Reflections From NFWM’s January Board Meeting

Jan Board Reflection Blog Post Graphic

From Nathan Hosler, NFWM Board President & Representative of Church of the Brethren: We gathered at the border. Tall, slated fence at our backs. Beyond that a dirt road flanked by razor wire. In the razor wire, clothing. Pulled from people struggling across. And beyond that, the Rio Grande. We gathered to pray, recount stories, to bear public witness and remembrance. The stories were of people, whose names we didn’t know. People with children and families who risked everything for safety—from violence and collapsed economies. After each story of someone who had died risking it all, the group responded, “Presente!”

From Rosie Shahar, NFWM Staff: The most powerful stories are ones of people conquering great obstacles: Rocky, Saving Private Ryan, The Life of Pi… the list is endless. It’s easy to fall victim to the myth that these are unique cases of bravery and perseverance. However, these tropes are present, and extreme, within the stories of over the millions of people who have crossed the border into the United States. Just hearing a handful of stories and catching the smallest glimpse of what people experience was overwhelming. It was evident that enduring the dangers before and during people’s journey to the Unites States takes the highest levels of intellect, strength, and resilience imaginable. Such intellect, strength, and resilience were clearly present within the people we met from LUPE, The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Team Brownsville, Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church who work endlessly to provide those who have just migrated with peace, dignity, and justice. I want to be a citizen of a country where all people are given respect, opportunity, and peace, regardless of their legal status. Such a vision requires the work done by LUPE and local churches, but it also requires our work, support, and solidarity.

IMGFrom Hector Rodriguez, Board Representative of The Episcopal Church: Unlike the taxpayer-funded, expensive congressional juggernauts put on for show on the border, which accomplish nothing other than worsen our political divides and make life infinitely more difficult for both border residents and newcomers, the board of the National Farm Worker Ministry got an up-close look at how migrants are received on our southern border. We traveled to Brownsville, Texas, where the ecumenical community has for years done a masterful job of welcoming the countless children, women and men who manage to cross the border into this nation of immigrants. Thanks to the efforts of Andrea Rudnik and Cynthia Andrade Johnson and many others at the Welcome Center, Mari and her staff at Immaculate Conception Cathedral and Pastor Carlos Navarro at the West Brownsville Baptist Church, our sisters and brothers from points south, arriving in desperate physical and psychological conditions, receive loving care and kindness and assistance in travelling on to their various destinations.

Our Board Members also heard from various helping agencies who assist families with their health care needs, with children and youth outreach and with emergency assistance. Two of the Contreras sisters were also on hand to recount their family’s journey from the family’s rural mountain abode in San Luis Potosi to the vegetable fields from California to the Midwest, revealing the classic dream of starting out in dire poverty and overcoming it through faith, hard work and determination. The large family hosted our Saturday night dinner and regaled us with stories of working in the migrant streams that fed this nation through war and peace, depression and prosperity, unity and division.

From Kimberly Emery, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: A highlight of our meeting was the Saturday evening dinner hosted by former farm worker, Yolanda Contreras Castillo, at her home in San Juan, Texas. Yolanda and several of her siblings shared their stories of growing up in a large (13 children) migrant farm worker family and their struggle to get an education and find success away from the hard work of the fields. Serving as a teacher and principal for many years, Yolanda was elected to the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) School Board of Trustees in 2022.

IMGFrom Payton Price, NFWM Intern: At the recent board meeting visit to the Rio Grande valley, we discussed several issues related to migrant farm workers and visited/heard from several organizations and people with direct involvement in the farm worker movement and immigration-related relief and legislative work. Looming in the background of the visit, weighing on my conscience, was the increasing convergence of major political party affiliations on anti-immigration policies. Also, the undefined and discreet ideological bend towards anti-immigration as de facto patriotic duty is seemingly seeping into every aspect of life in this country. It is not uncommon to see a sort of intersectionality dissonance—showing support for one group’s liberation from oppression and finding no moral incentive to speak out against another group’s need for support and liberation.

Until our Friday evening vigil at Alice Wilson Hope Park in Brownsville, I had never been so close to the border wall, nor had I ever touched it. Looking through the steel bars of the wall, there were clothes trapped in barbed wire on the US side of the river. Now two weeks later, I think again about the pregnant migrant woman (who, at the time of the board meeting, was due in four days) resting in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception’s shelter. What will become of her and her child’s life does not warrant another war or justify aggrandized anti-immigration policies.

Take action with farm workers today by supporting farm worker led campaigns that improve their working and living conditions, including legislative action for comprehensive immigration reform.

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