Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lessons In Love: February 2018

At the end of last year, I felt strongly that 2018 would provide me a case study in love, not love of the whirlwind romance variety, but true love--pure, undefiled and Christlike in nature. This month, my lesson in love came from the examples of the Women currently detained in the South Texas Family Residential Center, more appropriately known as baby jail.

You can’t find Dilley on a standard map. It’s a blink of a town with a population of just under 4,000 residents. Its claims to fame are (in no particular order): a Men’s prison, petroleum wells, the family detention center, and Bobby’s Taco Truck (for the record, not a huge fan, see my review on Yelp for more details).

I traveled to Dilley two weeks ago to volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project with fellow law students and alumni to prepare the women and children detained there for their credible fear interviews—the first step to claiming asylum in the United States. The women in this facility either presented themselves at our nation’s border while claiming refuge or crossed without authorization—all were fleeing incredible danger. An individual cannot claim asylum from outside our borders, she must be present physically in our country before doing so. In many cases, these women were trying to immigrate the "right way.”

The “facility” is really a conglomeration of bungalows, evidence that this solution was at one point considered temporary. No picture taking is allowed on the premises, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re sure to miss the entrance. The "welcome sign" is conveniently hidden well of the main road. Incredibly, the complex is staffed predominantly by Latinos! I mean, a job is a job, but there was something wickedly cruel that nuestra raza is participating in the detention of those who represent our ancestors. It's something I haven't been quite able to wrap my head around. While sheltered bungalows may prove a welcome change for the women fleeing horrors south of our border, family detention is wrong. No victim, no child should have to live like a prisoner.

Every day, I was subjected to a TSA-like security inspection; I used a clear backpack during the week to make the process go smoother. As I entered the visitation trailer each morning, I was greeted by women dressed in standard issued colored sweats and beanies. These women would wait patiently, sometimes for hours on end to share their horrific stories with us.

For five days 12/hr a day I’d listen to each of these women share with me the worst experiences of their lives: rape, extortion, extreme gang violence, government corruption, domestic violence—in some cases, all of the above. And yet, every single woman would at some point in her meeting with me say, “Yo se que Dios ha estado con nosotros,” I know that God has been with us. Each woman would also tearfully explain that the horrible journey she undertook was not a planned one, but rather a desperate last measure resort to protect the child she had brought with her.

Very early on into the experience, the spirit brought to my remembrance a passage from the Book of Mormon, the testimonies of the Army of Helaman who could say so confidently, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56: 48). I know that the children, the babes, the toddlers, the tweens who accompanied these mothers will not doubt that their mothers had incredible faith in God.

Say what you will about immigration reform, but one thing I know for sure is that for every woman I met, her primary motivation in making the perilous journey north was love.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Civil Rights Trip 2.0 (MLK jr. weekend)

I figured I should probably post about this trip before I leave on another--so, here I am literally writing this post in the Salt Lake City airport. Really going down to the wire on this one. You remember my civil rights trip? (Took place this time last year, a pilgrimage down south to the sites of the civil rights movement...refresher here) Well, since we don't get to go on the trip twice, a few friends and I planned to take our own civil rights trip during MLK jr. weekend. What better way to celebrate an incredible champion of justice, by actually celebrating the civil rights we enjoy in his honor!

The real MVP of this trip is Kira Nielsen 👏👏👏who made this trip possible by convincing her parents to let us take her car. I invited my friend Marissa on this trip, and beautiful friendships were born! Seriously, I knew she'd be such a good fit for this friend group, because she's one of the most woke white women at BYU.

We hit up the Watts Towers, visited the INCREDIBLE La Raza exhibit (photos of the Chicano Rights Movement) at the Autry Museum (of which there are no pictures because #copyright laws), but let me just say there were several tears shed at this moving exhibit along with, gasps of "I had no idea!" from my friends. We were also slightly angered—why don't we learn about the Chicano Rights Movement in school?!?!

^^Kira was literally all of us. It was 80 degrees and incredibly sunny, we were thriving. 

We also ventured down to Huntington Beach and watched the sunset. What is it about being on a beach that fills you with zen? Much needed.
We attended church at my old home singles ward. I was a little worried that I would no longer know anyone at the singles ward, but I was so pleasantly surprised. You know how much I love the worlds colliding sensation. This was one of those moments, sharing my home-based village of wonderful Polynesians with my BYU friends. (sidenote: I recently noticed just how many pictures I have in front of church signs...)

Also on the itinerary, a visit to the California African American Museum (CAAM) to see their Black Radical Women exhibit. 
We met up with Ryan from our civil rights trip who now lives in LA. We love this man!
A civil rights themed trip to LA would NOT be complete without a visit to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Ask Ryan how he felt about the experience.
You just can't have a civil rights trip to SoCal without visiting Compton, and you can't have a visit to Compton without taking a picture in front of our larger than life Obama mural. 
We wrapped things up with an extremely quick trip to LACMA before we headed back to Utah. Honestly, this trip helped me realize that I don't want to just celebrate the "smaller" American holidays by just treating them like a freebie day off; I want to plan holidays with meaning. Thankful for these women who share my love and passion for civil rights and who think that taking a Civil Rights trip is cool!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

What Mexico Taught Me

Over winter break, my family took a long awaited trip to Mexico. This was the first time our entire family had traveled to Mexico together—before then, I had been the only sibling to travel to the land of our ancestors.

A big factor to our taking the trip was so that my brothers could finally meet our grandfather, Juan Onesimo, but nine days before our departure, he passed away. The timing of my grandfather's death seemed completely unfair. He couldn't hold off his death, just a couple of days? Shortly after his passing, I was sitting on my bed trying to process it all when the thought entered my mind, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" I knew then, that this trip was never really about visiting my grandfather, at least not in Heavenly Father's eyes, this trip was for my living relatives.

I hadn't been back to Mexico in 7 years. But, the timing of this trip couldn't have been more appropriate. I was just about to enter my last semester of law school, and this visit to Mexico lodged a more prominent feeling in my heart of the duty I feel to serve the people of my culture, mi raza. 

On this trip, I saw with greater clarity the role I play in my family—I am a link, a connector between generations past and present. You could say that "I came to myself" (see Luke 15:17). My obsession with family history was only intensified as I searched my grandfather's home for clues into his past, and the family he comes from.

When we left Puebla, Mexico and left my cousin Carlos behind, I listened to Natalia LaFourcade's Mexicana Hermosa and just cried as I looked out the window from my seat on the bus staring at the beautiful Mexican landscape.

My family is divided by a border. Is that not strange? A man made imaginary border can superimpose on my family tree? & it is because of this border, because of the privilege that my U.S. citizenship gives me that I feel compelled to do great things and progress for those that came before me, and my family members fighting against impossible odds.