Lessons from Rio Bravo and the Border

Pamela Brouker I was in Mexico—Reynosa—when the time changed; It sprang forward. Like so many other things, time can get lost. And I definitely lost track of time on this visit. The border is so compelling and challenging to process. I began to write this on my third day back, in Austin, and I am just now beginning to come out of my own kind of fog and awaken. I wrote today, in my journal. I had many emotions. I remembered family and parts of my life I’d filed away. Personally, I am in a transition phase, seeking and discerning a call with the Lutheran Church. I am an ordained pastor, working at a local Hospice agency, substitute teaching, scoring, childcare, catering, and working on my own film project, all part time. I went on the weekend trip, with Austin Tan Cerca, because I wanted to remember what spoke to me, so deeply, when I went to the border several years ago with my seminary. My alma mater is the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. This unique Master’s of Divinity focused on Hispanic Ministry and used Texas and the border as context. We visited cities along the border, as well as maquiladores, colonias, churches, and missions, with a focus of accompaniment—walking with others—for a transformative community. I was changed by the realities of poverty on the border, and especially by hospitality and genuine openness to our visits, and by friendship. My world was shifted, as I was met, fed and welcomed by ‘the other’. And we, as seminarians, processed our trips through theology and transformative mission. This visit with Austin Tan Cerc, used a model called ‘solidarity’. We were to witness, to listen, to learn, and to hear stories. We were encouraged to ask questions of workers and organizers in Mexico. Our job was to be present. Challenging, because to be present meant not being more powerful. There were no opportunities to fix anything, to give anything materially, to solve the problems. Our purpose was to continue in the relationship that began 10 or so years ago, between organizations and people. A relationship that is mutually beneficial, in and through, the process of walking with people. We heard stories of worker situations and were caught up with their current circumstances and recent past. They have been deeply influenced by the economic downturn, and stories revolved around tensions that this has caused. We were invited into this relationship of listening and sharing; relative strangers, now community. Speaking two languages and living on both sides of the border. Something shifted for me, again. Friday night, our first night. We were to visit their office space and then to eat dinner at the nearby home of an organizer. Driving down the roads of the neighborhood and city, it really hit me…. ‘Oh yeah, this is why…here…. I remember…I feel the buzz and tension.’ I look and I am struck again, by the rough dirt roads that raise the dust, filtering the lights from the cars. I encounter the people, children and youth, and holes that are very deep. It is on this side of the border, teeming with people, with fewer resources for the sole purpose of a better life, for their families that clarity can arise. They build their own dwellings because pay is too low and rent is too high. They live and petition for city services, sewage, electricity, roads. People reside here because they are glad to work. And…so…it is teeming with life; hopeful, intense, real, painful, and close. The spaces are a must see for yourself. There is no comparison. It is your nose that needs to contain the dirt at the end of the day, into morning. And we stop to eat and be welcomed, in their low rise hacienda, for a fabulous meal. People living under extreme conditions, fighting for their right to live. Quietly, I wonder in my own mind, ‘How do our hostesses get to work by 7am, using these roads, in clean clothes and shoes?’ For me, this is one of the biggest questions. And I do not know why. Perhaps passages are important for me? And I am anxious, usually about getting to work on time. Here, on foot, in the dust, in the holes, with busses, I wonder how they do it, with a family at home, getting up at 5am, out the door to work, unable to return in order to pick up a sick child from school. It’s these little details that we take for granted, that are not all in place here, in this border town. People want jobs. People also want lives to live, and I wonder how I could live here and make it? I am doubtful. I am too used to what I am too used to. And the women and men share their homes with us; we eat, have a wonderful dinner. By the light of electricity, gained by petition, by a dirt road opened and ready to receive a street. And then, what happens when it rains? Perhaps this is my destiny, somehow, to seek? I am supposed to be here, yet it is difficult for me to completely take it in, so I look up. The stars shine brightly down over our van. We dismount to enter a house, roughed up by the ride. ‘Yup, they seem brighter, on this side of the border’ I say to my fellow delegate. I am clearer now. Why? I find at the border a kind of answer. Because here you cannot pretend to hide behind what you have, what you make, or even your title, i.e. our American privileges. Things don’t make meaning, because here people live and survive without them. They live and are strong. They share their lives and compel us to ask questions and to think. And personally, I am reminded of my grandmother. She herself an immigrant to America. She came with her mother, as a child. This mother and child followed the husband, one year after he arrived. Marggiorino ‘Nunu’ was his name; Magdelena or Francesca, ‘Nuna’ was hers, and he’d been doing well enough to send for her and for my grandmother, Ortensia Edda. As immigrants from Italy, they learned to adapt to the culture and language, food and people. Then my grandmother married a man whose grandparents were from Germany and the Netherlands. And though his family did not like Italians, they formed a union that was unique, German and Italian. Together they spoke English. Families from very different places. This kind of story echoes on my father’s side, generations back, originating from countries such as France, Germany, and even Spain. Yes, I am a descendent of immigrants. I am a European American, whose ancestors came looking for their dream—a better life. And here on the border is another kind of country. A shared country of Mexico and the United States. My grandfather remembered the prejudice of his father and mother for his wife. Their judgments hurt my grandfather all his life, even up until his death in 2005. The focus of the workers who organized was all the others—the workers. They labored and chose to give their precious energy to educate. They had laser beam focus for educating workers of their rights under the law, and worked hard to imagine how they could empower each person. Essential is the confidence for each worker to stand up for herself, for himself, under the auspices of the law. Underlying all the work was the premise of human dignity. They were fluent in knowing that a person is important and her/his work is important. In our current culture we often think we are only ‘an important someone’, if we have money, a job/title, healthcare, etc. We have forgotten the value of the human being. And the value of sharing with others, for others. Personally, I believe that faith is about understanding the value that is inherent in every human being. For me, every person is sacred, found in and through humanity, and together we form community and together we breathe. Human beings, in all our brokenness and struggle, bleeding, and laughter, are to be celebrated. Here, at the border, with few resources, the organizers were focused. They supported each other. And they are a witness to us. That we also must have each other, to know and remember the goodness and dignity inside each one of us. We are meant for community identity, not just individual identity. It is difficult for us in the U.S. to imagine community identity. Do we not usually look at each other,
and even ourselves, with disdain and judgment, rather than a focus to empower? Do we actually educate each other, of our rights under the law, uplift, and encourage the other? Our current culture is one of competition and fear, internal insecurity and having more for ourselves and taking so others don’t take from us. All this usually leaves us running for home and closing our doors, especially to the ‘other’. When will we realize we are all the same in value? I needed this reminder. It seems the people here have so many lessons to share. Lessons of compassion and focus when we need it most. Right on time. Right now! Yes, I remember the reasons why I was transformed by the border. I have been crossed. My borders of separation and privilege have been demolished. I cannot imagine how these folks do this every day. And we are still invited into the relationship, to listen and learn. In order to be transformed and never the same. We cannot cross the same river twice. For once crossed, by the river we are changed. We grow. We are opened to all the other realities of the human being; sacred, vital, imaginative, brave, and honorable. I’ve been crossed, by the border. The terrain is new, rocky, dusty, and cleansing. I wonder if you will allow the border to cross you and your idea of who you are so that you may see the true connections we share with Mexico and the people that live. Pamela Marie Brouker, is an ordained ELCA Lutheran Minister currently working as a child care worker, scorer, substitute teacher, caterer, and Hospice Chaplain. She lives in Texas and was born in Pittsfield, Mass. Sex Chat

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