Obviously the Outsider

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Photo of cacti.

Being uncomfortable is the worst. That desire to crawl out of your skin and go hide somewhere no one can see you.

As I reflect on the trip, a lot of good memories and feelings come to mind. But when I really take the trip apart, and think about everything situation we were in , I’m reminded of the number of times I felt out of place.

In a sense, crossing the border each day was like entering into Narnia. Walking through the wall was like walking into the wardrobe. We very seamlessly went from one world into another.

The signs changed from English to Spanish, instead of McDonalds we saw fast food chains like Pollo Feliz, little pastel houses sprinkled the hills, men wondered the streets selling gum and cold treats.

Bienvenido a Mexico.

The first time I felt uncomfortable was at the comedor. As migrants walked in, the Kino volunteers welcomed them each with a handshake and hello, and then sat them at a table. As the small room quickly filled up, volunteers scurried to put food on the table and make sure everyone had a place to sit.

Saying I felt uncomfortable at the comedor feels silly, because the comedor really was a place that welcomed everyone. But I felt awkward in the sense that I didn’t need to be there, I was helpless, I was in the way.

I realized very quickly how poor my Spanish was. All I wanted to do was have a small conversation with the some of the migrants, make a small connection, get to know them and their story. After all, that’s what we were here to do. It was difficult watching them laugh or talk with each other, and to not be able to understand what it was they were laughing at.

I again felt this sense of being out of place in walking through the streets of Nogales, Mexico. We might as well have tattooed “American” on our foreheads and worn Hawaiian shirts because of how much we stuck out like cookie-cutter tourists. With our cameras, tripods and adventure pants, caravanning together up and down the streets, it was very clear that we weren’t locals. Heads turned, storeowners welcomed us into their shops and one man sitting on a bench yelled out “Americans! What are you doing here? Are you lost?”

Lastly, sitting in the courtroom to witness Operation Streamline in action felt very abnormal. I mentioned in a previous  post how it was difficult to have the shackled migrants look you in the eye. You could sense they were confused as to why we were there, watching them as they were prosecuted. I assume they were humiliated that we were watching.

I guess that a lot of the discomfort in these situations stemmed from very unmistakenly being the outsider. It made me think a little bit about how the migrant must feel when they first come to America. Unwelcomed, unfamiliar, obviously the outsider.

I think an even greater part of the discomfort came from feeling like I was there to view these people and their lifestyle for my entertainment. So badly I wanted to express that I wanted to help them. That we weren’t the bad guy. That we understood where they were coming from, or if we didn’t fully, we wanted to.

1 thought on “Obviously the Outsider

  1. Aly, this is a beautifully written post. While being uncomfortable is not necessarily our goal, it is part of the experience and part of why it is such a compelling experience. Reflecting on why and how to change that is a good thing.

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