Bienvenidos a Arizona

It has been a busy two weeks for the new BSP group. We have been getting to know our host families, each other, Tucson, and more recently, a remarkable woman named Rosalva.  Rosalva was invited by Jeff and Katie to speak with us during our first Critical Issues in the Borderlandsclass. She is a woman on fire. Rosalva is a mother of three, and still finds the time to be very involved with numerous community organizations. She exerts herself with confidence, laughs happily and sincerely, and brings warmth to those she speaks with. For me, “warmth” could be turned up a notch. It was more like fire. She has a way of passing her passion and excitement on to others as she speaks with them.

During our time together, Rosalva educated us on many policies and programs that have affected the Tucson community in recent years.

But Rosalva also spoke a lot about fear. She reminded us about how fear can be used as a tool of manipulation… but also how it can be paired up with education as a tool of empowerment

When Rosalva first arrived to Arizona, she was driven by the fear of not knowing what could happen “a estar detenida.”

As a person who has never had to live a day in fear of being detained or deported, of losing a job, home, or family, I cannot say that I understand the extent of the fear that Rosalva was talking to us about. However, I can remember many instances in which I felt the apprehension of losing people I loved who lived this fear out daily.

And while Rosalva was talking to us, I found my mind slipping away, remembering a cool summer Sunday night years ago. I was sitting in a back row of my church, consumed by the fact that nearly half of our congregation was missing on such a beautiful night.  I had heard rumors about the raids going on, but never thought it would get to this point.  I couldn’t imagine that the raid of the migra at our local Wal-mart would bring my community to be overtaken by a fear so great that some of our most devoted congregants would not leave their homes to make it to Sunday service.  My heart was heavy with sadness and worry that night.  It was at this moment that I realized how quickly the life of an undocumented immigrant could be turned upside down.  It was then that this truth was personalized for me.  And I felt utterly helpless to do anything about it.

But I was not helpless. And contrary to what I believed at this moment, my community was not helpless either.

Because as Rosalva shared with us, fear did not debilitate her. It was her driving force. Yes, there were many policies (Proposition 200 and 300, E-Verify, Operation Streamline, HB 2008, SB 1070, etc.) that brought fear to the undocumented immigrant community.Yes, these laws also brought unnecessary fear to many others, who, upon hearing about the “immigration issues” that brought on these policies, mistakenly learned that immigrants were to be distrusted and seen as a problem.

But Rosalva’s fear brought her to realize that she could access power through educating herself. So she took English classes, learned more about the political and social systems of the US, learned about what her rights were.  She was empowered by this new knowledge and found that it brought her a new sense of self-confidence.

Rosalva explained to our class that being an undocumented immigrant can be debilitating to a person’s sense of self-worth. Many are made to feel as if they are not smart enough for not knowing enough English. Rosalva reminds them that it is silly for anyone to expect that of them. Do all Americans know perfect Spanish? No. Both are at the same level. No one should be made to feel lesser than another because they grew up in a different environment, because their needs are different, because one has one set of papers and the other doesn’t.

So now, more than a decade later, she is busy motivating others who are in the same situation she was once in to also learnas much as they can for themselves and for their communities and to take confidence in their knowledge.  Rosalva knows that an educated and organized community is a powerful force.

As for me, I was also motivated by Rosalva to push forward despite the doubts and fears that I have. I know that I will be challenged in ways I can’t imagine this semester. I know that I will have many uncomfortable moments and unpleasant feelings during this trip. It will not always feel like I am on an adventure, and that is okay. I am excited about the things that are going on in this city and in the ways that I will be able to be involved. I am ready to grow, build new relationships, and learn from the communities I become a part of here.  And I will be intentional about remembering my own community back home, appreciating the organizations and individuals who make it their focus to educate each other on these issues of immigration, and looking for a place of best fit for me when I return home.

-Claudia Armijo

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