I met Pepe on my first day at the Kino Border Initiative. I was going around with a plate of huevos (eggs) and asking if anybody wanted more. I came across a man who gave me a huge smile and asked for some more. We exchanged some small conversation and I was onto serving the next table.
During clean up he asked me if he could help me clean up the glasses. We stood silently passing each other dirty dishes. I was anxious to talk to him. My spanish is pretty poor. I can hear it and understand it sometimes, but when it comes to speaking, I am awful.
We had to leave Kino to go do some more interviews and get on with there rest of our day. During our interview with Joanna later that day she explained a particular case of brutality that many migrants are subject to. She told the story of a young man who was kicked by border patrol causing nerve pain in parts of his body. I remember hearing the story and thinking that all that man must have wanted was to have a chance at a better something, a better life, a better opportunity, a better whatever. And for some reason, the border patrol harmed this man without having any probable cause to hurt him.
It was hard for me to fathom that people who are government officials would do something like this. It makes me feel uncomfortable that I live in a country that does these inhumane acts.
It wasn’t until later that I discovered we would be interviewing Pepe the man who was kicked by border control.
A group of four stayed back instead of having lunch downtown to stay for the interview with Pepe. Although the interview was all in spanish, I could understand him based on certain words, his body language and his expressions.
Pepe discussed his journey and the experiences and people he met and had to leave behind. He explained his incidents with the mafia and with border control. He told us about how a gun was put to his head. I kept thinking about what I would do if that was me in that situation. I am not sure I would have the strength to continue to seek out a better life if the mafia and the border control were two powerful sources that were there constantly discouraging me to cross.
Pepe has a son who is seven month old. He has never met his son Brandon. But he calls him el gordo because he is chubby. During the whole interview, I felt myself holding back tears. I didn’t want him to see that I was crying, I felt that it would be rude. But when he talked about his son, I had to look away so that my other crew members and Pepe couldn’t see my tears. “I know if I go to America and see my son for one minute all my pain will go away,” he said.
How many times a day do we wish that our pain would go away? How many times a day do we take the easy way out? How many times a day do we wish that we could have a better life than the one that we already have? These questions race through my mind as I walk through Mexico and back to the United States.
After the interview, I couldn’t really concentrate on anything other than Pepe. I went up and did my best to talk to him. I realized that I didn’t even introduce myself to him until we came back later.
When we came back Pepe was at the door and he immediately said Hola Maria. I am not sure how he got my name, but we were able to begin conversing. We stood next to each other making bags filled soap and shampoo for those who were recently deported.
Our assembly line was quick and we tried to race to see who could be done the fastest. While others were setting up for the interview Cat and I talked to Pepe. We taught him some english and he taught us some spanish by pointing to things around us and body parts. He was very happy to talk to us and was always smiling.
He showed us some of the art work he has done at Kino. He told me that I would have to be very patient if I would be able to do what he did. He made flowers out of paper towels and tin foil. He asked Cat and I if we wanted to learn how to do it the next time we were there.
I hope that I can see Pepe again before we leave. Even though he is just one individual, I have made a connection with him with little to know communication.
Later, Nico told Cat and I that Pepe really enjoyed talking to us. We were the first Americans that he had talked to. The rest of the night I was thinking of Pepe and where he was and what he was doing. I was surrounded by people I love and care about while eating a delicious meal and wondering when the last time Pepe was with his family.
I wish I could do so much more for Pepe. There are thousands of Pepe’s out there trying to be with their family and their love ones. I don’t know what the solution is because there is no easy answer. But what I do know is that people need to see the wall, they need to see the migrants, they need to see how it is affecting them and the rest of the border states. Maybe it’s naive of me to think that if people saw the wall they wouldn’t want it to be there anymore.
Something we have been talking about the whole trip is the idea of human dignity. It is so easy to dehumanize the migrants and the wall because we are so far away from it. It’s easy to put it out of your mind to pretend it’s not there.
But we are all on a journey. We must humanize immigration and this current crisis and see the faces behind the issue. It’s much harder to ignore a name or a face than a statistic or a group of people. Those who are trying to migrate to the United States aren’t going because they don’t want to. They are going because they want a chance. A chance to live a life free from violence and oppression. Just like Pepe.