Sunday, November 27, 2011

El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Chihuahua

I can't believe we have been in El Paso for over two weeks!  It has been so lovely--running around seeing old friends and colleagues, gathering warm clothes, tuning up the bicycles, spending time with people we love.  I wish we could stay here longer, and actually after those last cold days on the road, we talked about postponing the trip until Spring, but we have decided to forge ahead and hope it gets warmer as we move south.

I had grand ideas for what I wanted to blog while here, but it took me the whole time just to catch up!  I spent some time this summer typing up various stories of guests at Annunciation House and I hope at some point I can get a few of those up.  For now, a brief overview what we have done here.

Our first full day in El Paso, we hiked up in the Franklins, we saw two friends get married at Casa Vides and we danced the night away.  What an incredible day!

El Paso and Juarez from the Franklin Mountains

Cindy and Charles, right before getting married at Casa Vides

When in El Paso, Eric was a member of the Labor Justice Committee, a group of people dedicated to ending wage theft in El Paso.  They are a really incredible group who see great results (thousands of dollars of recovered wages!) by banding together and using simple tactics of letter writing, phone calls and vigils.  While we were here, Eric attended a press conference the LJC had with the police, sheriff's office, district attorney's office and local senator Jose Rodriguez where they announced changes in the law that were made to make wage theft easier to prosecute criminally (watch the YouTube video here).  This is a huge step, but the LJC keeps pushing! This week they will ask City Council to pass an ordinance that prohibits the nonpayment of minimum wage, requires overtime payment, etc.  Sign the petition here!  Eric and I both think the Labor Justice Committee is one of the most exciting groups of activists in El Paso.

Labor Justice Committee Press Conference, photo from their Facebook page

Another day, we crossed the bridge to visit our dear friends and inspirations Carmelite priest Peter Hinde and Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell.  These two have worked for decades all through Latin America and the United States.  They have a commitment to educating North Americans about the impact of U.S. policy on Latin America and for many years, traveling the U.S. spreading the word in reverse missionary work.  They also started Casa Tabor communities in Washington D.C., San Antonio and now Juarez, where they have been for the last 15 years.  In Juarez, Peter helps out with masses in a couple of parishes and Betty runs groups for women and they both accompany the people in this hard time in Juarez.  It is always a pleasure to spend time with them and hear their perspectives on the issues.  We are very blessed to have them in our lives.

Sister Betty and Father Peter

We grilled some dinner with West Cosgrove, a good friend and cyclist that for the last several years has led immersion groups with Project Puente.  We heard about his cycling adventures across Texas and down the west coast, and we hope that he will be able to join us for a segment of our trip nearer to San Antonio.

We stopped by to visit old friends at the Farm Workers' Center in El Paso.  Carlos and Alicia Marentes have committed the last 25 years to accompanying farm workers, shutting down the bridge several times to get resources to build the center!  They provide them a place to sleep, low cost or free food, and help them navigate other services available.  The last few years, I have come to realize how mistreated, underpaid and invisible farm workers are and how important this issue is.  If you eat food, it affects you!  Farm workers deserve better and we all need to recognize and organize for their sake.

We had a great dinner with Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy in Las Cruces.  Molly is an archivist librarian at NMSU and she runs the Frontera List, a Google group where she keeps track of those killed in Juarez and sends out articles of analysis on the violence in Mexico.  The Frontera List is a great way to keep track of what is going on in Mexico.  Charles Bowden is an author who has written several books about the border and Juarez including Murder City, Down by the River and Juarez: A Laboratory for our Future.  He also often has articles in magazines like Mother Jones and Harper's.  Both Molly and Charles just collaborated on a documentary and book which interviews a former Mexican sicario (hitman) about his work for the drug cartels. 

The Sicario,1568586582,9781568586588

We had lunch with Brian and Jay of the New Mexico ACLU.  A project that Brian is really involved in is setting up a binational system along the border to document human rights abuses.  After talking with folks who are documenting abuses all along the border, Eric and I are in awe of this system and hope that it can be used.  It would be so incredible to be able to gather data of abuses all along this interesting region!

We had lunch with Betsy Allen-Rodriguez of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.  Betsy is an accredited representative which means she can represent people in immigration court.  She helps lots of people in detention, especially unaccompanied minors, change their documentation status via U-visas, T-visas, asylum, and Juvenile visas.  I have worked with her on several cases of Annunciation House guests and she is totally one of my heroes.

We had dinner with Columban Priest Bill Morton who operates a center for educational events and immersion groups.  Father Bill is a committed environmentalist--he started a large community garden and in remodeling the center, has used green building techniques.  For Black Friday, Father Bill organized an alternative event, promoting goods made in cooperatives in Mexico and the Philippines.  He also sits on the board of directors for Annunciation House and is a great friend of the volunteers.

Father Bill, photo courtesy of Annunciation House

We have also spent significant time at Annunciation House and Casa Vides, houses of hospitality for immigrants where we used to live/volunteer, and visiting former guests in El Paso and Juarez.  Most our community of friends in El Paso is connected to these wonderful houses.

Good times and good elotes en Juarez

Visiting friends in Juarez

I can't believe Christopher is only a few days away from being one year old!

Volunteers Ines and Alicia making delicious pupusas!

Two of my favorite people in the world - Pamela and Karina

Thanksgiving dinner at Casa Vides

Well, it's time to hit the road again.  Adventure and education await us as we head down the Rio Grande toward Presdio/Ojinaga, Big Bend, Del Rio and beyond. We plan to ride only on the Texas side, but visit border cities along the way.

Some are sad to see us go...

While others say, "Get going already!"

So long for now, El Paso!  We'll be back.

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