Ministry at the border: belleza (beauty) of binationality
Sister Tracey Horan is the new Education Coordinator at the Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera. In this role, she works with an education team to coordinate and host individuals and groups for immersions to the U.S./Mexico border. There she and others engage participants on the current reality of migration. Since her arrival in July, they have hosted six high school groups for this experience, 58 individuals in total.
Before I arrived in Nogales, Arizona last month, I already had a sense that I was stepping into a place where cultures mix. In communications with the woman with whom I would be staying for part of my transition to the U.S./Mexico border, I noticed that she switched back and forth between English and Spanish. Even after talking to her on the phone, I wasn’t quite sure what her dominant language was.
This is how things are in the border town of Nogales, the place I now call home. Nogales is a mid-sized city in the high desert that sits on a passage across the hills of southern Arizona, U.S. and northern Sonora, Mexico. Collectively referred to as “Ambos Nogales” or “Both Nogales,” Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora once existed as one city, one community. The town motto of Nogales, Sonora reads, “Juntos por amor a Nogales,” which translates, “United by the love of Nogales.” In some ways, the connections and movement between the two show that it still is one.
As I walk to the downtown port of entry several times a week to cross into Mexico, I encounter a visual sign of this fluidity — people walking toward the turnstile to Mexico, people waiting in line to cross into the U.S. Although the belleza (beauty) of this movement and exchange is made less vibrant by the steel barriers and rows of barbed wire, this does not stop people from being people — from greeting each other, from letting an elderly woman with a cane pass through, from giggling at an unruly child’s antics.
The belleza of this binationality shone through last week at a despedida (good bye party) for a colleague at the Kino Border Initiative who would be moving on to another ministry. Volunteers from both Arizona and Sonora filled the room. Conversations could be heard in Spanish, English, and creative mixtures of the two. I sat my vegan tofu dish alongside bags of chicharrónes (Mexican pork rinds) with all the traditional fixings.
As I looked around and absorbed the cariño profundo (profound care) manifest in that room, even in the stumbling between languages and sometimes clumsy attempts to learn each other’s dance moves, I wished that decision makers working to build ever higher walls and send more armed troops to patrol the border could see what I saw: the belleza of binationality.
As much as we humans believe we can control the movement of people, animals and resources, Mother Nature has a way of offering a swift reality check. In the case of Ambos Nogales, she reminds us that no matter how high we build a wall to separate these lands, they literally flow together. The water here flows south to north – from the hills in northwestern Mexico toward Phoenix via the Santa Cruz River. In southern Arizona, we rely on the flow of life-giving water from our southern neighbors for survival.
Of course through our own water treatment and levy systems we’ve tried to tame even this connectedness. Still, as I move into this new ministry of accompanying and learning from people on the move — people fleeing violence, seeking opportunity, working to keep their families together — I find some solace in the ways Creation shows us that division is a farce. I find my compass is realigned when I remember the truth is that we need each other.