Cut open seven loaves of bread. Stack slices in neat rows on the stainless steel table. Unwrap slices of American cheese and place one on each stack. Drain ham slices and fold over the cheese. Remove bottom slice of bread to cover the ham and cheese, making a sandwich. Stack in piles. Four sandwiches in each plastic bag. Squeeze air out and seal. Place in frig. Wipe down table. Begin again.
Seven days a week the sandwich room is a hive of volunteer activity filling lunch bags to feed families on the last leg of their journey. I met a pastor from Minneapolis; Methodists from Denver; Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from Boston and Hartford. Upstairs a mother/daughter team from Austin sorted donations. African Americans, whites, Latino/as, Asian Americans. The youngest was a 9-year-old from Chicago who helped the littler kids with their coloring.
A retired pizza parlor owner from Miami posted kids’ artwork on the counter after straightening boxes of diapers and bottles of shampoo. ChildFund volunteers set up a play area; medical volunteers conducted pre-natal exams; a Guatemalan paramedic responded to reports of headaches, sore throats and diarrhea. Valiant volunteers worked the clothes line, looking for the right sizes and styles, praying each shoe had a partner nearby. Others served soup, cut up watermelon, emptied trashcans and mopped the floor. The faithful generosity of these volunteers — and those who came before and those who are sure to follow — was heartening. I admired the patient organization of a small but resilient staff welcoming migrants and volunteers daily. I left grateful for the kaleidoscopic humanity we added to the border. I return home confident that we will continue to work putting an end to the cruelty of this administration’s immigration plans.
In my week in Texas, I saw Customs and Border Protection drive into the McAllen Bus Station to release dozens of Central American migrants several times a day. A young woman led the migrants across the street to the Respite Center. They walked calmly in line, mother and child, father and child, all relieved of their shoelaces by CBP. The 18-year-old guide volunteered for 5 weeks – her entire summer vacation so far— with Angry Tías and Abuelas, an organization dedicated to orienting migrants to the journey ahead: how to read the bus ticket, when to stay on the bus, when to transfer. Whether traveling to Dallas, Los Angeles or Yakima, most of the migrants clutch a manila envelope with “Please help me. I don’t speak English.” written in large letters on the outside.
Angry Tías and Abuelas doesn’t usually accept high school students as volunteers but given this girl’s maturity and commitment, they made an exception. I asked her if she expected her government teachers to discuss what was happening here when she returned to school. “Oh no,” she told me, “teachers don’t talk about this. But the kids do… in the cafeteria.” This young woman sees her government at work every day. She watches unmarked white CBP buses arrive daily from three local processing centers with humble asylum-seekers. She knows which bus stations are located on private property and which (like McAllen) are on municipal property giving the Tías the right to provide crucial services. She has learned to read the immigration documents families carry so she can point out the date and place of their next court hearing. And her government teachers won’t weave all of this into a lesson? As a retired high school teacher, I can’t imagine a better preparation for a social studies unit than this. And I can’t imagine a greater need for wise teaching than in a community that harbors border patrol agents as well as volunteers at migrant shelters.
The little boy wiped tears from his eyes as his father returned the phone to me. They had just finished a call to Guatemala, the first time the six-year-old heard his mom’s voice since Customs and Border Protection took the two into custody at the Texas border. As a volunteer at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, I dialed 011-502 (Guatemala), 011-503 (El Salvador) , and 011-504 (Honduras) dozens of times. I was happy to help the migrants relieve their siblings of anxiety; ask spouses for transportation money; or, in this case, let the little one listen to his mom’s warm voice. I don’t think he said a word, just listened, transported briefly to the familiar world he left behind. With his little fists, he wiped his eyes and returned to the shelter in Texas.
The children and grandchildren of our original families look forward to our return every year. Sometimes the youngest are our best teachers!
Come to Guadalajara where there is no unnecessary confusion about limones!