Bajo La Misma Luna: My Trip to Tucson, Arizona Part 1

Bajo La Misma Luna: Tuesday and Wednesday, May 17-18

Over the next few days, I will post about my recent trip to Tucson, Arizona. Along with the two other CSDS staff and eight student leaders, I spent seven days studying border justice, interfaith leadership, Native American history, and desert spirituality. This pilgrimage was offered by the Global Citizenship Project in the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service at Northeastern University.

My alarm barked at me at 4 am on Tuesday. Dammit, it’s so early. I zombie walked into the shower and quickly got ready. My green smoothie froze my throat as I gulped it down. Ten of us met at the airport and anxiously awaited our flight to Minneapolis, where we would connect to Phoenix. The landing in Phoenix was terrifying- the high heat caused rollercoaster drops and jerks. After gathering our bags and waiting for the final two students to join us, we were on our way to rent our Kia Sedona minivans. Finally, we headed to our first meeting with the Arizona Interfaith Movement (AIM).

The AIM spoke to us about their work with congregations around Arizona, and their focus on the Golden Rule as a way to find common ground. They asserted that while not political, many of the participants in the work cared deeply about many social justice issues. “We are the most diverse interfaith organization in Arizona”, the Executive Director shared. I wondered what exactly that meant. Among the three full-time staff members we met, some students at Arizona State University shared the work of their interfaith group called Sun DABT, or Sun Devils Are Better Together. Their leader used much of the language familiar to the Interfaith Youth Core around shared values and social justice. As we left, AIM showered us with gifts: an interfaith calendar, an AIM pin, a license plate sticker with the Golden Rule, and several pamphlets. We were uplifted by our new friends and excited to learn about another campus’ interfaith work.

On the road to Tucson

We ate our first meal together at the Original Burrito Company, where we devoured burritos and carne asada plates. I sighed. Finally, decent Mexican food. After finishing our dinner and feeling rushed by an oncoming dust storm, the twin minivans headed out of Phoenix toward Tucson, where our Air BnB awaited us. We drove 80 miles on the 10 E before exiting the freeway, and I suddenly felt closer to home: the 10 connects directly to Los Angeles. We drove another 20 miles into the dark desert, finally curving onto a dirt road where a beautiful solar house called Alma Del Sol welcomed us. The owner of the house lived next door and showed us to our rooms. Karin and I settled on one of the downstairs rooms, where I gladly chose a futon with a southwest-style blanket.

Though we all felt exhausted, Karin, three students and I jumped back in the minivan to pick up our groceries. We had decided to cook our own breakfasts and three meals throughout the trip, creating a deeper sense of community (and saving some money). Our drive to the store was perhaps the hardest I have laughed all year- two Indian students and a Pakistani-American student, along with Karin and me, discussed everything from the disgrace of processed salami to BHANGRA!!!!!!!!!!! We loaded our trunk with cereal and ingredients to make butter chicken, and finally headed home. I fell asleep in less than two minutes.

Familiar agreements (for Sunday School)

On Wednesday morning, I awoke at 5:30 am due to sunrise and jetlag. I pulled my spandex on to attempt my first run in the desert. What a thrill. The dry, warm air hit my face as I stared down the road. Cacti for miles. The view was priceless. I felt right at home, my shoes crunching in the dirt.Our first stop after enjoying breakfast leisurely was to Southside Presbyterian Church’s Day Labor Registry. Driving by the church, several men across the street jumped up and waved, hoping we were hiring cheap labor. We circled the church and entered the parking lot. Though we didn’t have an appointment, the coordinator of the Day Labor Registry, Eliezar, eagerly showed us inside and seated us. We spent almost two hours speaking with Eliezar as he shared his story of being undocumented and struggling to find work. Now that he is documented, he coordinates the Registry several days a week. Eliezar explained the rules of the Registry (he showed us how the lottery works, as well as the agreements that include not drinking or using illegal substances, not accepting less than the minimum wage, and completing a training course). He told us that often, undocumented people are caught by means of simple traffic violations or noise complaints. “I was at a party and we were drinking, but we were inside the apartment complex. Someone called the police, and they demanded ID from everyone. I didn’t have mine with me, and they threatened to call the Border Patrol.” It’s not uncommon for the BP to accept bribes from undocumented people. As we thanked Eliezar on our way to lunch, he educated us: “People call me illegal”, he said, “but I am not illegal. A person cannot be illegal. If someone runs a red light in their car, are they illegal?”

The view of our backyard at sunrise

From Southside Presbyterian, we made our way to downtown Tucson for lunch at Nook, where we enjoyed yummy but modestly priced fare. I devoured a vegetarian tamale pie with green chile sauce and a chai latte.

Decor and tamale pie at Nook

After our lunch, we headed back to Southside Presbyterian to meet with Reverend John Fife, one of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement, and Amy Beth, the Director of Ministry. John shared his story of starting the Movement with the legendary Jim Corbett, and Amy Beth told us about the work of Southside now, in a revived Sanctuary Movement. She shared some of the recent sanctuary seekers, including Rosa, who was able to stay in the United States to care for her children. After taking a moment of silence at Southside’s dedicated sculpture to the unidentified bodies found in the desert, we headed home to Alma Del Sol for a workshop on storytelling for social change, led by one of our graduate students. We spent two hours listening to the stories of our peers and coaching them to be persuasive and relatable. The workshop not only made us effective storytellers, it also served as a great way to be vulnerable with each other and thus to start building deep relationships.

Cactus at Alma Del Sol

One of the Indian students made us a delicious dinner of butter chicken and gobi (cauliflower) and as soon as we gobbled it up, I fell asleep, ready to run again in the morning.

One thought on “Bajo La Misma Luna: My Trip to Tucson, Arizona Part 1

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I miss your infectious enthusiasm, Jem! And what a profound statement: human beings are not illegal. Beautiful.


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