Beauty//Tragedy in the Borderlands

Hola amigxs,

I won’t deny that I have been putting off this post for some time. These past weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions, and of vastly different tasks, events, and ways of spending my time. I suppose I have never been great at stepping back and writing about ~my life~ as it feels like too great a task to tackle. I, like many of us, tend to ebb and flow. I’ll start with some different moments of joy/frustration/pain (in three’s – a magic number):


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Genesis. Mi mejor amiga en Tucson. Radiant, loving, strong, and so vehemently HERSELF in all that she does. We first bonded over Pasión de Gavilanes (a telenovela). We speak in broken Spanish/English yet despite difficulty in [linguistic] communication my soul is at home with her. Her “big dream” is to become an actress and give back to la gente de la calle – a community she knows well, as do many LGBTQ+ youth around the world. In 2017 she arrived at the Nogales checkpoint from Honduras with the trans caravan seeking asylum from the violence and discrimination she faced back home. She is the baddest, funniest, most open-hearted gal I’ve ever known.

Gate’s Pass. One of my favorite places in Tucson. Words cannot describe its vast beauty, so I have included a picture. I come up here often to sit and reflect, spend time with friends, and connect with mama Earth.


COMMUNITY. The community here is so strong, and as someone who often experiences bouts of hopelessness and depression in the face of gargantuan entities like white supremacy, gender violence, bigotry, ICE raids (the list, unfortunately, drags on) I can feel my heart surge when I learn about the organizing being done here. One day I went to the Historic Y with a delegation, and once inside I was walking past offices of all of these incredible organizations I have admired and followed for years: ACLU, Sierra Club Borderlands, Colibri Center for Human Rights, The Florence Project, and many more.

I also have some new activist idols: Sergio Avila-Villegas from Sierra Club Borderlands and Isabel Garcia from Coalición de Derechos Humanos.



Office work. Not everything is all front lines and community building and empowering, and this can be frustrating and even cause regret to rise up sometimes. Though I’ve been lucky to talk with outside organizations and take part in some of the delegations, my boss has me making marketing calls nearly every day. I understand the importance of spreading the word about the very important work that we do, but often it feels like 9-5 M-F I’m not doing what I came here for. Further, as an introvert, I really dislike striking up conversations with people I don’t know! However, I’m t r y i n g to talk Brian into giving me more creative projects where my skills would be better used as well as plan outside volunteering (for example, I do water drops weekly).

Feeling alone. Loneliness sucks! And even more than that, fear of doing things alone is awful and restrictive. The other day I was SO looking forward to going to a celebration for Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, but when my friends had to cancel last minute I stayed home instead. I’m still kicking myself for it.

Language fatigue. Being the only one in your friend group that isn’t fluent in Spanish is really frustrating!!!!!!!!!! And really exhausting!!!!!! I have actually prayed that I would wake up and speak Spanish fluently. All ridiculous prayers aside, I am learning a LOT from this experience.

  • You need to put in the work. Don’t expect to come in to a community and skate by on your six years of off and on Spanish. Don’t be afraid! People will appreciate you trying. 
    • However, take time to rest and recover. Practice is important, but I have found that when I throw myself into Spanish-only situations for hours at a time, I eventually reach a point of diminishing returns and my comprehension/speaking abilities actually start to get worse. I spent 5 hours in Phoenix with some friends – Yesenia, Francis y Jose – who only speak Spanish and by the end I was mixing up dónde with cuando. Those are literally the most basic Spanish words you can use and I’ve been using them since middle school.
  • I have started to think more deeply about the experiences and potential mental health issues facing migrants coming to the U.S. Without even addressing the hardships of migration, imagine entering into a space of absolute newness: different foods, language, cultural practices, music and more. When I cannot adequately understand what is happening around me, I become depressed, anxious, lonely, and frustrated with myself. These feelings often only compound on pre-existing sadness that comes with disconnection from homeland and family, as well as daily fear of la migra for folks who come undocumented. In far too many cases, language + citizenship = exploitation by employers and law enforcement. I have heard stories of people being tricked into signing their own deportation papers.



Witnessing Operation Streamline. Many appeared to not understand the proceedings. Each person was questioned in 45 seconds. Asylum claims were tacked on as an after note.

Our border policies are rooted in death. Physical, ambiguous, and social death. Those who perish in the desert are victims of murder by design.

  • Since 1999 there have been 3,244 migrant deaths just along the ARIZONA border. Following the implementation of prevention through deterrence strategies, which serve to funnel migrants through hazardous terrain, the discovery of human remains jumped from once per month to once every 3 DAYS. deathposter_cumulative_poster_2018_04_30



During one water drop I found three backpacks lying strewn next to the border with the bottoms slashed and straps cut off. Border Patrol often destroys supplies and empties water left by humanitarian aid groups to make the journey as difficult as possible.

In my opinion, prevention through deterrence (our current policy) never meant to stop migration, but rather, make it more difficult and thus create an exploitable population. “The Border Patrol Strategic Plan: 1994 and Beyond,” which we use now, uses these (among others) as markers of success: “fee increases by smugglers,” “more documentation fraud,” “more complaints and protests,” “more violence at attempted entries.” MILITARIZATION IS CARTELIZATION and we have created a market for organized crime. People did not need guides or smugglers previous to prevention through deterrence strategies.


  • Why did these strategies emerge a year after NAFTA? Were U.S. politicians aware that NAFTA’s desecration of Mexico’s economy would lead to increased migration?


My goal for this week is to further immerse myself in the community, to try new things (both with friends and alone), and to be more conscientious about how I spend my time — balancing education with self-care.

As always, #AbolishICE y #NoAlMuro.


One thought on “Beauty//Tragedy in the Borderlands

  1. Maddie – Thank you for entering into this experience with an open heart and mind. As I read your post it confirmed for me how important this program is for SCU students, gratitude for the awesome folks working with justice focused organizations and the desperate needs given the reality at the border and in our world. -valerie


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