This year, the 2016 School of the Americas Watch moved from Fort Benning to the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales. Six Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates participated in the Convergence at the Border that took place on October 7-10. The change of location was an effort to bring “awareness to the militarization of the border, the criminalization of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and people of color.” (SOA Website). The weekend event included rallies, workshops, prayer services, actions and gatherings in both Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.
Separating Nogales is a 30′ iron wall. It was imported from Desert Storm and installed in Nogales at a cost of $3 billion. The rallies took place at the same location with people gathered on both sides of the wall with speakers, musicians, and singers presenting on one side and then the other. They gave a powerful witness that, while we might be in different countries, we share the same concerns, pain and joy. At one point, Associate Jerry Stein connected with Associate Conni Dubick and me at the wall. He was on the American side, and we were in Mexico. We found each other via cell phones and spent some time talking. It was challenging to talk at any length, and I could only imagine how difficult it would be for families caught on different sides of a border fence.
Sr. Roberta Miller observed, “Nogales is an integrated town of Mexicans and Anglos separated only by a steel snake going up and down the hills and by U.S. Border patrol. The surrounding land is a desert of cacti, rock, brambles and snakes. When I think of the men, women and children trying to cross over this harsh landscape only looking for safety from the violence endured in their lands, my level of anger and frustration is almost over-powering. The extensive diversity I saw gathered to peacefully and creatively protest the immigration and racist injustices was a source of hope.”
Like Sr. Roberta, I was amazed by the many organizations representing, supporting, protesting, and advocating for immigrants, indigenous people, refugees, and people of color. There were religious congregations and people of all faiths. I was most touched by veterans who were protesting deportation of other veterans. Did you know that the military recruits from other countries like Mexico and Central America? These soldiers and sailors have the option of becoming citizens, but many don’t understand this. When they leave the military and if they break the law, they are immediately deported. Many have fought in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan for our country but are now deported.
The rally on Sunday included a moving remembrance of the many men, women, and children who have died in the fight for the rights of indigenous people, those crossing the border to escape war and violence and those innocents killed because of hatred and racism. Many in the crowd were visibly moved by these losses. But the rally didn’t end in sorrow or pain but with joy as life-sized puppets enacted a story about how we must come together. Despite the height of the wall, we are all brothers and sisters.