Monday, May 23rd
The final day of our trip and perhaps the hardest. I ran four fast miles along the road, pushing myself on the hills. My knee felt better than it had. We first drove to Native Seeds, an organization that seeks to preserve ancient seeds used by Native American tribes around Arizona so they can continue to grow the food so important to their history. A gorgeous sunflower greeted us. We met Stephanie, a young AmeriCorps Volunteer, who gave us a short tour of the site and the seed refrigerator. We were ready to step back into the heat after chilling in their for a bit. Stephanie talked to us passionately about her interests as an anthrobotanist, or studying the effects of plants and seeds on culture and human interaction. She was concerned that the organization sells the seeds they grow, because people from anywhere can buy them and try to grow them. This doesn’t work so well when a New Yorker tries to plant a desert flower. We learned a bit about grains and grinding seeds, and as we left decided to make an impromptu stop at Fort Lowell Cemetery. The cemetery itself is home to several members of the area, whose families have lived there for generations. Several veterans were buried there. In the neighboring building the remains of unidentified bodies found in the desert are interred. It was a beautiful, humble site.
We drove to the best Mexican restaurant in Tucson, El Charro, and sat at a patio table. I ordered my absolute favorite, horchata and chile relleno with chicken and Raza sauce. Yum. We ate plentifully and even our vegan contingent was excited to have some menu options. El Charro is the oldest family owned restaurant in the United States, so we had a good time exploring the property and old photos. From there, we walked to the US courthouse to witness Operation Streamline.
Operation Streamline is a business law (yes, business) that streamlines the process of criminalizing illegal entry into the United States (without proper documents). The convicts are given a choice: go to trial (and most certainly lose, making their crime a felony) or plead guilty, receive a misdemeanor, serve between 30-120 days in a detention center and get deported. The courtroom was beautiful, and enormous. A male judge sat overlooking several rows of convicts- all young men, handcuffed, scooted together on dark wood benches. Seven men stood close together at the front, where microphones waited for them. An attorney represented about seven men at once. Before a new set of men came up to the microphones, the judge would repeat information. “You are here for the crime of entering the United States illegally. If you choose to plead not guilty, you will go to trial and face a jury. If you waive your right to a trial, you also give up or waive some other rights.” A translator spoke in Spanish into headphones that each man wore. Each man answered four questions:
“Are you of sound mind to make a decision?”
“Is it true you are not a citizen or US national?”
“Is it true you attempted to enter this country under illegal pretenses?”
“Do you plead guilty or not guilty?”
And every man answered like this: “Si…si…si………..culpable.” Guilty.
We watched for a while as line after line of young men were led back to their cells. The judge always ended with “thank you gentlemen, and good luck.” A coffee vat sat on a table in the courtroom with white paper cups. I wondered who that was for.
We left the courtroom in silence and meandered back to our cars. We returned to Sonoran Delights and tried to pick up our spirits. This time I ordered raspados con nieve: like a snow cone with strawberry syrup and ice cream. It was just as delicious as the first time. I continued to process Operation Streamline in my mind- while watching the courtroom, it’s almost difficult to feel emotional because the process is so.. Mathematical. As I reflected on the rows and rows of young men in handcuffs, I wondered why they had come, how they had come, and if they would come again.
At home, we napped and many of us journaled in quiet. For our final reflection, two students prepared a beautiful affirmations table on which each of us had a namecard next to a glass. We each wrote notes to each other, describing what we love about one another. Then we shared our favorite meals, our biggest challenges, and who we would like to connect with more on campus. It was a lovely end to a most meaningful journey together.
Tuesday, May 24th
The plane shook as we ascended into the desert heat. I watched the sand spread across the ground and gazed at the plateau formations. The desert slowly changed to ocean, and we turned to land at LAX. A tear escaped my face as the coliseum and 110 freeway came into view. Home.