Migrant Trail Walk #9

Sunday May 31st. The Last Day

Even though we are allowed to sleep in until 6AM because of the shorter distance today, I awaken at 4:30 AM, clean off with baby wipes and use the Porta-Potty before the anticipated long lines at 6. Actually, the lines start to form at 5:45 as many people are up and about as the noises increase: the distinct sound of people walking on gravel or the “clunk” of the porta-potty door if someone lets it close too quickly. The food crew, efficient as ever, has the requisite bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter out as well as coffee on by 5:30.

We, the weeklong walkers, are scheduled to have a ceremony with Maria up on a nearby mountainside at 7AM where we’ll have a vista overlooking the Altar Valley where we’ve walked this past week. Then we’ll pose for a group picture. Maria asked us to call out the names on the crosses we carried this week. She told us our carrying their names helped them “finish their journeys” that they had started. After calling their spirits to be present with us, she sang a song to welcome those spirits and we were again “smudged” with the smoke from burning sage in the Native tradition. We then sang together a healing song as she prayed that Baboquivari would look over the people traveling this desert valley and prevent any more deaths there this summer. [Derechos Humanos keeps a count on their website of confirmed deaths each year.]

After the ceremony, we had our last group circle before walking for the day. There were new people who needed introduction and Erin again led us in some stretching exercises. We had announcements from the teams and Tom told us that he was reminded that every day there are 3,000 people walking this area, hoping they can survive to feed their families and better their own lives. [Others in our group say there really is no way anyone knows how many people are walking the migrant trails each day but we do know the numbers are significant.] We again close the circle time by reciting the Prayer for the Migrant as we have done every day.

Today is a very different experience walking along a busy highway leading into Tucson. The traffic zips by at 55-65 mph. Much of the walk is on the highway shoulder; in other sections there is a path further off the road. There are about 85-90 walking today so the water and rest stops take longer, especially with lines by the porta-potties. The walk culminates in Kennedy Park, just behind the old headquarters building for the Border Patrol. (With all the monies recently poured into “enforcement”, they’ve moved into new, bigger, fancier offices in another location.)

There is a modest crowd of local well-wishers and friends to greet us as we walk in. Kat and the other organizers have scheduled a press conference and some musicians share their music and encourage the crowd to join them. Fr. Bob has asked a representative 12 of us to sit on chairs as he and Fr. Jerry Zawada perform a ceremonial foot washing. Derechos Humanos has arranged for a very tasty meal for everyone and after a couple hours of mingling in the park, those walkers who remain travel back to Southside Presbyterian to unpack all the trailers, clean the equipment, and say our goodbyes. A number of folk are from Phoenix and we send them off. Some of us are staying locally, awaiting rides to the airport to return to our homes tonight or tomorrow. Kat and Chris open their home to fellow walkers for a party that evening that last past my 10PM bedtime.

It has been a memorable week and experience. Immigration is no longer just an “issue” and I have a deep appreciation for the many people working in “the trenches” to make our nation once again a place that “welcomes the stranger”.

For some, this walk is a political statement in opposition to a structured injustice created by politicians willing to negotiate policies that they know will create deaths. How many deaths -where and under what conditions? What is a tolerable amount to begin the compromises? Those who claim we need “comprehensive immigration reform” are often caught in the political compromises.

Others are walking primarily out of religious conviction. Although Derechos Hermanos is clear that this Migrant Trail Walk is inter-religious (and certainly welcoming of those who come who do not embrace organized religion or reject religion altogether), it is obvious that many of the walkers are strongly motivated by their faith. For some, the symbol of the names of the dead on the crosses we carry as we walk reflect back to the image of Jesus on his cross. The “presente!” on the large cross carried at the front of the march hearkens back to the years of the thousands of martyrs in Central America in the 80’s, especially evocative of Archbishop Oscar Romero. It is clear that Maria’s embrace of Native American spirituality is clearly a part of her journey this week.

But what is becoming apparent to me is that for some walkers, this is primarily personal. It isn’t that they don’t hold political views or religious conviction. It isn’t even primarily about social change, as essential as that is. It is walking in solidarity with the people victimized by a system which doesn’t recognize their worth or even existence. It is walking to help heal the pain of broken hearts, shattered dreams. Several times organizers request that we walk this next stretch between our water or snack breaks in silence. It gives us time to reflect as we take each step. The blisters, the aching muscles, the parched throats, and the sun beating down mercilessly –all of it fades to the background when you reflect on “completing the journey” as Maria so movingly put it this morning.

The gratitude one receives from the welcoming at Kennedy Park at the end of the Walk is shown on the faces. There is a deeper appreciation than one usually receives for an act of political or social courage. You can sense in some of those gathered the intense personal connection they have and that appreciation that others would undertake this symbolic journey with their loved ones is too deep to convey with mere words. The spiritual, political, and personal have all come together to work for our own healing, the healing of our nation, and the healing of our world. All of us are complicit in the deaths happening here in the Sonoran Desert. All of us must decide to engage in the healing as well.

Maybe next year, beginning on Memorial Day, you, too, might be able to walk The Migrant Trail.

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