This is the third in a blog series, chronicling the adventures of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign in San Diego between Thursday, February 25th and Sunday, February 28th. This blog is written by Kathy Faller, who travels to Tijuana weekly, supporting families and communities with donations; providing hope for better lives. On Friday, February 26th, she led a group that included Adam Gerhardstein, Campaign Manager of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.
I know that when I take people to see Mexico, the Mexico that I see, it is a transformational experience. It’s not easy though. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how best to convey this experience for others, paint a rosy picture, not show them some areas, or support their stereotypes. Lots of paths that can be taken toward understanding. Over the past 5 years, I have seen many different reactions and emotions; sadness, anger, judgement, joy to name a few. My current approach is to just hold a space of compassion for everyone involved. This is how I embarked on the day with Adam, Dick, Dan, Mar and Michanne squeezing into my AWD Toyota. Curious what this adventure will bring…….
We traveled to Colonia Cumbres, where I have built 9 homes for families that truly needed good homes but were too poor to afford them. I love the name of the home program, Casas de Luz, having windows in each of these homes brings light into what was previously cave like conditions.
We go to Lulu’s bright blue home with her three large windows and see Daniel, 3 years old, smiling. When I first met him he suffered from asthma caused by the mold in their home, he never smiled. Lulu’s family has a hard life but her home is always neat; she takes great pride in owning it. It’s nice to know that I played a part in providing her some contentment.
In January of 2009, I was asked if I was interested in supporting Colonia Carretas in helping them become a community. Over the past year I have delivered weekly donations, raised funds for a new community center, and heard their struggles in community development. There are currently 30 families that are part of this squatter’s canyon of homes.
We drive up to the community a couple of hours late and there are 25 people waiting for us. There is excitement, to receive “Standing on the Side of Love” pins, and caution, who are these people with me.
We are on the lot that we hope to have become the new community center. The community has cleared the land by hand, forming a human chain to move the rocks. They have been working hard in the hope of having a better life. They see us as providing some hope for the future. I feel a big responsibility when I hear them talk about how hard their lives are and what they need. While they would love new homes, we are focusing on building a community center and entrepreneur development. Some of the women have made things to show us. There are scarves, tortilla holders, bags; all made from remnants brought down from the US. Adam purchased the perfect rainbow scarf to wear for his sermon on Sunday. I was touched deeply when they asked him to pray for them and their families. I felt such joy seeing Mar doing Cat’s cradle and Adam doing magic tricks with the kids.
It brings me such joy visiting my friends in the Colonias. This is my spiritual practice that awakens me to what’s really important and nourishes me with each visit. I will continue facilitating the alchemy of castoffs becoming gold across the border.More >
This is the second in a blog series about a weekend in the life of Standing on the Side of Love. The series is written by Adam Gerhardstein, Campaign Manager and chronicles the adventures in San Diego between Thursday, February 25th and Sunday, February 28th. The stars of these stories are the people in the pews, who harness love’s power to stop oppression every single day.
Kathy Faller, Dick Eiden and Dan Stracka pick me up at the hotel and we drive to South Bay Unitarian Universalist Church in Chula Vista. I’d been told the church is in a strip mall next to a tattoo parlor, but the only thing I notice when I pull up is the sign on the door, “Bilingual Services Sunday/Domingo,” and a smaller sign down below, “Standing on the Side of Love with Immigrant Families.” I am definitely in the right place.
Mar Cardenas and Michanne Hoctor-Thompson meet us at South Bay and fill the remaining two seats in our mini-van.
Ten minutes later I learn a valuable lesson: do not videotape while driving through a border station. What I thought would be nice montage footage driving across the border, I end up erasing under the supervision of a Mexican border agent. Oops!
We enter Tijuana and begin driving along the border wall towards the Playas (beach) where the border wall ends in the ocean. In Tijuana, there are actually two border walls. The old one made of sheet metal and wire mesh followed by 50 feet of no-mans land and the new border wall made of tall cylindrical shafts shooting up in the air. As we drive along the wall we see hummers, trucks and SUVs patrolling the U.S. side of the border and a sand bag bunker in the middle of no-man’s land. Mar tells me the wall runs for 800 miles along the border.
When we arrive at the Playas, I have three experiences that profoundly change how I view immigration, immigrants and the United States.
First, the very first person I meet in Mexico is named Jorge. He stood at the border wall looking into the United States. He begins telling us his story and I am so moved I ask to tape him so that the world could witness his reality, one that so many immigrant families share. Here is Jorge’s story:
Jorge may not have had the proper documents to be in the U.S. or have a driver’s license, but he did have a family, a job, and a life. After 17 years in the U.S. he was deported and all of that was destroyed. It hits me hard – there is something profoundly wrong with my country’s immigration policy.
Second, Mar Cardenas points to the place where the wall runs into the ocean and tells me about the time when it wasn’t yet constructed and was demarcated by just a rope, but everyone was expected to treat that rope like a wall and never cross it, not even with a toe.
In an act of faithful resistance, people of faith gathered on both sides of the rope to worship. A Mexican priest reached across the rope to give communion to a U.S. citizen and was promptly arrested. Not even the body of Christ could cross that border.
Third, Mar volunteers with an organization called Border Angles. They save lives everyday by placing water, blankets and clothes in the desert where immigrants cross the border, risking their lives to reunite with family or to find work. Border Angels painted a mural where the wall runs into the water. The mural depicts an Angel watching over people crossing the border. It follows the wall up a small hill and culminates in a section of the wall draped with 4,000 white wooden crosses, one for each known immigrant who died crossing the border since Operation Gate Keeper started in 1994.
Any hang-ups I had previously had about who should or shouldn’t be allowed to come to the U.S. melted away as I learned of Jorge’s family being separated, imprisonment for worshipping with neighbors, and the immigrants who lose their lives seeking a better future. Standing at the border, I had more clarity than ever about what it meant to stand on the side of love.
Lunch time.More >
This is the first in a blog series about a weekend in the life of Standing on the Side of Love. The series is written by Adam Gerhardstein, Campaign Manager and chronicles the adventures in San Diego between Thursday, February 25th and Sunday, February 28th. The stars of these stories are the people in the pews, who harness love’s power to stop oppression every single day.
I awake at 4:30 AM in Washington, D.C. I brush my teeth, do a quick mental check – passport, phone charger, video camera – got ‘em. Hop in my Prius with the red flames over the wheels and drive to the Baltimore airport. Six very productive hours later (they have internet on planes now!) I’m in San Diego.
Martin Kruming is waiting at the baggage claim for me. I only know him because he told me he’d be wearing a Yankees hat. Martin is passionate about building a network of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the San Diego area to exponentially increase the impact of their social justice work. After I committed to coming to San Diego, Martin ensured that the weekend would be the most action packed and energizing weekend imaginable, both for me and for his fellow San Diego social justice leaders. I was extremely busy working on Valentine’s Day leading up to this trip, so I relied 100% on Martin to arrange my weekends’ activities, accommodations, and transportation. Lucky for me, Martin turns out to be one of the most energetic and talented Unitarian Universalist organizers I’ve ever met, and an incredibly gracious host.
As I’m loading my personal luggage and 44 lbs. of Standing on the Side of Love signs, t-shirts and buttons into his car, I notice that he has some tennis rackets in the trunk. Two hours later I’ve lost three sets, but couldn’t be happier. I’m playing tennis in February!
At 6:30 PM we arrive at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego for a Marriage Equality Mini-Conference. Jan Garbosky and Jonipher Kwong speak before me, between the two of them marriage might as well give up and start including everyone. It is only a matter of time.
I am nearly moved to tears sitting in a room with people who courageously battled against Proposition 8 and continue the fight today. It is more apparent than ever that California ran their own Standing on the Side of Love campaign more than a year before our now iconic black heart was chalked across a vibrant orange canvas. Californian people of faith sang the hymn and rallied around this message of love throughout the entire Prop 8 campaign. It was an anchor of faith and respect in the midst of a storm.
I address the crowd with the respect, energy and enthusiasm they deserve and that I authentically feel. Afterward, I speak with youth looking to take action, a wedding planner looking for more business, and a slew of passionate advocates. All of them are bubbling with enthusiasm for the work of the campaign. They think it is so cool what the campaign is doing and as I stood there underneath a Standing on the Side of Love banner, hugging people who pounded the pavement during prop 8, I also think it is pretty cool what the campaign, what we, are doing.
I leave the church with Martin at 8:30 PM and on the way to my hotel we stop for delicious Thai food. Martin asks if the owner is there so that he can introduce me, something he will do during that weekend at a Mexican restaurant, a downtown cafe, and a Harley Davidson Store – who doesn’t this guy know!
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. Sign-up for these emails here.
At this very moment a daughter is fearful that her hard-working immigrant mother might not come home from work. Our immigrant neighbors have citizen children and spouses, they own businesses and homes, and have deep roots in their communities yet face deportation every day.
For thirty years I have worked with immigrant families as an activist in the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, as an expert witness in asylum and deportation, and also as an educator working with immigrant students and their families. I know from personal experience that immigrant families are paying too high of a price for an immigration system that is inefficient, ineffective, incoherent, and inhumane.
My congregation is not going to stand by and do nothing. On March 21st, some of us will travel to rally in D.C., and others of us will worship at an Interfaith Service on immigration here in Long Beach.
The good news is that there is a light visible in the distance.
Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez has introduced comprehensive immigration reform (H.R. 4321) that addresses all three dimensions of a pragmatic and humane immigration policy reform: enforcement, legalization, and future flows of immigrants into the country.
This is the best piece of legislation advocating comprehensive immigration reform that I have seen in a long time and we need to move fast. An historic coalition of immigrant groups, labor unions, religious groups and more have come together to support this bill. But Congress is up for reelection in November and the closer we get to Election Day, the less likely any major reforms will pass.
Norma Stoltz Chinchilla
Coordinator, Long Beach Immigrants Rights Coalition
Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Member, Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach
P.S. If you are near Washington, D.C., the biggest Immigration Rally of the year will be on the National Mall on March 21st. If you can go, please register on StandingontheSideofLove.org.More >
On February 14th, Loudoun County Supervisor Stevens Miller, participated with other members of the community in a panel discussion on how to make Loudoun County, Virginia a more welcoming place for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community. The event was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Sterling, VA.
This video first appeared in the Loudoun Times-Mirror.More >