sustain them, taught me new words in Spanish, and were patient as I learned to wash my clothes by hand. I am grateful that they proudly shared their small casas and their simple food, knowing full well the different lifestyle that I come from but offering what they have anyway. Their openness and welcome has forever transformed my perspective of the world and what it means for us all to luchar together as one people.

How might I best communicate the deep impact of what I have experienced? A day comes to mind that I have mentioned before – the trip up to Las Nubes my the first week in El Salvador. It was the first community we visited that had no access to potable water, a trend that we would later learn was much more common than we imagined. As we visited with women, children, and chickens in a home made up of nothing more than mud and branches, thunder shook the volcano and signaled the unleashing of a sudden downpour. We watched in awe as the family’s homemade gutter system channeled the lluvia into a rusted metal barrel, replenishing their only affordable water source. As the water level in the barrel rose, so did their reassurance of their family’s continued survival – and as we all felt it too, our perceptions of rain and the gift of life-giving water were forever changed. Gracias a Dios por lo necesario para sobrevivir otra semana junt@s.

My Salvadoran housemates, Mari and Rita, showed me a level of character in their sacrifice to attend university and commitment to their families that dwarfs the challenges of my life. Moving to the city to study yet still taking the reckless 4-hour bus ride home every weekend, sometimes having to study in their lámina homes by candlelight, is a tough routine to keep up for six years. But they do it with grace and joy, and are some of the strongest women I’ve met.

Matilde Mendoza de Carballos is a dear friend who blew my standards of hospitality wide open. It is a complete joy to spend time with her, her husband Rodrigo, and their hysterical 8- and 9-year-old sons, Rudy and René. Matilde is just 25 years old, but because she had to drop out of school after second grade to raise her younger siblings, was acompañada when she was just 15, and already has 9 years of parenting experience, she feels like a peer and an elder at the same time. The Carballos family is blessed in the context of the Cantón el Cedro community – the four of them share a tiny three-room cinder block home. The first weekend I spent with their family, I was given one of the two bedrooms which, though it was a tight squeeze, contained a queen size bed that was all for me. Not quite sure whom I had displaced, the next day I asked Matilde about where the rest of the family was sleeping. She showed me that they were all squeezed into the other tiny bedroom, sharing one twin bed and a straw cot between the four of them while I rolled over to my heart’s content in the spacious luxury of the room next door. And she didn’t stop there – the whole weekend Matilde (over)stuffed me with wonderful food at mealtime and even gifted me a pair of her handmade earrings, despite the fact that some days her family has only tortillas to eat and her jewelry hasn’t been selling.

I soon found out that the Carballos family was just an introduction to the depth of hospitality offered by Salvadorans living with so little – scenes like this one continued to astound me as I met more and more families that opened their lives to me. In Matilde’s proud smile as she looked at her boys; in Rudy’s chubby cheeks and infectious laugh; and in the universal truth that for 25 cents, small boys world-over will find and mercilessly kill that scary cockroach that scuttled under your bed – I saw myself and my family in the mirror of the Carballos.

And the reflection does not hesitate to challenge me:

How much of what’s “mine” am I willing to share?

Sor Ana Rosa is one of the fiercest women I have ever met. She is the nun who works every day in the Cantón el Cedro community, bringing with her the only meager and insufficient support resources that the people in Cedro have access to. Along with the hard work of many volunteers in the community, Sor is responsible for the initiation of the comedor that feeds 125 malnourished children daily, two preschool classes, a housing project, and the community garden.

For months I didn’t think Sor and I would get along – she is an incredibly stubborn and determined woman, which I later realized is the product of a lifetime of the hard work of accompanying and defending communities in great suffering. My turning point with Sor was the day that I interviewed her about her view of liberation for the women of Cantón el Cedro. Her hard exterior melted as she held back tears describing her desire for the people of Cedro to have access to education, to become organized, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Her work and love for the people lives deep inside her being. It nearly leaves me speechless to reflect on my respect for the way she has exchanged her desires for her own life for a deep longing for the liberation of the poor and suffering. Her hospitality for Josiah and I in her convent and her hug and goodbye tears when I left were a wonderful honor. I aspire to let a lifetime of selflessness sink deep into my soul in the way Sor has shown me is possible.

Oh, Leonel Menjívar. If this little guy didn’t take over my heart, I don’t know what did. Just eleven years old, Leo has the sweetest smile and deep, rich skin – you can already tell he is going to be a real heartbreaker. He is one of a multitude of examples I saw of children working hard to help their parents without complaint. We walked down with him to the family milpa at five or six o’clock in the morning to harvest enough corn for a few days’ tortillas. As he goes, he carries a basket on his shoulder almost too heavy for me to lift as he skillfully maneuvers up the almost-vertical, muddy slope of the mountainside. The obedience and contentedness of the Salvadoran children I met is a stark contrast to what I have seen in most children in the States – a whine, complaint, or excuse was extremely rare to see. Kids are expected to function as an equal part of the family unit working toward survival, and seem to be healthy and happy for it. Their simple games of marbles, playfulness while swimming in the river, and mature understanding of hard work and service to the family made them so easy to fall in love with.

Oscar Romero said, “How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt, and everyone is responsible.”

It would be simpler to reduce these vignettes and relationships to a common theme or overall lesson, but the truth is that they weave over and under one another in living motion as I continue to integrate these many different worlds. My joy and hope is in the way these people have sunken into my heart, breeding a fierce determination for justice and love that I couldn’t fabricate before. My prayer is that I will continue to encounter reality and let it change me – that my heart will be a soft and moldable instrument, oriented toward GOD by these wise teachers who know love best.

Today is the third day that I am accountable to Angélica.

When my fellow student Emily and left to spend our fall break in Guatemala, we went with the educational objective of visiting Casas de Migrantes to inform our understanding of immigration through Guatemala (aaand also with the intention of seeing some sea turtles). As tends to be true a lot in Latin America, plans changed. And had the prospect of five additional hours on a life-threatening bus ride and an unwelcoming priest not deterred us from our original plan, I would have never been changed by la familia Zamora Chavez.

We met Angélica and her eight-year-old daughter Rosemary in the Parque Central of Antigua, one of the most touristy areas of the country. At first she seemed no different than the countless women and children in bright traditional dress who relentlessly attempted to persuade us to buy their bracelets, necklaces, change purses, and scarves. “¡Conocimos esta tarde! ¿Me recuerda?” After we declined to buy, instead of moving on she plopped down on the bench next to us asked if we remembered meeting her earlier. I squinted and recalled a moment in the afternoon, not unlike a million identical moments on this trip, when I had asked her for directions to the park. We made light conversation, eventually meandering to the topic of traditional Guatemalan food – Emily and I wanted her advice as to what authentic dish we could look for, as we had spent the afternoon passing touristy Italian restaurants and burger joints. Her answer surprised us.

“Les invito a mi casa,” she replied – I invite you to my house.

Fast forward through a great night’s stay at a hilariously cliché hostel to us sitting on the same bench in the Parque Central, waiting for Angélica, who was to arrive at 10 am. As the sun intensified we became unsure as to whether she would actually come – but sure enough, nearly an hour later, we spotted her face amongst the bright colors and Mayan patterns of the working women. Of course we assured her that we had not been waiting long at all, and off we went to the market to buy the ingredients as we had agreed on the night before, Rosemary in tow.

angelica y rosemary

After a chaotic weave through the bustling stands and a traumatic trip through the open-air meat section, we boarded the bus to her pueblo: San Antonio Aguas Calientes. After a short ride we found ourselves walking up her street and through a corrugated metal door into her mother’s house. The house was just as I expected it to be based on my two months of experience so far in El Salvador: dirt floors, a fire to cook over, the overwhelming smell of smoke, electricity and a gas stove, no running water, and a bounty of kids and extended family members (the relations of whom would take months to memorize). We were welcomed enthusiastically by Angélica’s sisters, Telma and Milvia, who immediately invited us to join them in cooking a Mayan dish called Pepián.

tortillando

From roasting chiles to chopping carrots to making tortillas, the women were eager to explain and include us in every aspect of the dish. It was such a fun community effort that we didn’t even notice as three hours passed and our stomachs were grumbling. When we finally got to sit down and enjoy the meal, we learned that Pepián is typically a dish made for weddings, and felt humbled that the family would go to such lengths on an average day just for us.

As we five women lingered at the table, helping ourselves to more rice and just one more tortilla, the family’s story began to emerge. There was no element that I haven’t heard on a weekly basis here – there is not enough work; the men are in the fields all day earning a minimum wage that can’t even stretch to feed the family; in hard times all they have to eat is tortillas and salt. The Guatemalan public school system is so bad that sometimes teachers don’t show up for fifteen days at a time, so they have no choice but to send their children to private school – which costs 400 quetzales (about $50) a month for each child, which is more than papá can even hope to earn. As I looked around at the kids playing so sweetly and helping their parents in every type of work without complaint, the tías told me that there was no way economically that any of the children would be able to attend school past the second grade. And for some reason, in that moment as I was trying to calculate the impossibility of their monthly budget in my head, I began to understand.

abuela y nieta

Stories of suffering have an interesting effect. As one moves from memorizing statistics to hearing the experiences of individuals, reality definitely becomes more real and human; but a true softening of the heart and opening to solidarity is taking longer for me that I would’ve anticipated. There are many people here that I have come to have great affection for who suffer much, but I have had a hard time pulling forth as much compassion as I would like to be able to offer. Somehow, entering Angélica’s home in such a natural way – meeting in a park, being invited over, and cooking together – evoked an emotional investment in their family’s oppression that broke through the tension I had been stuck behind and invited me to begin to really get it.

Knowing that migration is an inescapable topic here, we asked whether the family had anyone in the United States. The tías admitted that they had considered sending a family member to work there, but had ultimately decided that it was better for the family to stay together and struggle for every meal than to be apart. I attempted to encourage them that I thought they were absolutely right on – that the family’s unity is the biggest priority and that life in the north isn’t all it’s made out to be. But sitting in their kitchen surrounded by the reality of their material poverty, one cannot honestly encourage a family to stay without acknowledging the structural change that would need to happen to make that a possibility for them. Their daily lucha for survival must have an end in sight, or else we give them no choice but to make terrible familial sacrifices and take the horrific risks of migration.

I told the women that I was honored that they opened their home and their story to me, and that I am committed to remembering their family each day as I will return to the United States and work for the change that is needed to alleviate the pain our country inflicts on this part of the world. And in a way I have never meant it before, I am committed to remembering and honoring their family’s struggle. I am more deeply betrothed to the change I will seek through my work and my life, because I am responsible for more than just myself. I am responsible to those in Latin America whom I have loved and who have loved me so well.

todas juntas

I am now accountable to Angélica. Across national, cultural, and economic lines, I am personally accountable to her liberation.

This story, I believe, is my beginning of Love… of Solidarity… of Kingdom and Community. That it would only continue on and become deeper still.

OUR FIRST STRIKE

from Cesar Chavez’s “The Organizer’s Tale” (1966)

 

Our first strike was in May, 1965, a small one but it prepared us for the big one. A farmworker from McFarland names Epifano Camacho came to see me. He said he was sick and tired to how people working the roses were being treated, and he was willing to “go the limit.” I assigned Manuel and Gilbert Padilla to hold meetings at Camacho’s house. The people wanted union recognition, but the real issue, as in most cases when you begin, was wages. For grafting roses, they were promised $9.00 a thousand, but they were actually getting $6.50 and $7.00. Most of them signed cards giving us the right to bargain for them.

We chose the biggest company with about 85 employees, not counting the irrigators and supervisors, and we held a series a meetings to prepare the strike and call the vote. There would be no picket line; everyone pledged on their honor not break the strike.

Early on the first morning of the strike, we sent out ten cars to check the people’s homes. We found lights in five or six homes and knocked on the doors. The men were getting up and we’d say, “Where are you going?” They would dodge, saying “Oh, uh … I was just getting up, you know.” We’d say, “Well, you’re not going to work, are you?” And they’d say, “No.”

Dolores Huerta, who was driving the green panel truck, saw a light in one house where four rose-workers lived. They told her they were going to work, even after she reminded them of their pledge. So she moved the truck so it blocked their driveway, turned off the key, put it in her purse and sat there alone.

That morning the company foreman was madder than hell and refused to talk to us. None of the grafters has shown up for work. At 10:30 we started to go to the company office, but it occurred us that maybe a woman would have a better chance. So Dolores knocked on the office door, saying, “I’m Dolores Huerta from the National Farm Workers Association.” “Get out!” the man said, “You communist … Get out!” I guess they were expecting us, because as Dolores stood arguing with him, the cops came and told her to leave. She left.

For two days, the fields were idle. On Wednesday, they recruited 35 Filipinos from out of town who knew nothing of the strike. They drove through escorted by three sheriff’s patrol cars, one in front, one in the middle and one at the rear with a dog. We didn’t have a picket line, but we parked across the street and just watched them go through, not saying a word. All but seven stopped working after half an hour, and the rest had quit by mid-afternoon.

The company made an offer the evening of the fourth day, a package deal that amounted to a 120% wage increase.

dolores huerta in 1965Dolores Huerta in 1965.

 

 

america ferrera as dolores

america ferrera as Dolores for something or other…

 

halloweenme as Dolores Huerta for Halloween in El Salvador.

 

Dolores, that my life and spirit will resemble yours! Thank you for being a woman worthy of being looked up to.