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Borderlands Dialogues: On Empathy and Accompaniment, Part 2

Gary: Tell me, cousin Kristy, what questions are going through your head right now.

Kristy: Thanks for asking this, Gary. I am wondering how we can fathom all we are seeing and hearing here:

How can we begin to understand what is going on at the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands today? How can those of us who live far from the border grasp the complexities of movements, detainments, humanitarian outreach, and even pro-wall proponents?

So indulge me by joining with me in an exercise in empathy for a moment. To move toward a deeper understanding of what we are observing here, close your eyes for a moment: Take a deep breath and focus. Really focus. Imagine that you are in a situation that has become so terrible, so frightening, that you know deep in your bones that you MUST. LEAVE. NOW.

You fear for your own and your children’s lives. Your husband is being threatened by los narcos and he will be killed if he doesn’t comply with their demands. You must all leave or you will die. You have seen neighbors and friends die because of their political stance, their inability to pay the sicarios who demand a payment to keep you alive. It is dark outside but you have to go now.

Your heart and mind scream to you to cross the border to el otro lado. You quickly pack a small backpack/mochila, in which you hurriedly stuff your babies’ bottle, some water, formula, and diapers, and some clean clothes. The four of you leave in the dead of the night. When you arrive at the border in Nogales you are detained. While there is uncertainty you feel much safer than you did in Guerrero. Some Mexican nuns come at night to take you and los niños to a safe house where you shower, eat, and sleep.

Now imagine yourself in another situation. Close your eyes again, take another breath, and imagine: You live in a nice neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, one that overlooks the El Paso-Juarez border. Sister Cities. Your parents migrated from Chihuahua to El Paso and became citizens before you were born. You were raised to love the United States and to be proud of your Mexican heritage. You used to cross the border with ease as a young girl to visit your grandmother and to have dinner with her in her casa with the lovely garden.

You and your husband have raised four children and have worked hard to reach economic success. But you feel much more secure with a border wall intact because since the 1990s you have witnessed first-hand the havoc that gangs and drugs have wreaked on the Sister Cities’ border. You have seen bullets that were fired in Juarez land in your El Paso neighborhood. One could have hit your son who was playing outside with his friends. An American born woman of Mexican descent, you worry about violence spilling over into your neighborhood and you miss the ease at which you used to be able to cross the border without fear and with ease.

Kristy: Both of these stories are real stories gathered during our fieldwork the past few days. We have interviewed women and men on the Nogales-Arizona border and the El Paso-Juarez border. I think the goal of our fieldwork and our civic engagement with women, men and children who live here is one of accompaniment: To help us, you and our many friends understand and empathize with those who are in cross-hairs of such complex and tricky situations. What links all of those we have met and listened to is a deep and very human need to keep themselves and their children safe from harm.

Gary: You know, there is often a palpable sense that there is something to fear is very near to us whenever we venture close to the border. But the border is really an ecotone between fear and hope. We very clearly see contrasts, disparities, and opportunities emerge in this transition zone. It is not just about fear, but hope as well.

Kristy: In our interview with Bishop Gerald Kicanas yesterday in Tucson, Arizona, he emphasized the need for all of us to engage more deeply in respectful dialogue with one another. The Bishop also reminded us that the current immigration crisis is not a “just” a political issue but it is a moral issue as well.

Gary: It think what he was suggesting is this: Perhaps the problem “of the border” and “at the border” cannot ever be solved by a policy change that only tries to fix something at the border itself. If we don’t morally understand and deal with the root causes in our societies that emanate from beyond the border, no law will be effective.

Kristy: Joanna Williams of the Kino Border Institute this morning also emphasized the moral dimensions of the current immigration situation, emphasizing the need for a just and workable migration between the United States and Mexico.

So let’s continue to share perspectives from the field for the rest of our time here together in the borderlands. We hope to capture the many truths that exist in and around the border and to capture multiple perspectives on movements and crossings at the border.

**Since many of you have asked, if you would like to donate, The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) is in the trenches helping migrants with humanitarian aid, education, and advocacy. Today, we delivered over 200 pairs (!) of children’s underwear that you wonderful Facebook friends sent to us for the children being aided by KBI. Checks are best and the money will be put to excellent use. Donations will help KBI purchase necessities such as diapers, infant formula, and personal hygiene products. Their address is: P.O. Box 159; Nogales, AZ 85628-0159. Your donations are also tax deductable.


Written by: Gary Nabhan and Kristy Nabhan-Warren





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