Below is a reflection on our recent border mission trip by one of the participants, Katarina Klafka.
On the last night of the mission trip, all eight of us gathered together to share images and scenes that had spoken to us. There was a lot to process. We had heard several accounts of what crossing the border—and life across the border—are like; we had crossed the border for ourselves. From priests, lawyers, Samaritans, and hosts, we had heard stories of desperation, of love, of shattering horror. A woman had fled alone after her husband and child were brutally killed before her eyes. A man, skin blackened with dehydration, close to death, had asked for a Coke. Families had been separated; seven women, arriving from a caravan, had tested positive for pregnancy; Mexican migrants had taught a fellow Honduran traveler their national anthem in the hopes that, if caught by ICE, he would be deported to Nogales, Sonora instead of to Honduras, so that he might try again to seek a better life.
All of this—all of what we saw, what we heard—was incredibly powerful. Yet what has stayed with me the most was—is—the laughter. Gleeful shouts from children out on a sunny, bare playground, contained by an imposing fence, not fifty feet from the Wall; giggles, at once buoyant and poignant, of other children, who awaited asylum in a tiny, dark room; belly laughs from classmates in our workshops, sharing artistic faux pas; the awkward yet unifying chuckles at the border checkpoint, when a stray dog—tail wagging—made his way inside the building twice, his joyful determination at once ridiculing and calling into painful relief the industrial concrete, the dour faces behind the desks, and the omnipresence of the Wall itself.
The Wall is shameful. Of that, I have no doubt. Fear hammered its panels and ignorance rivets it. Miles of razor wire have come to crown it with a sharp sneer at those who behold it. Its whole is a towering, ugly, monumental rejection—and a testament to the fear, ignorance, misinformation, and racist beliefs that characterize and color American life for millions of its citizens and residents alike.
On that last night in Arizona, one of the workshop teachers performed “The New Colossus” to music. The song was haunting, and Emma Lazarus’s words of welcome, refuge, and community felt intensely relevant—all the more so because the Wall’s existence, its policing, its physicality, its everything, mock both Lazarus’s verses and the Statue of Liberty with which they have been inextricably linked. “The New Colossus” illuminated the way for those “yearning to breathe free”: the Wall stands as a denunciation of the very people most in need of that poetic light.
As we come back and share our stories with you, we are also inviting you to join the continuation of this mission trip by loving greatly, serving compassionately, and helping those most in need. You might donate to groups who help migrants directly at the border, like Cruzando Fronteras or the Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritans; you might call your legislators to talk about the wall and immigration on local, state, and national scales; you might try to overcome the fear of embarrassment and speak up when you see harassment; you might strive to be more informed, open, and aware in your day to day life.
We all learned to laugh before we could speak; we all love; and I truly believe that, in those two languages—those of joy and of the heart—we are, and always will be, able to connect to, help, and unite with one another.