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No Olvidados - A Postcard from Tijuana


January 30, 2012 | bpfna

The following is written by LeDayne McLeese Polaski, BPFNA program coordinator and leader of the Tijuana Friendship Tour.

I've been struggling to figure out a way to write about this experience; looking for a thread that connects it all together. Perhaps "no olvidados" (not forgotten) is that thread.

Wednesday night, Ray Schellinger (one of the missionaries who runs Deborah's House, the domestic violence shelter in which we're staying) talked with the group about the theological foundations of their ministry in Tijuana. He shared the story of the Good Samaritan. He spoke of how the man who stopped to help felt "his bowels busting out" -- the literal definition of the Greek verb (which is also used to describe Judas' death.) It refers to a depth of compassion that is painful. Jesus tells that man who is seeking the secret to eternal life -- "Go and do likewise."

As Ray spoke, I looked out at the lights of the city of Tijuana. It is lovely at night, with little lights running across the many hillsides. In the daytime, it is far more obvious that most of the 3 million people who dwell here live in poverty. I thought of what Ray was saying and struggled to figure out the faithful response to not one man on the side of the Jericho road, but millions of men, women, and children who have (often quite literally) been left to die. For what else is it to deliberately create an economic system that makes it impossible for most to house, feed, educate, and clothe their children?

The next day we met with Enrique Morones who founded a group called
Border Angels. He took us to a portion of the wall that runs along miles of the US-Mexico border and spoke of the dangers faced by those who attempt to cross. He shared that approximately two people die each day in the attempt. He took us to a section of the desert that is a portion of the journey for thousands of people. We  saw hundreds of footsteps in the sand. We found blankets, shoes, and bags that had been left behind, most likely when people were apprehended by the Border Patrol. We each carried two gallons of water. Enrique encouraged us to find a place that looked like a resting spot to leave the water. I knelt and prayed for the people who might find it. Depending on the route and the strength of those walking, the journey can take days. The desert was hot even on this afternoon in January. It is quite impossible to carry all the water you'd need to sustain yourself, even now in the cooler days of the year. The desert floor was full of cacti, thorn bushes and snake holes and was tricky to navigate by daylight. Imagine walking through this land as part of a days-long journey, without adequate water, with your young children, in the nighttime. No wonder then about the next place we visited.

Enrique took us to a pauper's graveyard in Holtville, CA where hundreds of people who died trying to cross the border are buried. Most are unnamed. When people are found dead, they may or may not have identification, many are never claimed by their families. These people are buried in a dusty field, under a brick that lists the grave number and row -- "Jane Doe" or "John Doe" is the only name they have. There are more than 700 graves here, the vast majority unnamed.  They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers -- children of God -- buried without even a name. We each placed a cross we had made on one of the graves. Most read "No Olvidados" -- "Not forgotten."

I think this will stay with me for a long time. I hope it does. It is one thing to read that over 10,000 people died crossing the border since 1994, the year when
Operation Gatekeeper began. It is something else entirely to stand at a grave marked with a single crumbling brick and know this is someone's son or daughter. This is someone who died seeking the life into which I was born.
It is true that I cannot -- our group cannot -- Deborah's House cannot -- Border Angels cannot -- save every person left on the side of the road. We must help those we can, of course. And for the rest, perhaps the most powerful thing we can do is to remember; Remember so they are "No Olvidados" -- "Not Forgotten."

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