10/20/19 The Coffee Box El Paso
Today everyone else went into Juarez after breakfast to attend mass, meet with the priest Fr. Bill afterward, have a look at the shelters in Juarez and meet with Fr, Peter, a Carmelite Priest and Sister Betty at the Catholic Worker House there.
I took a writing day since I did not get my passport in time for this trip.
Sister Anne gave me some bubbles. She heard I love bubbles. So far I have written for a while, had conversations with two of the sisters at the house. They wanted to know how I was doing. They asked about my life. Sister Caroline is a Franciscan Sister. Sister Bea is a Holy Spirit Sister. Both are from Ireland originally. You can really tell with Sister Bea. Her accent is strong.
I sat on the couch near some women guests and did some writing there. We watched ice skating together, making signs to each other about it now and then. One of the women helped the one with the broken ankles from her wheelchair to the couch. I got her some water.
I wrote some more.
Later I walked to Sacred Heart Church. It is an historic and grand, gorgeous church, a bit worn but friendly. Mass was in Spanish. However I knew exactly what was going on and I said the responses to myself in English. I liked how the congregation claps during the songs. There was so much enthusiasm and joy in their liturgy, so much love for Jesus in the Eucharist.
I got some lunch at a little cafe. Afterward I walked to this coffee shop (The Coffee Box) where I am now.
I hope Frank remembers to ask the Carmelite priest in Juarez my question about service from a Carmelite perspective. I also gave my email address for him in case he wouldn’t mind emailing with me a little bit.
My hands have been shaking all the time. I love all the people but I am such an introvert it is hard for me to be around everybody nonstop. I am still a little shaky even with them away.
I have noticed signs of the spirit of friendship between the two cities. On the side of a building painted in Spanish it says, “Love for Juarez.”
There is a famous sister cities mural as well. There are murals all over this city. There is a mural tour people go on. One of them is of the children who died in detention.
At the art museum a lot of the art deals with the borderland, it’s cultures and its issues.
The situation does seem strange: it appears to be one city divided by big steel fence and six places where you can cross over- showing your passport or your work visa.
It used to be one city named El Paso del Norte.
In the 1970’s there was just a chain link fence at the border. Just before NAFTA was implemented, the people of El Paso can tell you, the 18 foot steel fence we see now went up. This is generally taken to mean that the politicians knew that mass migration would result from the policies of NAFTA.
Eventually the group made it back to Casa Vides.
Our next stop was Casa Refugiado. It is a huge warehouse Annunciation House rented with the help of a local Evangelical church who donated the money for three months’ rent.
The first thing we all noticed was the efforts that had gone into this to make it beautiful and hospitable for the refugees. The local art community donated beautiful art prints and photography. Best of all were the giant murals in every area.
The Red Cross loaned what seemed like countless cots. There was a room that was a chapel filled with holy pictures. There were tables of Bibles in Spanish, holy cards and rosaries. Sometimes local priests come to say mass, the guests often hold their own prayer meetings as well.
There was a tiny clinic room where local doctors donate their time as needed.
There was some play equipment that we saw children playing on. Other small children ran through one big room, their mothers looking on.
We learned that right now the numbers were in ebb at the shelters but at some points that were taking in about 1000 people a day. Now that people are automatically detained the numbers have dropped for now. But the volunteers don’t know from one day to the next what will happen. Policies are constantly changing.
The plumbing had a lot of problems and the landlord didn’t want to fix them so Annunciation House needed to have port-a-potties put in outside and a huge mobile shower unit truck waited.
I thought about the detained children who didn’t get showers or the opportunity to brush their teeth. They could have easily done this. There was no reason but cruelty to not let those children have access to showers and to brush their teeth. If Annunciation House can do all this with donations how much could our government do- especially when they are paying so much per person for private companies to keep them in miserable conditions?
Back at Casa Vides there was a donated meal of burgers from the Presbyterian church. So dinner was easy.
A woman who has won a human rights award for her work with migrants in detention came to talk to us. Her main goal is to help return agency to these people. She helps them organize with one another, helps with bailing people out when appropriate, though she thinks it is more important that the unjust situation does not continue. She doesn’t want to bail people out and then have the system adjust itself for her doing that, which had started to happen. She can help them with their commissary accounts, phone calls, support, connections and help once they are free to stay that way. She felt like she didn’t want the award. She wanted this to not happen to people. She told us there was denial of due process going on, abuse, torture and punitive conditions for people who were waiting for their asylum cases. They can be there for years in prison conditions and worse when they have committed no crime. She also talked to us about the criminalization of migrants and our national tendency to criminalize mental illness, addiction and poverty. It is not effective and causes untold suffering and a waste of potential.
She also talked about the Indian men who were force fed when they were on hunger strike. She had been present with them for that. It had been cruel. I asked what she meant by abuse and torture. She said force feeding in the way they did, especially, is defined as torture. She said beatings, humiliations, laughing at people who are suffering, this is abusive. She answered our questions well.
Then we had reflection with Fr Jose. We shuffled off to bed.
https://dmscelpaso.wixsite.com/dmscelpaso/single-post/2018/07/20/Report-on-conditions-at-Otero-detention-facility“>Report on conditions at Otero Detention Center