I’m compelled to name a few things as I draft this blog post. At this moment, my spirit is exhausted. Over the past few centuries, and over the past few weeks, I have bore witness to the footage [unmarked with content or trigger warnings] of my people being lynched. Read that again, please.
At the end of April 2020, I departed from the desert I called my home for the past two years. Tucson, Arizona, was so much more than the dry-hot, beautiful, breathing landscape I once labeled her; She became the site of some of the most profound self-growth and actualization I have ever known. Not solely in terms of intra-personal blossoming, but in the truest definition of human connection, the awakening of a repressed blend of ancestral empathy and heart-break. One memory in particular is seared into my memory from my time as a Lasallian Volunteer in Tucson.
When Sister Jodi, myself, and our El Otro Lado group arrived at the playground area of the asylum shelter, there were so many kiddos. Of all ages and hues. Both precious and disturbing all at once: everyone we met at this particular shelter was seeking asylum in the United States, fleeing from violence, extortion, trafficking, torture [to name a few push factors]. Also, everyone seeking resources at this site had recently been released from ICE Detention.
I struggled to envision these folx (a gender neutral collective noun used to address a group of people), these children especially, many of whom looked to be under the age of 11 or 12, being in custody in what has colloquially been called “la nevera” [ice box]…
Seated at the all-encompassing basketball court/baseball diamond/soccer field, I watched from the concrete steps as our El Otro Lado students and moderators folded seamlessly into the space, giving all their energy to the kiddos: playing sports, asking about their favorite things. I smiled because for a moment, joy and hope were the most present energies in these little ones’ journeys toward safety with their families. I felt something touch the top of my head; small hands? I turned around.
This particular Little One was Afro-Latinx. I don’t have any sisters, but if I did, I’d imagine they would look a lot like her. Immediately she reached for my hair and noted the similarity to her own. Brown irises and melanated familiarities and big smiles as we communicate through her four-year-old words and my broken Spanish. As we talked about her favorite color, her favorite games, the snacks she likes the best, tears welled up as a thought came to me:
Our ancestors were taken to different shores of the Transatlantic Trade… hers to Centro-America, mine to Texas. We speak different languages, both stemming from colonization, but we look just the same. Her family is fleeing oppressive, omnipresent violence. Violence which has never fully ceased since the moment we were taken from the Motherland… I hope Little One and her family will be able to stay in the States, that they are not forced into the compounded trauma of deportation after re-living existing trauma in asylum hearings and interviews. That after generations of resilience and survival, her family can breathe, have more time and space to flourish…
Little One ran after one of her cousins to tricycle as fast as she could around the court.
This encounter happened over a year ago and I have no idea where Little One or her family is in the present day. I often wonder if they are here in the States. I wonder what they are feeling if they are seeing and living through what is unfolding here, from police brutality to xenophobia, all in the context of COVID-19 existence?
I hope so deeply that their family is safe, wherever they are in this moment; if they are in the United States, that they are able to remain together as a healthy family unit, while navigating the weighted duality of Pan African-ness and first-generation migration in the United States. I hope that the collective “we” are able to continue to challenge and dismantle these structural designs which perpetuate such chilling, blatant inequities.
I call in the Lasallian network as a whole, to invest our advocacy efforts in said dismantling: be it through difficult dialogues, commitment to continued self-education and interpersonal accountability, financial contribution if we are able, to name only a few avenues of support.
Savannah Mattox is a second-year volunteer at San Miguel High School serving as the El Otro Lado Border Immersion Assistant & Kino Teens Moderator. She is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga with a degree in communications and ethnic studies.
Read Savannah’s Shared Blog post from her first-year of service here.
We invite you to join Lasallians in a conversation about racism on June 25, 2020. You can learn more and register for the online event here.