REFLECTION OF PAMELA BROUKER
DELEGATION TO THE MEXICAN BORDER, MARCH 12-14, 2010 (REYNOSA, TAMAULIPAS –next to McAllen, Texas).
My name is Pamela Marie Brouker. I enjoy poetry, nature, art, film and travel. Journaling, writing, drawing and taking pictures are personal life giving activities. Massachusetts is my home state, however, I find joy in all parts of the world. Perhaps because my ancestors traveled. I have visited, Greece, France, Italy, Palestine/Israel, Guatemala, the borders of Mexico and Canada, the states of CA, Hawaii, New York, Illinois, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Colorado, Texas, Florida and states, in between, getting there. Travel is a human occupation and I’m glad to say everyone needs to engage in this line of work. I hope to be finished with my first film, “Mourning of the Eye” by September, 2010. It’s about life, after Ike. I am an ordained Lutheran minister and certified special education teacher.
I was in Mexico, Reynosa, when the time changed; It sprang forward. Like so many other things, time can get lost. And I definitely lost track of time, on this visit. The border is so compelling and challenging to process. I began to write this, on my third day back, in Austin, and I am just now beginning to come out of my own kind of fog and awaken. I wrote today, in my journal. I had many emotions. I remembered family and parts of my life I’d filed away.
Personally, I am in a transition phase, seeking and discerning a call, with the Lutheran Church. I am an ordained pastor, working at a local Hospice agency, substitute teaching, scoring, doing childcare, catering, and working on my own film project, all part time. I went on the weekend trip, with Austin Tan Cerca, because I wanted to remember what spoke to me, so deeply, when I went to the border, several years ago, with my seminary. My alma mater is the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. This unique Master’s of Divinity, focused on Hispanic Ministry and used Texas and the border, as context. We visited cities, along the border, and maquiladoras, colonias, churches, and missions, with a focus of accompaniment, which is walking with others, for a transformative community experience. I was changed, by the realities of poverty, on the border, and especially, by hospitality and genuine openness, to our visits, and friendship. My world was shifted, as I was met, fed and welcomed, by ‘the other’. And we, as seminarians, processed our trips, through theology and transformative mission.
This visit, with Austin Tan Cerca, used a model called, ‘Solidarity’. We were to witness, to listen, to learn, and to hear stories. We were encouraged to ask questions of workers and organizers, in Mexico. Our job was to be present. More difficult than you realize. Because to be present meant you had to see and listen, watch and wait. There were no opportunities to fix anything, to give anything materially, to solve the problems. Our purpose was to continue, in the relationship, that began 10 or so years ago, between organizations and people. A relationship that is mutually beneficial, in and through, the process of walking, with people. We heard stories of worker situations and were caught up, with their current circumstances and recent past. They have been deeply influenced, by the economic down turn, and stories revolved, around tensions this has caused. We were invited, into this relationship, of listening and sharing; relative strangers, now community. Speaking two different languages and living on two sides of the border. Something shifted for me, again.
Friday night, our first night. We were to visit their office space and then to eat dinner, at the nearby home, of an organizer. Driving down the roads of the neighborhood and city, it really hit me… ‘Oh yeah, this is why… Here…. I remember… I feel the buzz and tension.’ I look and I am struck again, by the dirt roads, that raise the dust, filtering the lights, from the cars; people, children, and youth, and holes very deep. On this side, of the border, teeming with people, with fewer resources, for the sole purpose, of a better life, for their families. They build their own dwellings, because pay is low and rent is too high. They live and petition for city services, sewage, electricity, roads. People reside here because they are glad to work. And…. so… it is teeming, with life; hopeful, intense, real, painful, and close. The spaces are a must see, for yourself. There is no comparison. It is your nose that needs to contain the dirt, at the end of the day, into morning. And stop to eat and be welcomed, in their low rise hacienda, for a fabulous meal.
Quietly, I wonder, in my own mind, ‘ How do our hostesses get to work, by 7am, using these roads, in clean clothes and shoes?’ For me, this is one of the biggest questions. And I do not know why. Perhaps passages are important for me? And I am anxious usually about getting to work on time. Here, on foot, in the dust, in the holes, with busses, I wonder how they do it, with a family, at home, getting up at 5am, out the door, to work, unable to return, in order to pick up a sick child, from school. It’s these little details, we take for granted, that are not all in place here, in this border town. People want jobs. People also want lives to live, and I wonder how I could live here? And make it. I am doubtful. I am too used to what I am too used to. And the women and men share their homes, with us, we eat, for a wonderful dinner. By the light of electricity, gained by petition, by a dirt road opened and ready to receive a street. And then, what happens when it rains?
Perhaps this is my destiny, somehow, to seek? I am supposed to be here, yet it is difficult for me to completely take it in, so I look up. The stars shine brightly down, over our van. We dismount to enter, roughed up, by the ride. ‘Yup, they seem brighter, on this side of the border’ I say to my fellow delegate. I am clearer now. Why I find, at the border, a kind of answer. Because here, you cannot pretend and hide behind what you have, what you make, or even your title. Things don’t mean it, because people live and survive, without them. They live and are strong. They share their lives and compel us to ask questions and to think.
And, personally, I am reminded, of my grandmother. Herself an immigrant to America. She came, with her mother, and was a child. This mother and child, followed the husband, only one year, after he arrived. Marggiorino ‘Nunu’ was his name Magdelena or Francesca, ‘Nuna’ was hers and he’d been doing well enough to send for her and my grandmother, Ortensia Edda. As immigrants, from Italy, they learned to adapt to the culture and language, food and people. Then, my grandmother married a man whose grandparents were, from Germany and the Netherlands. And though his family did not like Italians, they formed a union that was unique, German and Italian. Together they spoke English. Families, from very different places. This kind of story echoes, on my father’s side, generations back, originating from Countries such as France, Germany, and even Spain. Yes, I am a descendent of immigrants. I am a European American, whose ancestors came looking for their dream; A better life. And here, on the border, is another kind of country. A shared country of Mexico and the United States.
The focus of the workers who organized were, like all the others, the workers. They worked and chose to give their precious energy to educate. They had laser direct focus of educating workers of their rights under the law and worked hard to imagine how they could empower each person. Essential is the confidence, for each worker, to stand up for herself, for himself, under the auspices of the law. Underlying all the work was the premise of human dignity. They were fluent in knowing that a person is important and their work is important. This was their focus and what they currently deeply recognized, as their purpose and they had to be focused. And the workers themselves were the only ones, in this environment, who could do this, for themselves. They must have the knowledge of what they are worth, in their rights, under the law. And it must be shared, this knowledge and celebrated. Their purpose was to teach their rights, under the law and empower the workers, with knowledge, that is ok to have this power. They were learning how to build confidence under fire and to build up others. Because no one else would do it for them. This environment only took rights away.
In our current culture we often think we are only ‘an important someone’, if we have money, a job/title, healthcare, etc. We have forgotten the value of the human being. And the value of sharing with others, for others. Personally, I believe that faith is about understanding the value that is inherent in every human being. That every person is sacred, found in and through humanity, the Christ, and together we form community and together we breathe, with the power, of the Holy Spirit. Human beings, in all our brokenness and struggle, bleeding, and laughter, are to be celebrated and here, at the border, with few resources, one has to be focused. Not anyone can hold onto this reality of humanity alone. We must have each other, to know and remember, the goodness and dignity therein, inside each one of us, because it goes against everything surrounding them. ‘However’, I think, ‘isn’t it also difficult for us’! Do we hold onto this basic truth here, as well, in the USA? Do we not usually look at each other, and even ourselves, with disdain and judgment, rather than a focus to empower? Do we actually educate each other, of our rights, under the law, uplift, and encourage the other? Our current culture of competition and fear, internal insecurity and having more for ourselves and taking so others don’t take from us. All this usually leaves us running for home and closing our doors, to the other. When will we realize we are all the same in value and need to share. You see I needed this reminder. It seems the people here have so many lessons to share. Lessons of compassion and focus when we need it most. Right on time. Right now!
Yes, I remember the reasons why I was transformed by the border. I have been crossed. My borders of separation and privilege have been demolished. I can not imagine how these folks do this everyday. And we are still invited, into the relationship. In order to be transformed and never the same. We cannot cross the same river twice. For once crossed, by the river, we are changed. We grow. We are opened to the realities of the human being; sacred, vital, imaginative, brave, and honorable. I’ve been crossed, by the border. The terrain is new, rocky, dusty, and cleansing. I wonder if you will allow the border to cross you and your idea of who you are so that you may see the true connections we share with Mexico and the people that live.