Here In This Space

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Note: A deep hope for me in moving to Arizona was to connect and empower other marginalized groups and to listen deeply.


In the short few months which I have been here, I have been encouraged to think about using my gifts as a writer to give voice to the ways in which I am challenged to move towards wholeness and justice and to also pause on stories which are not my own.

A commitment for me then is to tell stories but to also note that these stories are not complete. There are important voices missing from these stories. I hope and pray that by telling personal stories I can invite you along on the journey of thinking critically about justice and equity and also encourage you to wonder about how we can all feast together at the bounteous table of God. May it be so. Shalom always.

A few weeks ago, I traveled down to Nogales, MX for the first time.
A few family members were visiting my husband and I and we wanted to observe the wall and cross the border.
So, we planned a short daytrip and arrived in Nogales in the early afternoon. You can see the wall before you arrive at the town. Purportedly deteriorating, the walls thick rust colored beams cuts through the town of Nogales and serves both as a visceral and haunting reminder of brokenness.
Broken relationships. Broken systems. Broken people.
Surely, we have room for more at this inn.
Cars and trucks snake lazily through border checkpoints and school children in uniforms dart in between buildings before lining up at the pedestrian checkpoint.
The walk is short to the checkpoint. Vendors announce their wares on the other side of security to persons re-entering the United States. The line into the United States is a long slow-moving line that winds and snakes the length of terminal. I hesitantly wonder how long it will take to cross back over.
I am nervous and fearful in this in between space. And, that feels wildly inappropriate and sickening.
I take a breath and let the feelings come to me in waves as I shuffle along the sidewalk and note the many white people in suits and military apparel.
Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

This space holds trauma. The concrete walls and metal bars. The military and cameras. This space has historically caused and causes pain.
Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

I breathe and notice laughter: a group of school children crossing. Someone shoves another’s backpack. A girl giggles. Another adjusts their headphones and stares at their phone.
Vendors approach us. Here, buy an ornate beaded purse or dangly earrings. There, buy churros, hotdogs or cola. 
“Come, Come, Come, friend….just take a look…”
My family is bombarded with curious onlookers and ambitious merchants.
Someone yells and points at me: “Venus Williams.”
We wind around the block and end back at the terminal. The line is long and we have dinner plans in Tucson.
We step back into line and wait.
Vendors with carts and wheelbarrows walk the terminal selling guava and honey. Others have colorful card tables set up with wares: dried chiltepines and jalapeños, tortilla chips and canned salsas.
Security meanders in groups. A few men laugh and punch each other’s shoulders, and I scan the line. A man in a suit holds a briefcase and talks loudly on a cellphone. Around the corner a blind man sings to a karaoke machine and asks for money. 
The woman in front of me turns around and smiles. I wonder if she can sense that I am disoriented. She makes small talk and points out various wares on the table. A vendor watches as she points out his wares: “…have you tried those peppers? Spicy…my husband makes them but really good…you should try…” The vendor stands up. He is ready to sell me peppers. I politely decline and he sits back down. 
The woman chuckles. 
She has made this journey often and exclaims about the snow. Nogales has never had snow before, she declares. Amazing, isn’t it?

I watch as an officer opens a security gate and steps into a low room. Another officer steps out of a store. A thin man follows him with two grocery bags. The cross the pedestrian line and disappear into a small office of sorts. A thick industrial blanket conceals the windows and I make out two children in the dark rushing toward the thin man before the door closes. 
My mind imagines the worst. 

Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

The line is moving. Near the first bend, I notice a man and a woman standing off to the side of the line. He is holding a grocery bag and approaches me.
Can you take this bag across for my woman? We will pay you. Inside the grocery bag is a bulky purse. Pens stick out of a side pocket, and I shake my head and hands. “No thank you.”
They step back to the side and the woman in front of me turns around. “Good idea to say no. You never know what might be in those bags.”
I am glad for her company and listen to her point out the man singing karaoke and talk about her visit with her relatives.
We do not exchange names.
I am nervous for the security checkpoint. I take my passport from my purse and open it. Everything looks in order. The woman in front of me turns around and I shrug my shoulders. Just passports, right? And she nods.
I breathe and stare out through the metal bars. A loaded car is asked to park for further inspection. The back is loaded with hangers, clothes and packing boxes.
We continue walking.
I am still thinking of the blanket and the kids.
Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

The security checkpoint is inside. A security officer stands at the doors and allows an assigned amount of people in at a time.
When it is time, I follow the woman in front of me to a checkpoint. My parents opt for a different line that proves to be faster.
The woman in front of me has a luggage bag. I can hear the security officer ask her if she went shopping. She answers and opens her luggage bag. 
After a few minutes and questions, she is allowed through.
We don’t say goodbye. And yelling ‘thank you’ feels inappropriate.
Thank you, kind stranger. Peace and justice to you – God’s people.

I watch as my parents show their passports and are sent through. They are not questioned. They wait outside the security gates, and I am gripped with an irrational desire to have been with them.
Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

The security officer gestures for me to approach. My hands shake as I hand over my passport. And it occurs to me that my first name is Spanish.
Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

The security officer looks at my passport, at me and back again.
I try to breathe and almost choke on saliva.
Bonita?”
I blink and look at him. “Yes.”
“Where are you from?”

“Tucson…I mean…” I correct myself and answer. My head is spinning and my hands shake.
“Why did you visit Mexico?”

“My parents and husband and I wanted to see the wall…”
The answer feels dirty in my mouth and I am embarrassed by the privilege of the statement.
“Where are your parents?”

I point to them: an older white couple just outside the security doors.
“And husband?”

“Behind me.”
He looks behind me and at me again and my legs shake.
“Did you buy anything?”

“No.”
“Nothing at all?” He stares at me and I force myself to maintain eye contact. 

“No.” My voice is shaky and my throat is tight. I open my small purse to show him the contents: chapstick, wallet and hand sanitizer. He glances and nods.
Peace and justice to this space and for these people – God’s people.

My husband stands behind me in the security line, his eyes are worried and sympathetic and I feel sick to my stomach.
Finally, the security officer hands me my passport.
I shuffle out the security doors and connect with my family.
I think about the politics of fear and the many whom have sought asylum. I think about families torn apart and walls and children in cages. I think about security checkpoints and borders.
I think about how space is transformed in ways that create and cultivate fear. About who can walk away from such spaces and who maintains such spaces.
We are called to be space-changers.
Peace and justice to you, God’s people, in whatever spaces and places you walk this week. May you have courage to speak truth and know love that conquers fear.

Helpful Resources
Know Your Rights With Border Patrol
Visual Guide for Know Your Rights With Border Patrol

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