West Coast Writing Retreat Vacation 2019

I needed a space for myself, for self and collective care. I have realized that every year it gets harder and harder with so many changes. Last year a person I deeply loved passed away. This year going through the loss of another person from our community in ODA was just devastating for me. Accompanying people post deportation can also be emotionally overwhelming. There have also been amazing things like being able to travel to Chicago with Christian for the first time since his deportation in 2012 and being able to pull off the amazing event Florecer Aquí y Allá. The year 2019 has just been too much for me to pretend that I can still go on without giving myself time to have intimate spaces. 

The adventure started on September 11th, the ironies of life. I flew from Mexico City to Tijuana and immediately crossed the pedestrian border through San Ysidro port of entry. In less than thirty seconds I was already in the land of the “freedom”. I headed to Santa Fe Depot in San Diego to take the Amtrak Train to Union Station in Los Angeles. I arrived late that evening and headed right away to LAX airport to get ready to fly up to Seattle, Washington. After being in Seattle for a week, I flew back to LAX and spend another week in LA. Next, I headed down to San Diego also was there for a couple of days until it was time to cross back to Tijuana to finish with almost another week before it was finally time to go back to Mexico City.  The main goal for this trip was to finish writing the first draft of something called “Letting Go” and to do it I truly needed to disconnect from the WORLD. Another goal was to really give myself time away from ODA.I needed a lot of time alone, but collective care has always been important and powerful to me. In Seattle I was able to spend time with my friend Ally, in Los Angeles with Gre and in San Diego with Abigail. In Tijuana, I stayed with other new amazing friends and film directors who worked on a project with ODA. I also have to admit that in the past four years since I have gone to Tijuana I have been able to establish solid relationships with amazing people. My heart feels the love and an attraction to this borderland. 

Seattle, Washington

I got to spend some great time with friends, ate delicious Central American, Thai, jamaican, Vietnam and other homemade food. I got to go around and see several nice parks and green  areas around Seattle. I even got to experience the rainy weather. 

During my visit I was able to have dinner with compañerxs from La Resistencia, as well as accompany them to the Northwest Detention Center located in the city of Tacoma. 

It was a cloudy early Saturday I met with one of the members from La Resistencia, a movement in Washington that are doing urgent and important work to not only document, accompany and support detainees with chronic medical conditions but also have a mission to shut down the the Northwest Detention Center. We were headed to the detention center to visit two of the detainees that had been in contact with them through the hotline. 

As we drove we went over their names and agreed that we each would visit one person. Suddenly I felt the cold and isolation of the area surrounding the facility,  I knew that we were getting closer and closer to it. Throughout the last five years I have been able to have many conversations with people that have gone through the inhumane process of being detained both in federal prisons and detention centers. A lot of things were going through my head as we got off the car and entered the main entrance. I knew that it was absolutely necessary for me  to physically come to one of these places that for years people have shared inumerable stories and descriptions of them. The only thing is that there is never anything that can prepare your for these kind of situations. As soon we entered we had to give our identifications, say the full name and possible the alien number of the person we were going to visit. There were two agents that both spoke Spanish and directed to us with a firm and hardly made eye contact. After we went through this first process, they made us leave all our belongings in a locker and scanned us using a detector. We had to sit in the waiting area until they announced the last name of the person we were going to visit. I was looking all over the place trying to take as many mental photos as possible. I saw all the frames with photos of their “excellent” phone services, indoor recreation sports, meeting rooms and even one of their legal library. It all looked shiny, freshly painted, cleaned and in such perfect conditions. As I was waiting, I could also over hear conversations of other people that were also waiting to see their loved ones. Although, in the back of my head all I was thinking was about Clemente and Don Jose, both of them had spent a long time in this exact same place. I could also think a lot about Brian who had been deported this past July after spending six months here. I could think of all of those people that have not only shared those stories with me, but also I have been able to witness the trauma and all the effects of being locked up. As they called the last name of the person that I was visiting, I approached the indicated door, pulled it and walked down a small hallway that had three doors. I pulled the door on the right and the first thing I saw was a narrow all white hallway that had fifteen windows each with a phone on the left side. They were small cubicles with a piece of metal to lean on while people are holding the phone and looking at their loved one. There is only one chair and on the ceiling a ventilation system that I don’t really know why and what its function is since I didn’t feel any air coming out of it. The entire hallway was painted white with concrete floor. As I pulled the door I saw the first cubicle and went directly to this one because my friend was talking to one of the two people we were visiting. She asked me if I could continue the conversation with her so she could go and talk to the other person. I talked with Susana for around 30 minutes, more than talking, I was listening to everything she had to say. She cried and without asking she guided me through all her story since she had to flee Honduras this past June. She described her process through Mexico, at the border Juarez- El Paso, the fact she was sent to Mexico to wait for her first court hearing since she was requesting asylum. Once she had her court hearing in El Paso and five days after was sent to another detention center in the middle of the night, later to another facility in Montana until a little over a month ago she was transferred here. She told me that the reason she had crossed was to flee from the dangerous in Honduras but also because her mom and sister her in Georgia. After she told me all about the horrible food, the negligence from the medical provider and taking me though a mental tour of the inside of the detention I had to say goodbye before the visiting hours were over so I could see the other person. Although, before getting up from the chair I had one question that I felt the impulse to ask but I was kind of avoiding it. I asked her if she knew where in Georgia her family lived, but to be honest I was expecting her to not remember the city or to just tell me Atlanta. It was kind of one of those questions that you ask hoping to not hear the answer. She told me her family is living in Ville, Georgia. I immediately looked down and after a few seconds I told her I had grown up 30 min from Marieta and that actually my family and I would drive there every weekend. She smiled and asked me to describe the place to her. I told her to please hold on to those images, to know that there are people fighting along with her here and back in México. We both placed our hands on the glass as a way to transmit my love and energy to her during this uncertain, lonely and traumatic moment. 

I got to witness the importance of the work that La Resistencia does not only because people are alone, isolated, uncertain and going through a very traumatic experience, but also I got to see in the eyes of those ten people that were on the other side of the window what it meant for them to talk to people that listened and cared about them. It’s important to accompany, listen, document and support them with legal and medical needs.  It’s not easy to see them leave and especially is not easy for them to see me leave. 

Los Angeles

My friend Gre with her son Raymi went to pick me up at the LAX airport. I was determined to continue writing and spending as much time with myself as possible. My friend Gre was amazing, we both did writing together at various places, spend most of the days at different beaches, such as Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, Newport and Balboa. We even went on a boat whale watching that became dolphin watching. It was a very emotional experience to go to Newport Beach, which was the first beach I went when I first returned to the United States in the fall of 2015. 

I got to visit Homeboy Industries and get to see the work they have done for the last thirty years with the population that is involved in gangs in Los Angeles. It was amazing to witness that strong sense of community that feels the moment you go in the place. It was amazing to go around to see some of the art in the streets of LA, go to the Last Book Store and other nice places around.

San Diego

The third stop was San Diego, I stayed at a friend’s cottage that was very cozy and inspiring to also do a lot of writing. I got to spend many hours down at Ocean Beach and the cliffs. After a couple of days I crossed back to Tijuana where I stayed a few more days. I got to go out with friends down in TJ, spent a few days down at the beach by Friendship Park. I was also able to attend the premier of a short film that was done in Mexico City. I got to know more about other people along with a person from our community that also lives in Mexico City and was part of the film too. 

During this trip I have been able to acknowledge that there are many things that I wish would stop hurting and I even get frustrated with myself for thinking I should be “okay” by now. In this trip I am accepting that I am never going to be OK without my best friend and soulmate. I am never going to feel OK with the fact that my deported and returned community is in exile away from their loved ones and communities back home. A friend I dearly loved also told me not too long ago that it is also OK to let go of the movement if it gets to the point where it feels unbearable. 

I am proud that I did get to a point where I was able to disconnect and let go of ODA accepting that I needed to respect this time alone. I had to not open my calendar, not respond to emails or messages and forward them to the rest of the team in ODA. I had to not message people from the community to check on them. I had to accept that I shouldn’t give an opinion on anything that was happening because it wasn’t my place to do it. In the past years since I have been in this movement I have learned a lot of things. Along the way I have also developed a stronger gut for many things, but I feel like in a way being in the frontlines of these painful realities have forced me to put on a shield.

I also have to really take a moment to express my gratitude to Ally, Gre and Abigail because not everyone makes the time you made for me. I reflected a lot on the fact that I have been very blessed to have so many friends that are willing to not only open the doors to their homes but also give me the keys to them. I have many friends that trust me enough to allow me to be part of their families and their everyday life. The fact that you let me be in your homes with your children or roommates and experience things that usually never get to leave the doors of the intimacy of those places just means a lot to me. You not only opened the doors and gave me the keys to your home but you also did it with so much love and care. I started to remember all those people that have made me feel part of their homes and I felt very grateful for having each one of you in my journey. 

As my trip comes to an end in Playas de Tijuana where the sea confronts the borderland I have to say that as soon as I got to the shore the force of the tides came up  to me to express their anger, their sadness, their disappointment and discomfort for what humanity continues to do to it. This time I felt a louder voice from the tides telling me of their pain and discontent. As I walk along the seashore I continue to look for those seeds that humanity needs to flourish.

PS: Photos coming up soon.