Part 5 of a series of posts devoted to a trip to the U.S./Mexico border. This was written on the 10th, but, due to lack of internet access while in Mexico, is being published now. Photos can be found here.
Tuesday, November 10th. We wake to the sound of roosters crowing. In the morning light, I suspect that the floors on which we slept belong to some kind of childrens center – colorful signs are hung here and there. Ricky is there at breakfast and explains that the building is a community center with multiple purposes, one of which is to teach kids catechism.
Our first visit of the morning is to Presbyterian minister Mark Adams, who works for Frontera de Cristo. I am getting a strong impression that the Presbyterians are all over this border/immigration issue. The Frontera de Cristo office is right next to the border crossing, so in the morning light, we get our first view of the wall. At this part of the border, it is a metal fence made from recycled landing strips from the Vietnam and First Gulf wars – a fitting reminder of how our border enforcement policy is essentially a war. Rev. Adams starts off by talking about how at the 100th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Latin America, the Latin Presbyterians kicked out the North American Presbyterians, basically saying don’t come back until you can work with us as partners, not tell us what to do like children. Frontera de Cristo and five other Presbyterian bi-national resource centers arose out of the process of building a true partnership. Like CAME and many other organizations, it provides resources to deported migrants – water, food, first aid, a phone call, and ride home. It also documents human rights abuses. In the last three years, they have served over 47,000 persons.
Rev. Adams then shared his own personal journey that got him there. Growing up in the American South, he resented having to learn Spanish in school. As far as he was concerned, if you’re in the U.S., you should be speaking English. All foreigners were suspect but he had a special antipathy for Mexicans. The road to his transformation started with religious reflection. Reading Galatians 3:28, “And there is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Adams realized that he wasn’t being a very good Christian. Ironically, he now uses every day the Spanish that he resented learning as a child. When asked by someone in our group about the “coyotes,” Rev. Adams responded that it’s easy to pick a group and blame it all on them. “The coyotes not the problem. Border patrol is not the problem. I am the problem,” he said. That is, the policies of our government, which we are supposed to keep accountable, are causing this misery. Amen.
Our next visit is with Café Justo or Just Coffee. (What a great name!) Just Coffee was started by Daniel Cifuentes, with the help of Mark Adams. Realizing that the bulk of migration from his home state in Mexico, Chiapas, was due to people no longer being able to survive on farming, Mr. Cifuentes reasoned that if he could find a way for farmers to be able to support their families again, they would not need to leave their native land. Coffee “coyotes” had driven down the price of coffee from to. Just Coffee cuts out the middle-man and pays the coffee growers . What’s more, by paying farmers within the cooperative a fair price for their coffee, Just Coffee forces the coffee coyotes to offer higher prices too, thus improving lives of all coffee growers, whether they participate in Just Coffee cooperative or not. But even more than that, most of the price we consumers pay for coffee isn’t for the beans but for the roasting. So even when farmers are paid a fair price, as in “fair-trade” coffee, most of the profit still goes to the American company that is processing the beans. By roasting the beans themselves, Just Coffee retains that added value and at the same time creates jobs on the Mexican side of the border.
After making several u-turns along bumpy roads, we finally arrive at the DouglaPrieta cooperative – Jose meets us at the front door of a building with an inspiring mural – Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, Gandhi, King, and Ceasar Chavez. The cooperative works on teaching carpentry, sewing, and computer skills. Recently, Jose has added permaculture – permanent culture based on sustainable agriculture – to its repertoire. They have purchased their own land just down the road from the current location (which they rent) and are making their own adobe bricks. Adobe (made of mud, straw, and cow manure) is naturally insulating, blocking outside heat in the summer and retaining inside warmth in the winter. Towards the back is a community garden. While there doesn’t appear to be anything growing now, they’ve built a small damn out of old tires to collect water from the wash and use for irrigation. As Jose explains it, there is no culture without agriculture, so sustainable agriculture must be the basis for everything they do. To be honest, through my American eyes what I saw was a weedy, muddy area next to a gully, but Jose could see a thriving small farm, providing fresh vegetables and greenery for the neighborhood, and I have no doubt that he and the rest of the cooperative will make that vision a reality.
Lunch was at DouglaPrieta. I guess you could say it was catered, as it was served by two women who cooked and served the food as a way to make money. But there was none of the frilliness that we generally associate with catering, instead just steamy hot tortillas, rice, beans, and the best chile rellenos I have ever had in my life (and I’ve had a lot of chile rellenos as they are my favorite Mexican dish).
After lunch, we bid adios to Agua Prieta and headed across the border to Arizona. Even though our destination was Nogales, Mexico, it was far faster to take the U.S. highways than to negotiate the mountain roads in Mexico. This is cattle country, and we pass sign after sign for different ranches. One in particular caught my eye as we zipped by – Starr-King Ranch. I would have thought that maybe I read it wrong but Louise saw it too. We wonder if there is any connection between the ranch and Thomas Starr-King, the Unitarian and Universalist minister after whom our seminary in California is named.
Arriving at La Casa de la Misericordia (House of Mercy) at just about sunset, we are relieved to be shown to dorm rooms with real beds. A separate building houses compost toilets and showers. Compared to the poverty of Agua Prieta, the accommodations seem luxurious. Dinner is rice, refried beans… and potato tacos! Yay! Corn tortillas filled with a spiced potato mixture and then fried until crisp. Kind of a Mexican version of an Indian samosa.
All in all, the day left us inspired and feeling empowered. Whereas the visits to Southside in Tucson and CAME focused on providing assistance to migrants – a much needed yet only temporary fix to the flood of migrants crossing the desert -, the visits today focused on potential solutions. Mark Adams set the tone by talking about how the Mexican Presbyterian Church demanded to be respected as partners. Then Just Coffee and DouglaPrieta showed how individuals and small groups are taking initiative to create jobs here in Mexico, thus reducing the need for migration. And especially in the case of Just Coffee, it was obvious how we could help.
Methinks most everyone of us fell asleep in our dorm rooms content. The sound of kids playing and dogs barking gave way to the sound of music and adults singing and then to quiet. (Until the roosters crowed at dawn, of course.)