Ross Coppola

Stranger in your homeland and stranger
amongst strangers
month after month you labour and every day
is the same as yesterday.
But for you also there comes
the happiest of days
That in which you return home:
and once you are hom
the misunderstandings begin.
Your children have grown
of you all they know is your name
but your affection, your love is enough
to draw them all
to your heart
and the old tie is remade.
Your dreamed-of days
have vanished quickly
you go -- and the old round begins.
Your soul once again you leave here
and alone, with your bag
filled with memories you go:
This is your whole life consumed
between an arrival and a departure
and to think that you went
to stay for only a year or two.

From Balai, Asian Journal No. 12, as printed in A Moment to Choose: Risking to be with Uprooted Peoples, A Resource Book produced by the World Council of Churches, 1996.

Brown at the Borders - America's Immigration Crisis

Christopher D. Sims a.k.a UniverSouL

Brown at the borders
Are sons and daughters
of parents who have escaped
violence, wars, weapons, and
endless tears.

America fears children
Who crosses her borders
Believing that safety and
calm are here.

Year after year, “ the browning
of America”is somehow a
threat. How could we ever
Forget that this land was
once inhabited by their Ancestors

Brown at the borders, as
the President of the United States
orders billions from Congress
To deport thousands of children.

Children who have feelings.
Children who have emotions.
Children who seek better lives.

Brown at the borders
Running from ruins and relentless
pressure from rough gang leaders
They are being told, “America will 

give you amnesty.”

The children live in a hopeless land.
Will we take the time to understand?
From America,they will be shipped
and banned.

We have the upper hand, as they remain
brown at the borders. Brown at our mean,
politically motivated, heartless borders.

© Christopher D. Sims
July 10, 2014

Immigration Prayer

Rev. Mark Belletini

O Love,
I come into your presence,
and the presence of this gathering,
as the grandchild of immigrants.
Immigrants who were not joyfully welcomed
by many inhabitants of this nation,
but ridiculed and accused of being a threat.
Immigrants who came to this land
in poverty and never became wealthy.
Immigrants whose English was never
as good as they wanted it to be.
Immigrants who were honest,
thrifty, hardworking, and who loved
this nation, even though many in this
nation despised their nationality of origin,
mocked their religion,
and pointed accusing fingers at them.
I am their grandchild, O Love,
and know this:
all human beings are inherently worthy,
and are worthy of respect and fair dealing.
All human beings, no matter their origin,
skills, education, language abilities or
religion, live lives as important to them
as my life is to me.
O Love, may I walk through this world,
where conversations about immigration
are often aflame with the exact same
disrespect and misunderstanding
leveled at my beloved grandparents,
with my head held high,
my memory strong,
my courage loud,
my solidarity secure.
May I give a voice to the voiceless,
and hold up a mirror of honesty
to the twists and distortions of the age.
O Love, set us free to serve you in peace. Amen.

Immigration Justice

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of migrant and immigrant justice.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

From the Gates of Repentance

For the sin of silence, For the sin of indifference, For the secret complicity of the neutral. For the closing of borders, For the washing of hands, For the crime of indifference, For the sin of silence, For the closing of borders. For all that was done, For all that was not done, Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory; Let there be remembrance within the human heart; And let there at last be forgiveness When Your children, O God, Are free and at peace.

What is a Hymn to Vatos?

Tweet of the Day: @Urrealism: Hey! RT @Aunt_Feather: "Hymn to Vatos Who Will Never Be in a Poem" by @Urrealism for #PoetryMonth via @Latinopia

This YouTube video, retweeted by the author of the poem, Luis Urrea is particularly relevant because Arizona is attempting to erase the history of Mexicans and the indigenous, by banning a Mexican American studies program in Tucson. "Hymn to Vatos Who Will Never Be in a Poem" is one of the "texts" that have been banned, and the video shows the poem being read to students last month. This is not "new" news, but this past week has been especially inane in Arizona. I have been living in California for a good number of years, yet I am still capable of being shocked by the irrationality and hysteria of the power brokers in the state. I am refraining from using the words insane or insanity in deference to real mental illness, rather the current political climate is simply a continuation of a inextricable history of racism from before the beginning of the state.

Last week, the teacher who is the director of the Mexican American studies program in Tucson was fired by the school district. Next, the republican instigator is planning to go after college level education. One of the most memorable aspects of my 4th-7th grades in Tucson was learning the history of the different native American tribes in Arizona. Having started school, Head Start and first grade, with children from the White Mountain Apache reservation, I was interested in the whitewashed, Arizona dry histories. I did learn something, if not just respect for the people who originally settled in the state. The Mexican American studies program had yet to be designed.

I chose to learn much more in adulthood. One would think that banning books would be a bad idea, looking at the history of banning books. When I learned that not only books by Latino authors banned, but Native American books, as well, I was alarmed. Shortly thereafter, my mom called me concerned that her Dad came here illegally. "Mom, he came here before Arizona was even a state." My grandmother was also born before Arizona became a state. The fear fostered by the political climate had come home.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the mineral riches in the territory were exploited, and the political process was used to define who was in the in group and the out group, whether Chinese, Mexican or Native American. Those with brown skin have been in the out group since the beginning. An early example is the a group of Irish American "white" orphans adopted to Mexican American families by the Catholic Church, which resulted in an orchestrated kidnapping by vigilantes on Morenci and Clifton, Arizona.  My grandmother was born in Morenci just seven years later.



I'm concerned about the consequences of cutting off links to Mexican and Native American  history in Arizona. Only since the 1970s has the program to send Native American children off to boarding schools to "kill the Indian and save the man" discontinued. Many of those affected are are still living. I hope that the youth of today are not doomed to repeat history on the ordinary brown skinned men, the Vatos, as well as the women and children of the state who deserve respect because of their inherent worth.

Note: The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly will be held in Phoenix in June. While I agree with the spirit in which it will be held, I have a great deal of ambivalence in anticipation of attending in my home state.

NAFTA and Immigration

A Tidal Wave of Migration

We know that people have been migrating freely across the U.S-Mexico border since there was a border, and they continued to do so even after the border was created. In fact, the U.S. has a long history of relying on Mexican migrant labor. It officially started with the Bracero program of the mid-1940s, where Mexican farm workers were “invited” in to work on U.S. farms that were short-handed due to the war, but migrant farm work had been going on unofficially well before that. Migration across the border to look for work is nothing new. However, it is also true that the influx of Mexicans into the U.S. looking for work has jumped dramatically in the last couple of decades. Pundits are actually not exaggerating when they describe a relative tidal wave of immigration that is stressing public services and changing the demographics of many U.S. states. In the early 1990s, Mexican migration to the United States was less than 400,000 a year. By 2007 it was 500,000 a year. As Alejandro Portes wrote for in 2006 (


“From a purely regional presence in the west and southwest, it has become a truly national phenomenon. States that had barely a handful of “Hispanics” in 1990 now count a sizable Hispanic population. In Georgia, for example, the Latin-origin population went from 1.7 percent in 1990 to 5.3 percent in 2000, a 312 percent increase due to an inflow of 300,000 persons, overwhelmingly from Mexico. Cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, whose “Hispanics” in 1990 consisted of a few wealthy Cuban and South American professionals, now have upwards of 80,000, mostly undocumented Mexican laborers.”

What is causing this massive migration? Many U.S.Americans – regardless of political leaning – operate under the assumption that everyone else in the world would prefer to live in the U.S. but were not fortunate enough to have all been born here. This belief is even stronger towards those we perceive to be living in “un(der)developed” countries. Starting from that assumption, some seek to restrict the number of foreign-born people who can immigrate, fearing that a shortage of resources will hurt their own standard of living. Others are more sympathetic, believing that as it was chance that determined who would be lucky enough to be born in the U.S, the least we can do is to let people in who make the effort to come for a “better lifestyle.” Yet both groups of people are laboring under false assumptions.

It is true that there many people from all over the world want to come to the U.S. But not everyone who comes here really wants to. Many would actually have preferred to stay in their own country. Emigrating from one’s home country often means leaving behind family and culture, having to adopt a second language, and a loss (or dramatic shift) of one’s identity… It is not an insignificant consideration to think of one’s children growing up with a different national identity than one’s own. Many here in the U.S. were not attracted by the lure of “America” and its fabled gold-paved streets so much as they were driven out of their home countries by extreme poverty. To understand this is the key to developing public policy that humanely and effectively stems the flood of humanity coming to the U.S., as it means that we must do more than just put more guards at the border and instead address the reasons why people are so desperate to cross it.

Sold A False Bill of Goods

When the presidents of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, it was supposed to benefit the economies and workers of all three nations. “Free trade” was also supposed to alleviate Mexican immigration into the U.S. – which had been an issue by the mid-90s but was nothing like it is now – by boosting the Mexican economy and creating enough job opportunities to keep its people there. Instead, it has done the exact opposite.

As U.S.American workers know, NAFTA had a catastrophic effect on them. 800,000 to 1 million jobs that used to be done in the U.S. were “out-sourced” to factories (maquiladoras) just south of the border and to other countries. Entire communities were devastated by plant closures and mass layoffs. It may have seemed to U.S. workers that our government sold them out to benefit the workers of other countries. However, as bad as NAFTA has been for U.S. workers, it has been far worse for the people of Mexico.

Mexico’s economy, which had consisted mainly of small self-sufficient farms and jobs in state-owned industries, was supposed to have been “modernized” into a free-market economy.

What happened when the market became “free” was that U.S. corn flooded Mexico, increasing from 2.7 to 6.1 million metric tons as of 1997. The price of Mexican-grown corn dropped by 70%. Mexican subsistence farmers, most of whom were indigenous farmers who had been on their land for generations, could not compete with U.S. government-subsidized, factory-farmed corn. The expectation was that Mexican farmers would “transition” from growing corn, to which they were accustomed, to growing strawberries and vegetables for U.S. consumption. However, the “foreign investment” that was supposed to fund such a transition never happened. Coupled with the “free-market” lifting of restrictions on the sale of peasant (ie – indigenous) land, two million of farmers and their families were thus driven off their lands. Desperation forced everyone except the elderly and young children to leave their villages in search of work, thus becoming migrants. Entire villages were decimated.

On the manufacturing end, the foreign company-owned factories, or maquiladoras, were supposed to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Indeed, U.S. businesses flooded into Mexico with NAFTA to take advantage of the cheap labor, leaving workers in the States high and dry. However, the maquiladoras never ventured further into Mexico than within 300 miles of the border. The Mexican government was supposed to build roads and infrastructure for more companies to move south, but a financial crisis just months after NAFTA went into effect dashed all hopes of that. Meanwhile, Mexican manufacturers who were once protected by tariffs could not compete with U.S. products and were driven out of business, taking jobs with them. At the same time, many companies who had moved their manufacturing from the U.S. to Mexico subsequently moved their factories to even cheaper localities (ie – where they would pay workers even less). A free market free-for-all. As a result, jobs in the manufacturing sector declined from a high of 4.1 million in 2000 to 3.5 million in 2004. Even where such jobs were available, they usually paid close to the Mexican minimum wage of U.S. $1/hour. In 1975, the average Mexican wage was 23% of the average U.S. manufacturing wage; by 2002, Mexican wages were only 12%, amounting to about $1,600 a year. For many migrant workers, one hour of the California minimum wage is more money than they make for an entire day in Mexico.

Since NAFTA was enacted in 1994:

  • Economic growth in Mexico has been anemic, averaging less than 3.5 percent per year
  • Mexico has created only about half of the one million new jobs needed per year for young adult Mexicans entering the job market. Thus, unemployment has skyrocketed.
  • Half of the labor force works at improvised jobs in the “informal economy,” a figure ten percent higher than before NAFTA.
  • Mexican worker productivity has increased by 45% yet their real wages have dropped by 22%.
  • Of the 110 million people in Mexico, some 67 million live in poverty with incomes less than $3 a day. (13 million of them on less than $1 a day.) That is 19 million more Mexicans living in poverty than before NAFTA.
  • By the Mexican government’s own estimates, 82% of the working population has less income than what is needed for “basic subsistence”

Open Markets and Closed Borders

All of this is just part of the larger problem of globalization. If goods move freely across borders that means that jobs do too. Think about it. By sending tons of U.S.-grown corn to Mexico for sale in its markets, the demand for Mexican-grown corn is lowered and the demand for American-grown corn is raised. That means fewer farmers are needed in Mexico while more (low-wage) factory farm workers are needed in the U.S. “Free-market” forces are causing this movement of both goods and jobs across borders. Despite that, we do not allow the free movement of workers across those same borders. Mexican farmers know that if they go north there are jobs there waiting for them. (Jobs that are in essence degraded versions of the jobs that were taken from them but pay better than anything they can get in Mexico now.). Yet, they are at the same time told that they cannot legally go north.

If you were in their situation, what would you do?

Note: For the sake of clarity, we have been exclusively discussing NAFTA and its effects on Mexico. However, other countries further south of Mexico have even weaker economies. Despite the obvious failings of NAFTA, it has been used as the model for trade agreements with “developing” Latin American countries, including CAFTA (United States-Dominican Republic- Central American Free Trade Agreement), which was enacted in 2005, and free-trade agreement proposals with Panama, Columbia and Peru. Agreements with Panama and Columbia are still in process; the agreement with Peru was passed in 2007.

What Part of “Illegal” Don’t You Understand?

It sounds very simple but there is actually a great deal of confusion around the term “illegal immigrant.” Being in the country without documentation is illegal but not criminal. It is a civil offense, much like exceeding the speed limit while driving. If you’re going 50 mph in an 35 mph zone, you are breaking the law, but does that make you an “illegal driver”?

Due to the dysfunction of the current U.S. immigration system, family members face years of separation and those seeking work face years of waiting before they can find legal employment to support their families. In both cases, the situation is untenable, especially when there are young, dependant children involved. For that reason, many people choose to enter or remain in the country without documentation.


Much of the discussion around illegal immigration has centered around the idea of people sneaking across the border. The media portrays people with ladders climbing over barbed-wire fences or tunneling under them. The images convey a sense of criminal activity. Indeed, over half of the estimated 11 million people currently in the country without documentation entered clandestinely. However, almost half – an estimated 45% – entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas. These are workers who leave their sponsoring employers in order to escape exploitation. They are students who have come to the U.S. for college or graduate school and then found love and work here. They are family members visiting their loved ones on tourist visas who then cannot bear to part. In short, the vast majority of “illegal immigrants” are people like you and me, not criminals.

But they are breaking the law. Doesn’t that make them criminals by definition?

Not necessarily. Unless they are committing some other activity at the same time that actually is criminal – such as smuggling or identity fraud – even those who are climbing over fences are not committing a crime. Legally speaking, being in the country without documentation is a civil offense. What “illegal immigrants” are “guilty” of is not having the necessary paperwork.

Assistant Homeland Security Secretary John Morton is currently head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As he stated in a Feb 2010 interview, “The immigration laws are civil in nature…. For example, if you enter the country on a visa and you overstay your visa, that is a civil but not a criminal offense. There is some overlap. Sometimes you are here unlawfully and you’re also guilty of a crime. But it is not one to one.” He added, “Generally speaking, if you’re being deported and you’re being detained for it, it’s for a civil infraction and not a criminal one.”

The same view was upheld by Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano in a CNN interview.

In fact, deportation or removal proceedings are conducted in civil court, not criminal court, and the punishment is deportation, not imprisonment. Undocumented immigrants found to be in violation of immigration laws are officially detained only while our immigration system decides whether they have a right to stay in the United States.

Many U.S.Americans mistakenly believe that all undocumented immigrants are by definition criminals, which is understandable. First, there are the images of the militarized border that connote crossing as an illegal activity. Secondly, we continually hear the term illegal immigration, illegal immigrant, illegal, illegal…. Third, while detained undocumented immigrants are officially held in non-criminal custody, due to overcrowding and privatization, over half of the immigrants in detention now are physically housed in private prisons or county jails. All of these things combined create the sense that undocumented immigrants are criminals. It’s no wonder that people are confused!

It is for this reason that many people and organizations, including the Unitarian Universalist Association, advocate the use of the term “undocumented immigrant” instead of “illegal immigrant.”

“Go Back to Where You Came From!”

Ever since April when Governor Brewer signed SB1070 into law in Arizona, I have been following developments down there with rapt attention – checking the updates of various facebook groups, scanning online news headlines, reading analyses… With each new day the news seemed to get worse and worse. First, there was the passage and signing of SB1070 itself. Before the worst parts of the legislation were suspended in July, SB1070 directed officers of the law to investigate the legal status of people “where there is reasonable suspicion” that they may be undocumented. Then came the news that the state of Arizona had also banned public schools from offering ethnic studies – classes designed to give students of color, predominantly Latin@/Hispanic and Native American students – a sense of self worth in this Euro-dominated culture. At the same time, teachers with noticeable accents were barred from teaching English. Arizona Republican Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth called for a moratorium on LEGAL immigration from Mexico.  And finally, the AZ state senator behind SB1070, Russell Pearce, intends to introduce legislation that ends birthright citizenship, in clear contradiction of the 14th amendment. Taken altogether, it seems obvious that the state of Arizona has declared war on immigrants in general and Latin@/indigenous people in particular.

Luckily, it is my job to keep track of legislation and other developments around immigration or else my obsession with the issue these last few months would have severely affected my work. It was more than just passion, more than compassion, more than the fact that my parents, paternal grandparents and uncle, maternal cousin, and many of the non-biological “aunts” and “uncles” from my childhood are all immigrants. This was personal to me to the point where I felt like it was me who was being attacked.  The reason why became clear one afternoon in May as I sat at home, reading developments as usual, and saw the story of Juan Varela, a third-generation Mexican-American who was shot and killed by a neighbor as he yelled “go back to Mexico!”


“Go back!” “Go back to China!” was what the kids at school used to yell at me. It did not matter how many times I tried to explain to them that since I was born here in the U.S. and had never been to China, I could not “go back.” That was my first introduction, at the age of five, to how little logic/reason plays in these “discussions.” They saw me as foreign, un-American, and no matter how hard I tried to assimilate – refusing to speak Mandarin, pleading with my mom to eat spaghetti and tacos for dinner (ironic, isn’t it?) – it made no difference. It was my skin tone – the one thing that I could not shed – that made me a target. All these years later, I still know that my standing as a U.S. citizen is considered conditional to a great many people.

Tears flowed for the loss of life for Juan Varela and the pain of those who love him, but also for the loss of whatever sense of security that Latin@-American kids might still have had. I’m sure that many had already heard the words, “Go back to Mexico!” (regardless of whether or not they are actually of Mexican descent). In Arizona and across the country, states have or are considering similar SB1070-like legislation. Talk of ending birthright citizenship has reached the national level. And incidences of hate-crimes against Latin@s are up around the country.

It was also back in May when I first heard about the proposed Muslim community/cultural center (wrongfully described as a mosque just about everywhere). It had made the news when conservative radio show host, Michael Perry, declared that someone should blow the building up if it is built. I wondered if the irony of threatening to blow up a building near ground zero due to religious differences was lost on Mr. Perry, but in general dismissed him as a right-wing extremist and went back to paying attention to Arizona. Now it is August and not only have other right-wing celebrities weighed in to oppose the cultural center – Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, Gingrich – but people who should know better – Harry Reid, Howard Dean and Governor Patterson – are saying that it should be moved. Polls say that between 61-70% of U.S.Americans oppose the “mosque.” I am appalled, and also obsessed, to the point where I am checking the updates of various facebook groups, scanning online news headlines, reading analyses…

Like SB1070, the controversy over the cultural center feels very personal. Because, like SB1070, the controversy over the cultural center is indicative of a much bigger issue than the one everyone is yelling about. Claiming that the center is “too close” to ground zero does not explain why residents are angrily opposing the building of a new mosque in Staten Island, and it certainly doesn’t explain opposition to building mosques in TennesseeKentucky, and California. It does not explain why mosques across the nation have been targeted for vandalism, arson, gunfire, and even a pipe bomb.  In NY, four men brutally beat an Arab man, shouting “Go back to your country!”  In California a man assaulted a Muslim American, shouting “Go back to where you came from!”

“Go back to your country!” “Go back to where you came from!” The events in Arizona are supposedly about “illegal” immigration, and the controversy over the New York cultural center is supposedly about unhealed wounds from 9/11. But what they have in common is groups of people who are seen as foreign, un-American, their loyalties suspect, due to the color of their skin and/or their religion. As an ally with a very personal interest in these issues, I have tried to explain how Mexicans have lived in Arizona since before Arizona was part of the U.S. I’ve tried to explain that Muslim Americans also died in the attacks on 9/11. But when talking to some people, it feels like I’m five years old again and faced with the frustration that perfectly good facts don’t seem to make even the slightest dent in their preconceptions of “us versus them.”

Based on our history, I have no doubt whatsoever that we will *eventually* prevail, as our nation fitfully expands its notion of what “equality” means every generation or so. But in the meantime, I am afraid that a generation of Latin@ American and Muslim/Arab American kids will carry the burden of not quite trusting that they are accepted as “American” well into their adulthoods. I know that had there been even one person who stuck up for me when I was a kid – just one (non-Asian) ally – it would have made a huge difference. And that is what I keep in mind during these trying times when the hatred seems limitless and people standing on the side of love seem so few. We do not need to be able to convince everybody. We just need to speak, so that those who are being attacked know that they are not alone.

It Takes A Village To Hold A Protest

Let me start by saying that I am not a “protest” kind of person.  My experience with numerous protests is that a lot of people assemble, shout angry slogans, maybe sing a few songs, and then go home, leaving piles of garbage in their wake.  No matter how much I cared about an issue it always seemed to part of me like protests were something that we “attend” the way that one might attend a rock concert, and that they were geared more towards letting the participants feel good about having “done something” than actually effecting change.  For that reason, I approached the Day of Non-Compliance (July 29th) in Phoenix with some personal apprehension.  Since I knew that I was not planning on getting arrested, I wondered then what exactly it was that I would be doing.  Was I flying two-thirds of the way across the country just to attend a protest?  But I tried to approach the coming days with an open heart – letting the Spirit guide me.


At six am Thurs, we arrived at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for an interfaith service.  A rainbow hung high in the sky, seeming to make its arc right over Trinity. Seeing it, my heart leapt with hope.  I thought of the biblical story of God’s promise to His [sic] people.  I thought of the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice.  After the service, we started marching towards downtown.  So far, this was not unlike other rallies/protests/marches/vigils that I had attended.  But it was during the march that I first noticed them – people carrying plastic trash bags collecting water bottles and other refuse from marchers, so that the streets remained clean.  Cleaning up after ourselves?  What a novel concept!  How lacking in sense of privilege!  I smiled at the young Latino man carrying the garbage bag and felt that he was playing a role as important as any cleric who spoke from the pulpit or any of the rally organizers.

When we got to Cesar Chavez Plaza, I saw that Puente (a local Phoenix movement with whom we’re partnering) had set up a staging area where bottles of water cooled in kiddie wading pools full of ice.  Two cots were available for those who fell ill.  Hand made signs were available for those who wanted to carry them.  Those of us who were not going to get arrested made sure that others had plenty of water to drink, grabbing bottles from the kiddie pools and handing them out to everyone, including the police officers who must have been roasting under their riot gear.  Someone from the staging area called for volunteers to run sitting pads over to the demonstrators at the intersection in front of the Wells Fargo Building (Arpaio’s office).  I was handed a pile of bath towels that had been cut in half and then sewn to an insulating backing, to protect people’s behinds and legs from the baking asphalt.  Wow, I thought, they had prepared for everything.  Little did I know.

Much later, after watching the last of our people get loaded into the police paddy wagon, I started heading towards the 4th Ave jail where other demonstrators – including Peter Morales, Susan Frederick-Gray. and Puente’s Salvador Reza – had blocked the jail entrance.  On my way, I stopped by the staging area to see if I could carry some bottles of water over.  I was told that there was plenty of water at the jail already but I could carry over two spray bottles for cooling people down.  I walked the two blocks with the spray bottles alone – a curious sense of solitude given the frenetic energy all around me, including the beating blades of a police helicopter overhead.  Once at the jail site, I looked for red faces to whom to offer a cooling spray of water.  (By the time the 4th Ave protestors were arrested some time later, I was pretty red-faced myself.)  Roaming the crowds, I also saw volunteer medics coming to the aid of those for whom water was no longer enough.

Those of us who had not been arrested straggled back to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix during the mid to late afternoon.  We ate some food.  We cooled off as best we could.  We attended to those of us who had succumbed to heat exhaustion.  But now what next?  Do we just wait at the church?  Go back to our hotel or homestays?  That didn’t seem right.  The answer came from Puente, who had had the foresight to apply for a permit to hold an all-night vigil at the jail.  It turns out that whenever one of their own is in jail, they hold vigil so that no one is released out to an empty street – every member who was arrested comes out to cheers and hugs.  So, with night fall, we boarded our vans and headed over to the jail.  Puente people had already been there since 4 pm.  We lit candles.  We prayed.  We sang.We tried to sing in Spanish.  (Note to self: that is something we have to work on *before* we get to the vigil.)  Word came that the 4th Ave arrestees would be arraigned at 11 pm, which meant they would be released in the wee hours of the morning.  A group of us stayed all night to greet them as they got out.

Friday dawned, tentative.  Those who had been arrested in front of the Wells Fargo Building would be arraigned at 10 am, which meant they would be out by early afternoon.  Members of UUCP bought food and fed us breakfast/lunch.  Some of us volunteered to go over to the offices of Puente and the lawyers who were helping us to see if there was a way to pitch in.  Others headed to the jail to be there when people got out.  By mid afternoon, all of our people had been released, and we started packing up the base of operations at UUCP to head over to Valley UU in Chandler, AZ.  The plan had called for a potluck dinner, followed by a Taizé worship service and debriefing.  As far as we were concerned, we were done (for this round – we knew there would be others).  At the potluck, we were told that the delicious cheese enchiladas and chicken tamales were made by Puente, in appreciation for our participation.  Once again, I thought, they really understand community.

We had not even finished our worship service when the word came – more people had been arrested.  That part was not too surprising as we knew that our partners intended to keep up the pressure by demonstrating in front of Arpaio’s Tent City prison.  But what sent a shock wave through all of us was word that Salvador Reza, who had already spent the previous night in jail, had been taken in by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies even though he was across the street and no where near the site of the protest.  I could call that moment a decision point – the kind of moment that determines what kind of people we were going to be by how we respond.  I could call it that but in truth people responded so quickly that there was never any doubt.  We packed up as quickly as we could.  Audra opened up the boxes of yellow “Love” t-shirts, offering a free clean one to anyone going to the vigil.  We loaded our vans and cars, and away we went… to Tent City.  I had wanted to see Arpaio’s notorious prison but did not know it would be under such circumstances.

By the time I got to the vigil across the street from Tent City, it was in full swing.  People lined the street – an intermingling of Puente and Standing on the Side of Love signs.  A drummer stood at the center, with at least one person with a smaller drum accompanying him.  UUs and Puente people took turns leading chants (so that no one got too tired).  Some of us held signs that said “Honk if you oppose SB1070!” and a steady stream of cars flew by, many of them honking.  We were especially gratified whenever a bus would honk.  At least two different people walked up and down the length of the vigilers, holding smoldering sage – blessing & protecting every one of us.  As had happened the previous day, people handed out water continuously.  About two hours or so into the vigil, women started handing out bean burritos and tortas with some kind of meat, and little ice cold cups of lemonade.  It was another thing that they had thought of.  We on the outside supported those inside the jail by keeping vigil, but the vigilers too were supported, ensured that standing outside holding signs and chanting did not mean going hungry or thirsty.

At one point a local leader played the drum while chanting a sacred song.  Instinctively, we gathered round him in concentric circles – as if the drum were the center of our little solar system.  It was a deeply spiritual moment, not only because of the drumming/chanting but because our people – UUs and Puente – were united as one.  The only sour note was when, at the end, a handful of UUs started clapping.  In Euro culture, that is a sign of appreciation, but it also tends to turn the ritual into a “performance.”  The leader admonished us “Don’t clap!  This is sacred.”  Oh well, we are two groups learning how to be together.  There will be small mistakes.  (Note to self: instructions on not clapping should be part of our orientation for future groups of UUs.)

After 10:15 or so, after we had stayed long enough to be featured on the local Fox affiliate, we packed up our vans to move the vigil over to the 4th Ave jail.  Word had come that Sal had been moved there.  Once again, people – both Puente folks and UUs – picked up every bit of trash that we had generated.  When we were done, you would not have been able to tell that dozens of people had just been there.  I climbed into the cool AC of the van.  Such relief.  I was so tired.  I did not know how I would be able to stand for another set of hours, however long, once we got to the 4th Ave location.  But I knew I had to.  With grim determination I got out of the van with my fellow passengers and we walked towards the jail.  We heard music.

Puente folks who had arrived before us had set up a speaker and they were blasting salsa music.  People were dancing on the sidewalk.  My heart filled with joy.  It was a lot easier to dance than it was to stand.  These people knew how to throw a protest! – how to make it so that everyone felt involved and important, so that everyone was nourished physically and spiritually, so that the streets were cleaner for our being there, and so that everything was infused with both reverence and joy.  We danced with crazy happiness, grateful for these last few days.  When a few sheriffs opened the doors to take a look at us, we dance over to greet them and invite them to join us.  (They retreated back into the building.)  That gesture – loving and inviting into community, joyful even in the face of oppression – epitomized to me what our days in Phoenix were all about.  I plan to go back to Phoenix and learn more from our partners, Puente (and others).  But even if I for some reason don’t, I will never forget the lessons learned in Phoenix.  It turns out that I am a “protest” kind of person after all, when it’s done right.  And to do it right, it takes a village to hold a protest.


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