As many of you know, I recently completed the migrant trail – a week long journey from Sasabe, Mexico to Tucson, AZ- around 75 miles. I walked with 47 others, ranging in age from 18 to 72. We walked the distance that many, many migrants travel to reach the US. But many do not make it- the fearful policies we have implemented have caused thousands to die in the desert of Southern Arizona. So, we walked- not to “put ourselves in their shoes” or simulate their experiences at all. We walked though to remember, to honor, and to bring attention to this atrocious situation.
Along the way we all carried crosses with names of individuals who have died along their way. I carried Rosa Maria Arriga – Castillo. She died in 2002 at the age of 22.
These are some reflections from my journey:
She was the same age as I am now- a life cut too short. I wondered what her life was like. She probably already had children of her own. She had to leave her children behind, because things weren’t good enough wherever she came from. Maybe there was violence- actually no- certainly there was violence-because poverty alone is violent. These policies create violence. But whatever it was- it drew her out- northbound to find something worth hoping for. But the journey brought no land of milk and honey. During the times along the way when I felt like I couldn’t keep walking, I grasped the cross with her name painted on it. The tension of my hand around the cross somehow brought me strength. How ironic. Her strength to leave her family, to try harder - this strength that was pulled away from her in this desert was pressed into my hand- into my being.
We walked the last .7 miles to Kennedy Park in silence. As we reached the park we were welcomed with cheers and clapping from friends, family members, and fellow activists. I watched children run to be reunited with their mothers, friends exchange welcoming hugs, a wounded traveler carried to the finish. The tears began to flow. It was impossible to ignore the extreme contrast of our welcoming compared to the way that others have to enter our country. Their friends and family are back at home or waiting at a distance. There are few supporters- they don’t arrive from their treacherous journey into the arms of people of communities- instead they hide in fear. They are not comfortable after a painful, terrifying crossing- but ridiculed, judges, and threatened.
After a press conference and a foot washing ceremony, we were told to return our crosses- to place them at the base of a nearby tree. I was so sad to give Rosa’s cross back- but there was a strange peace with me as well. I knew I needed to let her go- to let her rest with the others. I carried her on a journey she, in her bodily self couldn’t complete. But she was with me through the long walk. And we made it together. It was like she was telling me I needed to carry on - to keep fighting for those who are still walking, those who will depart, and those who will be left behind. But mostly to keep fighting so that others like her won’t continue to die in this desert. That mothers may live to provide for their babies without risking their lives to do so. And so every day, when they see those children, they can be welcomed, as we were, with a hug and a smile.
Let it be.