Bajo La Misma Luna: My Trip to Tucson, Arizona Part 2

Thursday, May 19th

Cactus flowers

This morning, I woke up even earlier at 5:30 am because the sun lit up our room. I ran again, and two students joined me. It was really nice to have company, even if the temperature was significantly higher. While we trotted uphill, we waved to a man that looked half-Jack Sparrow and half-Indiana Jones. I saw him every day.

After a leisurely breakfast on our deck at Alma del Sol, we set off to visit the Tucson Indian Center. Though we didn’t have an appointment, the very generous Director of Programs gave us a thorough tour- so thorough that we had to rush over to the University of Arizona for our next meeting (“Travel is blessed”, Karin reminded me- we should always hold those whom we meet in our travels with highest respect). The TIC gave us all a significant amount of hope, especially given the brief history we received of the Center and the immense struggles their clients have endured. The TIC is over 50 years old, and many of the employees have worked their for more than ten years. Each day, they receive clients who wish to utilize wellness services or employment services (and many times both). Wellness services include health care referrals, meditation and exercise, diabetes courses, and a program similar to AA with specific cultural attention to the local tribes’ cultures. In every program, this attention is present. After greeting several employees and taking a hasty photo in the Center, we bid our new friends farewell and sped to the U of A.

At the University, we were greeted by a shy PhD student who led us down into a basement quarter with no windows. The space is home to BORDERS, a department devoted to the study and technology of national security and protection. We listened to the student describe a kiosk that they are developing for ports of entry to increase efficiency of immigration procedures. Then we got to see the kiosk in action, when one of our graduate student leaders asked if he could try it out. We all had a laugh when the kiosk avatar, named “Brad”, told the student leader that from his answers Brad “sensed deception”. “I’m sorry Brad”, he replied. This visit was quite important for our group- though we questioned the intricacies of the technology and its purpose, one student put it well when he said, “we should try to understand this…it’s the way of the future.” I had mixed feelings about the department. The technology is quite advanced, and could be utilized in other fields like healthcare. I couldn’t help but wonder if we will ever get to a point where no human interaction is necessary to cross a border (or be denied entry). And moreover- do we want that?

A local artist’s work in the Tucson Tamale Company

Karin and I stole away for a few minutes before the rest of our group finished asking questions, and bought delicious tamales for everyone to eat for lunch. Most students had never tried them- soft cornmeal cakes with cheese, meat, or vegetables on the inside. The whole cake is steamed in a corn husk (and in banana leaves or other vehicles in different countries). I devoured a green corn cheese tamal and a spicy chicken. After a lunch much awaited, we walked just down the street to a much different department on campus, the Binational Migration Institute, housed in the Mexican American Studies office. Though our appointment did not pan out, we poured over the research projects represented by detailed posters along the hallway. The Institute promotes research on abnormal migrants and their experience both during migration and after arrival. They recently released a study around unidentified bodies found in the desert, and unfortunately, the number has increased recently. I felt really drawn to the work of the Institute, perhaps because there is nothing more endearing in my mind than an individual or group crossing the Sonoran desert. I understand the complications around immigration processes and the law…yet realize that death is a very real fate for many who attempt the crossing. 

Since we had some time, we ventured to find raspados, or Mexican ice desserts. Most of our group ordered a “Macedonia”: fresh cut fruit with ice cream and condensed milk, or lechera. I ordered a big cup of fresas con crema, or strawberries and cream. It was a delightful midday break.

Our bellies full, we drove south of Tucson to Clinica Amistad, a free clinic that Father Ricardo, a Catholic priest engaged in border justice work, began a few years ago. The clinic is run entirely by volunteers, and sees between 30-70 patients in an evening. Clinica Amistad operates Wednesday and Thursday evenings and now Saturday mornings, and they hope to receive some grants that will quadruple their capacity. This clinic is so important, not only to the patients that are served here, but to the entire health care infrastructure. One of Clinica Amistad’s Board members explained to us that many “middle class” patients are now virtually uninsured- though they have insurance, they could never pay their high deductible. This is an increasing issue in the US. After we learned the history of the Clinic, which moved locations about a year ago, the clinic manager shared with us about growing up on the border. We again left in a hurry and I wished we could stay longer. In just two days, we had been blessed to meet several folks enthusiastic to share with us, even though we arrived unannounced. I loved one student’s observation of a house across the busy street- a dilapidated gate, vintage pickup truck with chipped paint, and the mountains singing blue in the background. “They are happy with this”, she said. 

Senor Papa

Our last stop for the evening was at El Tiradito Shrine in the oldest part of Tucson, Barrio Viejo. We met yet another enthusiastic new friend who runs a nonprofit next to the Shrine called Spoken Futures. Their mission is to give space to young people who have ideas and passions and channel them through poetry and spoken word. The director noted, “I think it’s silly to say that we encourage young people to have a voice. They already have a voice. We need to get people to listen.”After an improptu tour, we spent some time praying at the Shrine and waited for the vigil to start. The vigil happens every Thursday evening and is dedicated to the migrants and the lives lost. Members of Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths were in attendance. The vigil was led by a very nice priest named Father John, and we introduced ourselves. At dinner I shared the legend of El Tiradito with the group- a sad tale about a man named Juan who falls in love with his mother in law and in turn, his wife murders him. There are several versions of the story. El Tiradito is a cultural icon in Tucson, and full of wishes and dreams, some fulfilled, some still in waiting.

As I lay in bed, I reflected on how much the sounds and smells of Alma del Sol reminded me of my grandmother’s lake house. If only she were there to educate us on the different bird songs.

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