On November 16-18, I had the privilege of joining dozens of members of the Loretto Community - vowed sisters, comembers, fellow volunteers, and friends - at the SOA Watch Border Encuentro in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Powerful, beautiful experiences abounded over the course of the weekend. We beat makeshift drums in the streets outside of weapons manufacturer Milkor USA in Tucson; we listened and learned at workshops in ambos Nogales put on by impassioned and organized leaders; we sang along solemnly to a closing litany of those killed or disappeared in the borderlands - more unnamed than named.
I could write about many things in this reflection. I could give statistics and facts about WHINSEC (formerly the School of the Americas, or SOA) and the rates at which its graduates have murdered and pillaged Latin Americans and their lands. I could tell about the atrocities committed at the border by ICE and CBP; I could tell the story of 16 year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, shot ten times in the back by border patrol in 2014 for throwing rocks across the border. There are many heavy, angry stories I could share - they live inside me, and I am sure they live inside many of you, too. They deserve to be told, and they are being told by many incredible people. But in this reflection, I want to tell what I experienced on the Friday night of the Encuentro - I want to tell of tenderness.
On Friday, the Loretto delegation drove from Tucson to Eloy for a rally to be held outside Eloy Detention Center, where thousands of adult immigrants are detained. Along with hundreds of other organizers and protesters, we stood across the street from the center and listened to musicians, indigenous poets, and immigrants formerly detained at Eloy. Their voices were prophetic and prescient, and they all led up to the moment when we crossed the street to stand on the sidewalk directly adjacent to the block on which the detention center sits.
We stood facing the windows of the center; against the background of night, the windows were bright distant lights. We sang loud songs of hope - “No estan solos, you are not alone”, among many others - and as our voices carried over the desert, we saw the people inside waving to us, flickering their lights, opening and closing curtains. We turned on the flashlights on our phones and held them above our heads, waved them wildly. We saw each other in a way that I could not have anticipated. We saw each other physically, yes, but in that moment, we saw each other in an even deeper way.
Young people brought out a banner made of the flags of Latin America tied together at the corners, and a bright brass band kept our tunes all night. We chanted anti-ICE chants, sure, but the focus was less on our anger and more on our love for and human connection with those inside the detention center. Between us and them on the sprawling expanse of desert stood ICE officers leaning against their patrol cars, but on the mic, an organizer reminded us, “We know who we’re focusing on. We know who we’re here to see, who we’re here to connect with. Don’t get distracted by what’s in the way!”
We ended the night singing “Cariñito” and “Cielito Lindo.” Not political songs, not anti-establishment chants: tried and true traditional love songs. Among all the hatred, all the anger, all the fear and abuse and mistreatment, we were there to sing love songs to our neighbors, our family members, our loved ones. We were there to love.