In this final month of 2023, we’d like to offer some thoughts on the idea of Pilgrimage, related to ours and others’ work on the Texas / Mexico border. This is week 1 of 4. This week, one of our Shelter Connectors, Clara, shared some of her thoughts related to Border Response.
When I started to get to know the El Paso / Ciudad Juárez Borderplex in January of 2021, I tried make sense of what I was seeing and hearing, and the only phrase I could think of was this: 1,000 joys and sorrows. It was this striking mix of light and dark that held my attention.
On one hand, there was the dark. The stories from migrants’ journeys were horrible: hunger, cold, extortion, kidnapping, rape. And once they did make it to the border, families faced seemingly impossible circumstances: waiting in Juárez shelters (overcrowded, under-resourced spaces), and even if people did cross into the US, it is extremely difficult to win an asylum case, they are at risk of labor exploitation, among other things.
But on the other hand, there was the light. One day Blanca took me and a young single mother from the Buen Samaritano shelter to the mall in Juárez. And we ate Wendy’s and giggled and tried on sunglasses. It was silly and fun and normal. I was an intern at the time, and Blanca was teaching me what it meant to work in Border Response.
What I observed Blanca participating in was something like a spider web of relationships and connections, dozens of people formed into organizations or churches or shelters who were creating a landing place for all of these displaced humans in Juárez and El Paso.
Why? If there was so much pain, if the problem was so big, so complex? Either they were doing it because God told them to, or because they were immigrants themselves, or because they learned along the way, in school or from somewhere else, that it was their job to hold up the vulnerable along their journey. There were people helping everywhere, more than I ever could have imagined. The people who were making this web strong were so achingly beautiful to me that I decided I would do what I could to stay longer and see more. Father Mike, Cecy, Marisa, Sister Lily, Sami, Bethany, Alma, Tamy, Mari, Blanca, Gustavo, Abby, Omar. Today it has been almost 3 years, and every person that I mentioned is still committed to alleviating suffering on the border. The list only grows.
Sometimes we say that the purpose of Abara is to “affirm dignity in the midst of a complex situation that, for the moment, is slow to change.” I think what inspires me so much about the web, about the people I listed above, is that they know they can’t stop migration. They know they can’t fix the problems that cause people to be displaced from their home countries. They see how many sorrows there are here and they don’t look away! They stay. And I wanted so badly to join them. Because there are also 1,000 joys here. There is also a great deal of human hope here.
Those with a stubborn commitment to staying, who are walking at a slow and steady pace amidst pain and challenges–I longed to fall in step with them. And that’s where I found Abara to be, too---in a posture of listening and generosity aimed at a long term, rooted community in this beautiful region. And I am deeply grateful to be playing a small part.
Clara K. Duffy, LMSW
Shelter Connector & Border Encounter Facilitator, Abara