This week's La Perspectiva comes from Maria Magdalena Duarte, a Chatham University student. She recently was a part of the Pittsburgh delegation to the Border Convergence action at the USA-Mexico border in Arizona. We at Cafe Con Leche are simply in awe of Maria's courage and power. Read on to learn more about her experience. 

As an undocumented Latina and university student, I had the opportunity to participate in actions at the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona for the SOA Watch Border Convergence.  Being openly undocumented in a city like Pittsburgh, where you rarely meet people who speak out about their status, can sometimes feel lonely. I have had the undocumented and unapologetic part down for a while now, but I often wonder if I am truly unafraid. Coming out of the shadows does require courage, you must accept that there may be ridicule, and that people may attempt to harm you. But I felt I needed more. So I went to the border to face my fears, to protest, to grieve, to demand justice, and to find the community that I rarely get to envelop myself in.  I was joined by a vibrant group of people who are doing incredible work in Pittsburgh to take Martín Esquivel-Hernandez out of deportation proceedings.

Landing in Maricopa county was an experience on its own, I had been to sanctuary cities before, but this felt different. Before, Joe Arpio had always been a sort of character that my mother would shudder at the mentioned of on TV or in conversation, but setting foot in Phoenix made him real.  Seeing the activist hubs gave me a sense of hope and made me feel at ease, they were a safe space amidst the rule of white supremacy.

Before making it to the border, we attended a rally outside a detention center in Eloy, known to be the deadliest in the nation.  It was stagnant, or at least that is the best way I can describe it. The facility lacked character and was surrounded by barbed wire fencing, identical to your everyday prison. That’s when the dehumanization and militarization of the immigration system felt most palpable, and I started to further scrutinize my own struggles as an undocumented youth. Here, we heard the stories of multiple people who had lost loved ones due to the militarization of the border, and also stories of those who had been personally tortured by border patrol and ice agents.

After having conversations with the group of Pittsburgh friends that I got to share this experience with, we all agreed that the trip had been a whirlwind of emotions. There was sadness because, suddenly, I could touch the physical structure that separates my heritage from my daily life. In a literal sense, this wall embodies the divide that so many Americans want to place (and indeed, strengthen) between American society and people like me. It is the antipathy and otherness that I have been made to feel my entire life, in concrete and chain-link form. 

With this sadness, of course, came anger. Anger about the militarization against migration. Anger that the wall had so clearly stripped this border town of its former culture, stripped both countries of their shared identities and experiences — and created instead a bitter divide.

Then there was hope. As I watched birds and butterflies flying freely across this fence, I was reminded of the futility of divisions. I was reminded that, once, there had been no divide, and any of us were free to move as and where we pleased. And now I felt inspired. Inspired by the countless trials of human history that remind us we are stronger when we unite, not divide. Inspired by the people who came together to call for the dismantling of this artificial wall — who, in the face of so much adversity and derision, want to bring people together, not keep us apart.

The heavy policing at the border is a means of intimidation. It is meant to act as a deterrent for those who may seek to enter this vibrant country, in hopes of opportunity, by inspiring fear of persecution should they come. But as I stood at this physical embodiment of the struggles of my community, I was no longer afraid of it. Instead, I was inspired to use my position to change it. To wield the knowledge that this country, America, is vibrant precisely because of the people who came to it, searching for opportunity. As one of those people, I intend to use the privilege of my position to afford others the same opportunity I have had. And I am prepared to keep fighting, harder and longer, to do so. La Lucha Sigue! 

A special thank you to the SOA Watch of Pittsburgh, The Thomas Merton Center, Café Con Leche, and Christina Acuna Castillo for making this experience a reality.

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