Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Upon Volunteering to Head to the Arizona Border: I'm Sick-inducingly Frightened

Today I received the acceptance of my volunteer application with the human rights group No More Deaths, and I suddenly feel like vomiting, fainting, and jumping around all at once. I wonder if such a feat can be done.

No More Deaths is a Unitarian Universalist social justice group based in Tucson, Arizona. Their mission? To do what the name states, ensure no more deaths of border crossers in the Sonoran desert. I learned about No More Deaths two years ago when I conducted an interview with Walt Staton, a young man and No More Death’s volunteer, who was fined for littering when he placed life-saving water bottles in key points along the border to help save individuals from dying of dehydration and heat exhaustion. In certain areas like the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, it is considered a crime to leave out water for border crossers even though water is a basic human necessity and people are dying in large numbers every summer. A year ago this month, it was reported the bodies of 40 illegal immigrants were found on the Arizona border just in the first two weeks of July, with the total number of deaths being in the thousands "since Operation Gatekeeper went into effect in 1994."

See, I read articles like this one and I feel my breath shorten and like I need someone to start fanning me before I pass out--you know, like in the old movies and news clips--because I don’t know how I can face these real tragedies in person. It’s so much easier to deal with it from a Google search in the safety of my living room.

Immigration is important to me, obviously. It has been since I was a young teen, since my parents instilled in me this awareness for social justice, since I knew my parents were immigrants. And I care about finding positive and socially conscience alternatives to the immigration issue in this country. And yes, I care about saving lives, or more so, I care about spreading awareness of government laws that intentionally or unintentionally cause harm and death to individuals. This is important to me, but hey, I’m no saint. I'm not even that nice most of the time.

What I am is a writer. And as Iranian poet, Sholeh Wolpe once told me, we must each use the resources we have to do our part. So I try as a writer and poet to do that thing I do, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. Sometimes, I feel like I’m exploiting the issue from my laptop, and it’s when this feeling creeps into my consciousness that I begin to consider crazy ideas like voluntarily going into a detention center or camping out in the Sonoran desert in the middle of August. These types of ideas are the ones that make my friends raise their eyebrows and go, “Oh, Xochitl, you always love to get ‘real.’” But I don’t necessarily love it. It’s more like a personal dare. If you cared, I tell myself, then you’d get out there and do something about it. But it’s so scary, I reply. What are you, chicken? Come on. You can do it! (these conversations are not out loud). So I sign up, even though I’m scared shitless because I worry doing nothing is even more cowardly. And anyway, it’s not like it’s a lifetime commitment. I’m going for 11 days. And anyway, I can always write about it. (That’s the advice people always give me. Come on this trip. You can write about it! Why not move to another town? You can write about it!) But honestly, writing is not my main goal, though I should probably place it high on the list.

My main goal may just be to survive the week without freaking out or losing my mind. My goal is to be apart of something positive and important, life-savingly important, even though just thinking about camping in the desert for 7 nights with only a sleeping bag, hiking in the blistering August desert heat, and constantly fearing the moment I will walk around a sage bush to find some wounded hopeless person on a seemingly deserted road (I don't even want to consider the death part of No More Deaths) makes me feel like crawling into my skin, sinking down to the hardwood floor, and seeping into the cracks. I feel possible of conducting such matter bending acts if it means I don’t have to go, but then I hear myself, You claim to care about immigration, and now you just want to hide?

Sometimes it isn’t enough to write about a subject. Sometimes you have to experience it, but that is sick-inducingly frightening! Coming face-to-face with human suffering is not my idea of fun, but I once again dare myself to try. To try and survive, I guess, because the people I will be out their helping are surviving something much more difficult then I will ever experience as a privileged American living a relatively easy life in Los Angeles with the comfort of family, friends, a good education, and stable job to support me. So I challenge myself to be uncomfortable for a short time in order to try and understand the suffering of others, and maybe even help someone in the process.

If you would like to help, No More Deaths asks all their volunteers to raise $400 in order to support lodging, supplies, and food while with them. If you are able, I would really appreciate your donation, even if it is $5. I promise to do the rest.

You can send your donation to my Paypal account at xochitl_julisa@hotmail.com, or email me for other alternative forms of donations.