.. la puedes reconocer?
When God speaks to you, can you recognizer Her?
Tonight, after I finished a day of canvassing and rehearsal for Sunday worship at Southside Presybterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, my friend Danielle and I set out to visit an intentional community named Cara Mariposa for their community dinner. Casa Mariposa was founded for those who had served as activists and needed a place to recuperate. Its mission is hospitality and regeneration, and since 2009, it has been taking in guests – including migrants, passers-through like myself, and people of all faith backgrounds.
We knew we had arrived to the Casa because we recognized the humanitarian signs covering the home’s yard. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we noticed a double rainbow to the east — just as the sign of God’s presence that we needed. Danielle and I came to Casa Mariposa to try and distribute signs for our campaign to keep a woman named Rosa here in Tucson with her family. Along with many other dedicated individuals, we have been distributing these signs in the past few weeks of what has been an eleven month battle to secure her documentation and keep her from being torn apart from her family. It is the kind of work that requires grit, determination, and undiluted passion. Tonight, with our energy running low, I think we were both grateful for an open meal and conversation with like-minded community members.
The house is founded on Quaker values, so in addition to holding silent worship before the meal, its walls are decorated with art and murals about non-violence. “The only solution is love,” one cloth said, beside an image of the St. Oscar Romero who preached that “We have never preached violence, except the violence of love.” As a dozen or so people gathered for dinner, we sat in a circle and all spoke in Spanish to introduce ourselves. Among those who lived in Tucson and one woman visiting from Mexico, we had two sisters from Guatemala who appeared to be in their late teens with us. They were quiet and had already eaten, so I sat back to talk with them for a few minutes before eating dinner.
When most people think of immigrants, they tend to think of 18 to 24-year-old men crossing from Mexico with drugs and criminal records. It is the image we have been fed by the media time and time again. If only I could illustrate with statistics how false this image is, how complicated the reality truly is, but unfortunately, Border Patrol does not release that kind of data. If they did, it would undermine their whole plan to end terrorism because we would see that those crossing the border are primarily those in search of work, of family, of security, of health, of life that they are determined to find on the other side. When drugs are carried, it is because most are forced into being the scapegoats of cartels. And the more we pump into militarizing the border, the stronger the cartel power becomes. It is a journey that takes unimaginable determination to make it. It is the strength that a migrant’s non-violent love propels them to cross a desert and face death to do so.
The two sisters from Guatemala who joined us, Beatriz and Ana, were prime examples of the kind of courageous person it takes to cross the border. They are 17 and 19 years old, just a year and a few months apart. When I first sat down to talk with Beatriz, the older sister, she told me that they left their small town in Guatemala because their father had sexually abused them for 8 years. She told me this openly, without flinching. They had not seen their mother for 14 years. When they had enough, they gradually saved their fathers’ money in their floorboards, and they fled.
The journey that they faced was one of the most treacherous they could ever take as young women. As Central Americans, they had very little protection in Mexico and could be kidnapped, raped, robbed, or at the least, sent back to Guatemala in any moment. Yet they knew their situation at home could not get any worse, so they left, determined to find their mother in upstate New York City.
Seven days in buses with almost no food. Walking two days in the desert heat just to arrive to the US border — where they were caught by border patrol. When asked for their information, Beatriz told them that they were going to see their mother whom they had not spoken to in 7 years, and they had not seen for 14. She had prayed that her mother’s number would be the same, so she gave it to the border patrol agent. He gave her mother the call and — thanks be to God — it was the same number. Beatriz told me that she and Ana were both crying uncontrollably when they heard their mother’s voice on the other end. I could only imagine what the border patrol officer could have felt when witnessing this reunion that their mother thought would never be possible.
The girls were kept together despite their difference in age (a miracle, only because Beatriz stood up for her sister’s experiences of trauma). They were not handcuffed (another miracle), but instead sent to the emergency room, both with severe digestive issues and dehydration. (Side note: The militarization of the border means that arrival is treacherous not only to the spirit and the mind, but also to one’s physical systems – traveling in a bus through Mexico before walking with no food or water is not the most viable for one’s well-being. Beatriz couldn’t take her medications, for instance, giving her life-threatning stomach issues.) Thankfully, they were treated well, and after a short time in detention, released and sent to a protective home for migrants in Tucson on Saturday evening.
So there they landed, next to me on a sofa — strangers from totally opposite sides of a continent, with both of them spilling out their life stories before me like we had stumbled into a most unlikely friendship. They were so open and Beatriz was so talkative that I had no desire but to listen to them. So after the group ate dinner, I was the firs to ask to join when the girls decided that they wanted to climb Tucson’s favorite mountain Tumomac.
The thought blew my mind at first. These girls had traveled the length of a continent, and they wanted to climb a mountain on their last night in the desert in 85-degree heat? I have learned to never be surprised by the resilience of the human spirit, so we went. There was a flood of people coming down off the mountain as the sunset took over the horizon. The saguaro stood against the valley of the Tucson lights, and everything in the world seemed serene. We went at our own pace, six young women chatting as we went. As we came down from the summit, I asked Beatriz what made her such a brave soul. In response, she shared this wisdom with me:
“When my father would sexually abuse me, I always knew that God was with me. I had this feeling that I was protected, this sense that I knew it would not have the power with me. And so with both me and my sister, it was like I would observe the situation and not let it get to me. I am strong because of what I have faced in my life, and it is life’s storms that have given me strength and courage.
I give thanks to God in everything and I trust Him — in the good and the bad — because I know that no matter what happens to me, no matter what storms life presents me with, I am strong enough. I am strong with my love for my mother and my sister. In the good and the bad, I trust in God. And this faith is what carries me.
You must have faith in God, and in yourself. If you want to help other people, you must know that God gives you the strength you need, and God wants you to believe in yourself. If you do not have this, this love for yourself, you can do nothing.
All of life, there will be problems in front of me, and I know this. They will surround me. But my dream is to provide for my mother and sister, to buy a home on land so that we can always be together. I am never going to forget that God is with me, and didn’t just deliver me here in the past, but is with me through everything. This means I can face my problems because if I don’t, I can never be happy. I cannot leave them to be faced later, and the more that I confront, the stronger I become.”
As we came down off that mountain, her mother called her to plan her airport trip for tomorrow. “How will I recognize you and your sister?” her mother asked. “You will know one of us,” Beatriz said, “and if you know one, you will find the other. Plus, Grandma says I look like you,” she added at last.
I had never before thought about the difficulty of being able to recognize someone who you had given birth to, nursed, and then been forced to leave. With so many years passing, of course the girls looked completely different. Something in me told me that they will find each other without a problem because, in the words of Rilke, “Lovers do not find each other, they were within each other all along.”
If you met God, would you recognize Her standing before you? From what Beatriz has told me, I know God will have no problem recognizing us, for She has loved us since the beginning, and will continue to love us through the darkest of nights and the fullest of moons. She calls us from womb to grave to be Her beloved, and walks with us through sweat and blood to deliver us. The Spirit guides through every storm and affliction until we learn to trust and recognize Her presence working within us.
I told Beatriz tonight that sometimes I wonder why I came to Tucson. Especially in the summer. She reminded me that even if it is mysterious why I am here, that the Spirit is alive & calling me to drop everything, then point to the rainbow like it is the first and last I will ever see (“How sad would it be to have missed this!” in the words of my friend Danielle.) The Spirit calls to drop our plans and walk up the mountain with strangers until they become like family. There, in the darkness of the summit, the city lights gathered across the land like the constellations above us. In both of these moments of light breaking in and around us, the world takes on a new clarity, and we can recognize something — the reflection of the heavens’ Spirit entering within, around, and before us like we had never been able to recognize previously. And I am grateful today that two God-sent women, two migrants who have been abused and beaten down by their own father, taught me what it means to see anew and live faithfully.
I am grateful that I will never be able to explain how or why human journeys cross when they do. I will be praying for our sisters Beatriz and Ana as their camino continues tomorrow, and a tear-filled reunion ensues with their mother after fourteen long years of separation. I pray that they will be able to stay together on this side of the border, and that their love for God and one another will sustain them, no matter their financial or legal circumstances. And I pray that as they move northward, their companions and those in power will recognize the Spirit’s presence moving across borders — bringing Beatriz, Ana, and thousands of others like them to show the power of non-violent love — the same love that will finally bring us to recognize the light of God within us and within one another.