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.