It is the fifth week of Lent and already I am experiencing the desert as both beautiful and lonely.
Perhaps you can relate.
Perhaps you, like me, are feeling tired. Come, sit with me in beauty for a while.
Come, new life is springing.
The desert is accustomed to extremes. Flora and cacti born into coarse sand and unforgiving heat have long learned to take root and blossom. Snow glistens atop far mountain sides. Scorpion and rattlesnake slither and slide from rock to brush. Javelinas charge and goats scamper. There is life here for the long journey and the short. Look how new life is still growing – forging deep roots and trusting a water source will provide.
Look for new life.
It takes time to grow roots. It takes time to nestle in and trust the water sources. After all, the droughts are long. I can easily forget that this growth period is good. That this growing and shifting and changing is new stretching into the gritty deep. And that here there be water. Water is life.
This past weekend, I attended a volunteer training for a local humanitarian aid group, the Tucson Samaritans. Veteran activists provided critical historical information about the sanctuary movement, the work of humanitarian aid workers on the borderlands and encouraged us to consider what we know. What information did we have about the border? What were we willing to relearn? What were we committed to doing? Whom were we committed to serving?
A key component of this groups mission is this: We serve and offer humanitarian aid to persons that are refugees and migrants, persons seeking asylum, persons without documentation, persons belonging to independent militias, persons in the Border Patrol…we seek to offer humanitarian aid to everyone.
Hearing the stories of how people remain faithful to God’s call heartens and encourages me.
Look for new life.
A long time Immigration Public Defender and activist, Margo Cowan, offered this consideration (please note that this is not verbatim but is as best as I can remember): consider what you would do if you happened across some human remains in the desert. How would you react? One thing that I do is I consider how I can help to identify this person and bring peace to a family that may be wondering where this person is. I also remember that this is not about me and my reaction. Something that sticks with me is that police officers in the Tohono O’odham nation carry sage and candles that they light while offering a prayer before they return to their police duties.
Look for new life.
The more I commit to investigating Prevention by Deterrence, the more I start to see patterns. I wonder, what patterns you see when you look at this (very short and not at all comprehensive) list of border policies:
It can be hard to remember that there is new life springing. How do we look for it? How do we speak about it?
As a Tucson “transfer,” I can easily remember how easy it was in the East for the borderlands to be relegated to out of sight out of mind.
At a recent film screening of the documentary, Undeterred, the filmmakers talked about ways to mobilize persons throughout the country.
A staggering reality is this: 2/3rds of the United States falls into the 100-mile constitution free zone. The implications of this is huge.
***(Also, a quick side note: “Undeterred is a documentary about community resistance in the rural border town of Arivaca, Arizona. Since NAFTA, 9/11 and the Obama and Trump administrations border residents have been on the front-lines of the humanitarian crisis caused by increased border enforcement build up. Undeterred is an intimate and unique portrait of how residents in a small rural community, caught in the cross-hairs of global geo-political forces, have mobilized to demand our rights and to provide aid to injured, oft times dying people funneled across a wilderness desert.”)***
I resent the reality that too often ‘humanitarian mobilization’ (or social justice mobilization) requires centering individualism rather than humanitarianism. The idea that we need to market and glamorize basic human rights in order to make people care deeply enough to protest is not merely appalling but upholds and propagates supremacist ideals.
Look for new life. Even when it is hard, look anyways. Familiarize yourself with these policies and protest them. Interrupt the old ways.
Look, new life is springing.
Some organizations in Tucson ask volunteers to attend Operation Streamline hearings in order to bear witness and/or to document human rights abuses. While I am still learning about much of the scope of the borderlands, I am aggrieved and outraged by how Operation Streamline intentionally delivers convictions for persons without documentation in order to make deportations easier. No More Deaths has also provided numerous comprehensive reports of human rights abuses. These reports are available on their website, or click here for direct access.
Volunteers documenting abuses track specifics like: if the person is seeking asylum, if the person speaks English and the age of the person.
Other organizations work together to track human rights abuses committed by the Border Patrol. Others continue to lobby local and national political leaders. Others carry water. Others track deaths. Others provide emergency medical aid. Some do all of the above.
I find new life when I remember that across time and history, there have always been those whom protest violence. There have always been those committed to humanitarianism. There have always been justice seekers.
I find new life when I pay attention to voices of those most deeply and intimately affected.
A story I learned recently which has stirred me deeply involves an Indigenous dance. In this dance, good and evil are battling. How is evil defeated? Evil is defeated by a cascade of flowers.
Look: new life is springing. Here in the desert. Here in this wild, gritty, expanse.
I just finished Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing, for the second time. And, it still has me shook.
For those who haven’t read it yet – please note the following will contain some spoilers.
Haunting. Emotive. Lyrical. Searing. Critical. Gyasi’s novel is a gripping generational timeless yarn of colonialism, identity, human trafficking and body politics. And, perhaps book ancestrally wise – Homegoing is a direct descendent of Chinua Achebe’s acclaimed novel,Things Fall Apart.
Homegoing follows the stories of two half-sisters, Essie and Effia – unknown to each other- and the six generations which follow, their lineage broken from colonialism and slavery.
Each chapter, told from the perspective of a different character, evokes both the fantastical, depraved and the nightmarish while also evoking the nostalgic poetic motif, Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt? (where are those whom have gone before?).
And, while the reader is kept to task recalling which character belongs to which family tree, characters emerge and re-emerge in dreams and retellings from their descendants. This combined with a genealogical map located at the beginning of the book and two sturdy symbols: fire and water, help to maintain ancestral clarity between the two lineages.
Centering the enduring narrative of generational trauma, Homegoing’s tale remains unflinchingly searing and critical. And, the attention to nuanced, even controversial, themes (many of which remain almost hidden in dog whistles), of colorism, body politics, identity politics, misogyny and misogynoir, wealth, housing and educational inequities, power and privilege are particularly crucial.
The West African chapters are the heart of the book, a deep channeling of multilayered humanity. Gyasi evokes what was lost to those who were sold away — the sense of individual and collective identity, a wealth of rituals and customs they’d be whipped for trying to retain in America. In the mother country, life’s losses and turning points were a time of communal recognition: The death of an Asante king was mourned for 40 days, weeklong puberty rites celebrated a girl’s first menstrual cycle. Identity and intimacy were bound up in language; a servant girl in mid-20th-century Ghana is shown speaking labored English to her employer, until he tells her to speak their own language. “We hear enough English here,” he says, and she breaks into Twi with relief. Thus begins one of the book’s lovelier courtships. But on a slave plantation in Mississippi, Esi tries to teach her young daughter, Ness, their native tongue and is given five lashes for every Twi word the girl speaks. Later, little Ness is sold off without warning or ceremony or permission to grieve.
Homegoing invites its readers to take a closer look at systemic injustice through its careful generational juxtaposition of the effects of colonialism, both in West Africa and America.
And, indeed the almost magical realism of the first few chapters encourage a deeper investigation into themes of identity and belonging.
There are far better writers than I whom have offered outstanding reviews of this book, so I wanted to wrap up my review with some of the quotes I will be carrying with me.
“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
“The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad,” this thing “white” and this thing “black,” was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.”
“You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, “now I will remove my knife slowly – so let things be easy and clean; let there be no mess.” There will always be blood.”
“No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.”
“They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.”
“…Tell a lie long enough and it will turn to truth.”
If you have read the book what are you carrying with you? As always, I welcome discussion.
It’s been a minute since my last blog post. And, I will be the first to admit that I needed to take a beat.
For me, particularly in today’s volatile political world, preparing for the holidays continually requires intentional self-care practices. And, family time can be complicated.
Maybe you can relate?
As I got ready this year for Christmas, I was confronted with a few different feelings: anger, sadness, fear and resistance. I was angry and sad about how anxious I was for large group togetherness time. I was anxious about being around certain members of my family. And, I was sad about how my desire to want authenticity can often hinder my own ability to relax.
In fact, I was so anxious that my anxiety started to physically disrupt my everyday life: my body would tense, my breath would quicken, I couldn’t sleep, and I started to get anxiety attacks.
I don’t know about you, but I suspect that many of us are scared or anxious when we think about large family gatherings. Personally, I wonder if most of us are worried about belonging so much that it feels especially imperative to distance ourselves from our feelings of anger and sadness.
But here’s what I know: what we resist persists.
So, I’ve been changing the way I practice self-talk prior to large family gatherings.
Here are some things that I did:
I took a hot bath.
I rubbed lotion on my skin while verbalizing reasons that I loved my skin.
I deep conditioned my hair and spoke affirmations about my hair.
I allowed myself to meditate.
I lit incense.
I played a playlist of ocean sounds while I slept.
I connected with friends.
I drank lots of water and I granted myself graciousness.
When I speak gently and lovingly to myself, I can prepare myself for events which I suspect will be emotionally exhausting by strengthening my center. Reminding myself that I am known, loved, capable and intelligent is a helpful strategy which allows me to re-center myself on my strengths rather than on my fears of what could be. As a Christian, I often also speak truths about God to strengthen my spiritual self.
What are ways you prepare when faced with a tough situation?
This isn’t a fairy tale story. I didn’t end up at my Christmas gathering without any anxiety. But I noticed that because I had prepared myself mentally, I was able to feel more fully present. I was also able to rely on the strategies and resources I had developed more often than I have been able to in the past. And, these realities felt rather miraculous.
As you end this holiday season, what practices and supports have you incorporated into your everyday life which help you navigate the holidays?