Tag Archives: #KinoBorderInitiative

Weavings of Beauty

I looked over my notes and questions I would be asking Danny throughout the interview.
I looked over my notes and questions before my first interview.

I had the chance to conduct my first interview with a gentleman named Danny who is a citizen from Nogales, Mexico who volunteers at El Comedor.

I was able to interview Danny, who had been born and raised in Nogales, Mexico. He has been volunteering at the Commodor for seven years.
I was able to interview Danny, who had been born and raised in Nogales, Mexico. He has been volunteering at El Comedor for seven years.

One of the questions that I asked was, “Where do you see God in all of this?”

After a few meditative moments, Danny’s response was, “God is in us.” He explained that even though he prays for things to get better, he sees God in the actions of people helping other people. He emphasized the ability to see migrants as people and not as a statistic. When we treat people with human dignity and interact with them as an equal, our hearts are impacted and transformed. What an incredible response that really embodies the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s likeness.

I’ve always wanted to change the world, to make a positive impact for those who needed it the most. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. But I refuse to be derailed from my goal to change the world. My goals have just have just become more focused. I’ve realized that every person has their own world that weaves through other worlds. When my world collides with another, it is the perfect opportunity for me to take the gifts I have been given to share with another. Our human stories become one, if even for an instant, and we both can benefit. The weaving of all stories under the human race is truly an awe-inspiring mystery.

Even for those of you who don’t believe in God, I hope you believe in the beauty that surrounds us everyday, especially in the face of hardships. Since I have been on this trip, I have seen this over and over again.

Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.
Natalia performing at the Commodore for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.

Natalia is a singer/songwriter who used to volunteer at El Comedor. She was born in the US but spent most of her time growing up in Columbia, where she became fluent in Spanish. When she started to hear these stories that the migrants would tell her, she became moved to write songs about their terrifying experiences and turn them into hauntingly beautiful songs.

Maren and I were able to film Natalia interact and play for the immigrants. One of her songs lyrics talked about the fire that burned in their souls to achieve the dream of a better life.

Natalia performed a concert at El Comedor that I was able to help film. A group of men who had just been deported moments before, had been dropped off just as everyone had sat down. The only table left was between my camera and Natalia. While I was filming, I made eye contact with a man and immediately smiled at him. He just sort of stared back at me. A few minutes later, our eyes met again and again I smiled. Shyly, a grin started to emerge from his face. The next time that our eyes met, he was beaming and his eyes twinkled. After dinner, I was conversing with a few other men in my broken Spanish and I could see him standing back and waiting. I went over and introduced myself to him and held out my hand to meet his. I learned that he was from a town in Central Mexico, 20 years old, and traveling by himself. His warm smile is what kept my tears from pouring out. We spoke very few words between us as I had to start packing up our gear, but the smiling seemed to be enough for the both of us.

The bottom image is flipped to make the image look more aesthetically pleasing. However, the bottom image is what the wall looks like that splits the United States and Mexico. The wall in the top photo was painted blue in order to “erase” the wall.

This wall that everyone keeps talking about is ugly both physically and symbolically. It’s brown and metal and not aesthetically pleasing whatsoever. A Mexican-American artist, Ana Teresa Fernández, has painted murals on the wall in different cities at the border. Her project is called, “Borrando la Frontera,” or “Erasing the Border.” Her mural in Nogales is sky blue, meant to look as if the sky had been brought down and the border erased.

We need to believe in the power of our individual talents and abilities to interact with others in a way that can make a lasting impact, even if only for an instant.

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity,” Joseph Addison










When did we forget how to cry?

Painting by migrant in Nogales, Sonora
Painting by migrant in Nogales, Sonora

On our first morning here, we walked across the border and into Mexico. No one asked to see my passport, not a single question was asked. I saw the wall, snaking up and down the terrain, drones and cameras watching everyone and everything that approached it. I didn’t see the cartel members in the trees at the top of the hill, but I was told by a number of people that they were there, watching for migrants.

Prior to going on this trip, it seemed like everyone I told left me with the same warning: “Be careful, the border is dangerous.” I guess if I was afraid of anything, it was the drug lords and cartels I had heard about in the media. However, when we crossed the border, I didn’t feel unsafe at all.

Nogales is unique because it’s one of the only cities split by the wall. About 25,000 people live on the America side, while 250,000 live on the Mexico side. In 2011, the wall was built to replace a wire fence. Prior to this, Americans and tourists flowed freely between the border, heading into Mexico for a cheap authentic dinner or a night on the town. However, following 911, as talks of threats to national security skyrocketed, people began to avoid the border at all costs because they were afraid. In walking through the town, you see what’s left of what used to be a lively town for tourists, now clearly in a depression.

Throughout the trip, the idea of the wall continues to come up, literally and figuratively. It’s pretty hard to miss the structure that stands 18-30 feet depending on the location. I’ve learned it takes two minutes to climb over it. About four million dollars per mile to build it. Drugs and money can still be passed between the it. In fact, other than stirring fear in people, the wall does very little. When we put walls up, we assume it’s up to keep something out. It really struck me when Fr. Peter Neeley, a Jesuit priest who has worked with immigration for over 20 years asked us, “How is putting up a wall loving your neighbor?”

Creighton students observe the wall up close.
Creighton students observe the wall up close.

A train track runs through the center of Nogales, perpendicular to the wall. Ironically, the first train we saw pass through was a Union Pacific, carrying Ford cars. Everyday 2,500 Fords manufactured in Nogales are brought into the U.S. We watched as the wall opened so the train could pass through, closing immediately after the last car. This is just one example of the many goods that pass from Mexico into America. In addition to this, we saw an abundance of factories in the city, all producing American goods.

Again, I was struck by Fr. Neeley’s words. “America depends on so many material goods from Mexico, but when it comes to the people, it wants nothing to do with them.” America relies on the world for so many of its possessions. We don’t live in a little cocoon.

Fr. Neeley talked about how 20 years ago he would tell Mexicans he worked with how wonderful he thought America was. He would ask them why they hadn’t wanted to try and find jobs in the United States, where they would make a better wage, to which they would respond, “Why would we go to the U.S. Father? We have everything we need here and we’re happy.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American moves 12 times in his or her lifetime, over 80 percent of these people move within the same state. The reasons include leaving for college and job opportunities. The point is, most people don’t move unless they have to, especially to places far from their families with unfamiliar languages and cultures.

Over the past four days every migrant we’ve talked to was running from something or to someone. From trying to avoid danger, to hoping to meet his or her child for the first time, each migrant we’ve met didn’t leave their home just because they wanted to; they had to.

Yet, we continue to dehumanize them, we continue to criminalize them and we continue to build walls instead of looking at the human on the other side.

Pope Francis asks us: “Where is your compassion? Have you forgotten how to cry?”



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.

Finding God in All Things

Today has been one of the longest days I have lived thus far in the past twenty years, but easily one of the most meaningful as well. Our entire group woke up to shoot footage at 4:30 a.m. this morning. We drove up to the top of a hill and watched as the sky turned from dark blue to an array of light blues and oranges over the border. Starting my day experiencing the beauty of nature was the perfect way to set the scene of seeing God in what was all around me throughout the day.

Nogales Sunrise
Waking up at 4:30 this morning to watch the sunrise over Nogales was unbelievably worth it.

In the morning, we visited a women’s shelter organized by the Kino Border Initiative that helps female migrants and their children after they have been deported. KBI primarily works with migrants who have just been deported and provides a warm meal, clothes, medical assistance, and temporary shelter for migrants in need.

We were fortunate enough to spend time helping the KBI staff and listening to the stories of migrants. While we had been oriented about the lives of migrants, I was completely unprepared for what I would hear from migrants firsthand. In the women’s shelter, we met one family who had some members born in Honduras and two members born in Georgia in the United States but still were reunited in Nogales.

Maria C. and I stayed behind to help film Natalia, a performer who was born in the United States but raised in Latin America who has spent her life living in solidarity with migrants. She had worked for KBI for a few years listening to migrants stories and singing for them. We were able to film Natalia sing and play the guitar for migrants, many of whom had just been deported shortly before their arrival for dinner at KBI.

The stories I heard from migrants allowed me to see the perseverance and resilience of those who are seeking a safer and better life for themselves, the crucial its of reuniting with loved ones, and the gratitude of compassion from others helping them in their current situation. Many migrants sometimes feel they deserve what happens to them, from complete poverty to brutality from authorities, but when others listen, there can be hope in a seemingly hopeless and complicated situation.

It’s impossible for me not to see God working through the people I’ve been surrounded by through this experience, from my fellow students who are using their gifts to tell the story of those who are marginalized, to my professors who are giving their time and guidance to us through and through, to the organizations that help migrants in any way possible to alleviate what they are going through, and finally to the migrants themselves who in my experience interacting with them had a smile on their faces and didn’t leave any sense of giving up or ending their journey.