by MaryAnne Somerville
I live on the border between the United States and Mexico. Our town of Sierra Vista is located 17 miles from the border, in Cochise County, in Arizona. In the Civil Rights era of the sixties, this would be like living in Selma, Alabama. My husband and I moved here in 1999 for jobs. I am a retired teacher and he is a retired priest of the Episcopal Church. Both of us were actively working when we moved here from northern New York state. Our children are grown and have been out of the nest for thirty years. We have lived all over the country. This area is unique. Our population is made up of ranchers, military personnel, educators, doctors, lawyers, domestic workers, construction workers and contractors. The Tea Party has a cell here, the Patriots have a place, the Vigilantes are here, the Democrats and Republicans are here. This is a “Republican District” for the House of Representatives but we elected Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber for that seat. Our governor is Jan Brewer, a notorious state’ s rights advocate, and an anti- immigration spokesperson.
With these things in mind, the setting from which I write might be surprising. Over the last six years I have written my Epistles from the Desert and have emailed them to friends and those who request copies. I began this journey because a seminary professor, Dr. John (Jack) Gessell, requested that I give our view of the border issues to others. He taught at the University of the South, St. Luke’s Theological School, in Sewanee, Tennessee. This is number 18 of the series. I think it is time to review where I began and where I am now. At the beginning I referred to myself as “faith based”, but now I am adopting a friend’s label of “person of conscience.”
“I SEE YOU, I RECOGNIZE YOU. I RESPECT YOU, I UNDERSTAND YOU. I EMPATHIZE WITH YOU.” SOUTH AFRICAN ZULU GREETING
This is the great hope for all of us. Justice and Peace in our world is dependent on it. The recent crisis in Syria certainly brings it to our consciousness. While legislation languishes in the Congress, people are dying from the heat in the desert. Volunteers from my area take water trucks into the desert on the Mexican side and end up calling for rescue help from the Red Cross and/or recovering bodies that have shriveled to nothing, while the migrants walk through the 110 degree heat. They come for jobs, to pick vegetables, fruits, nuts, and to care for sheep on the high ranges of Colorado and Wyoming, and to herd cattle for ranchers in our Western lands. They also clean manure out of dairy farm barns, and butcher chickens. They take care of our children, clean our homes, cut our lawns, build our houses, and make the beds in our hotels. They are not all Mexicans, some are from Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. These pilgrims walk many days and many miles to get to the wall between our two countries. Once they arrive at a border town on the Mexican side, they must still get across the 13 foot wall and walk, at night, 3 more days. There are five kinds of rattlesnakes, scorpions, spiders, ants, etc. in our desert. Along with the creatures of the night, the pilgrim must evade the U. S. Border Patrol, who have night vision goggles, guns, and sensors in the ground.
Would anyone “choose” to live like this? Not only that, some cross every year according to job availability and seasonal work. Many leave their families in their home country and send their money back to support them. Yes, some are involved in the drug trade. Most migrants I have talked to , do not carry drugs unless their families are threatened with death by the Cartels. I have never seen a fight, heard a gun, or been disrespected by a migrant. I have seen old men cry. I have seen grandfathers with shredded shoes and bloody feet. I have seen young men struggling to stand up. I have heard “Gracias” many times, for a glass of water, a bean sandwich, or a cup of coffee.
The rate of crossing the border has dropped with the low economy in our country. Migrants still cross if they have word that their are jobs available for them. They cross if they left family here when they returned to their country for a sick parent or a funeral of a loved one. I have heard “I have to get back to North Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, or fill in the blank.” Their children are there. Their hope is there. Building a new or better wall is laughed at by our people that have ranches along the wall. “Build a 15 foot wall, use a 16 foot ladder.” That is the saying. Shooting young men in the back because they were “throwing rocks”, makes no sense. If your neighbor throws a rock across your fence at you, are you allowed to shoot him?
Life on our border is not what you see in your newspapers, or your TV. No one is murdering residents in their beds here. Children are not taking advantage of your Social Security by not paying taxes. Drugs are not sold on the streets, unless you are looking for them for yourself. Migrants are not taking your jobs, unless they are jobs you would not do.
OUR BAPTISMAL COVENANT ASKS, “WILL YOU STRIVE FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE AMONG ALL PEOPLE, AND RESPECT THE DIGNITY OF EVERY HUMAN BEING?”
Join me in being a “person of conscience”. Every day, every minute, what you think and say matters.
Peace and love in Christ, Mary Anne Somerville SHCS
Mary Anne Somerville has a history of justice and peace work all over the United States. “One more victory for the little man,” is her mantra. She has written the Epistles for six years. After retiring from 43 years of teaching , Mary Anne began a second career of volunteering for the Children’s Orthopedic Clinic for Mexican children on the border, for CANTER, a therapeutic horse program for special needs children and adults, and for helping Native Americans, especially Navajos and San Carlos Apaches. She has followed the call of the Lord with her husband, Ben, an Episcopal priest.