March 25th marked a day of pilgrimage up Mt. Cristo Rey, Migrant Way of the Cross. We offered the hike up Mt. Cristo Rey as sacrifice in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters to shed light on the many stories of immigrant struggles and to pray for change. That day I awoke at 5am eager to make the hike up the landmark shrine of the faithful with my eleven-year-old son. On the drive to Mt. Cristo Rey I couldn’t help but think about the most recent immigration policy headlines and what they meant to our region and our people. I kept thinking how much I wanted my son to leave this experience up Mt. Cristo Rey with sense of empowerment to influence change through the power of prayer. I needed him to witness how important it is for each of us as Catholic citizens of this great country to remain civically and spiritually engaged.
Arriving at the base of the mountain we waited for the crowd to arrive and gather. My first trip up the mountain was about to begin. When we lined up and made our way to the first station of the cross my son bee-lined to the very front so far that it was too difficult for me to catch him. At that point, I realized he was walking with Bishop and I was walking without him.
As I walked I had time alone in prayer and what started out to be a living lesson for my son became a journey down my own immigrant history. I am the daughter of an immigrant, my mother. In her last days with us before losing her battle with cancer she gave me the gift of finally opening up about her childhood and how she migrated to the United States. My mom’s life in Mexico was one she rarely discussed so I think in the end she felt the need to share what was part of my heritage. My mother was born is San Bernardo, Durango, a very tiny remote town with a small center square and less than 700 in population most of which are indigenous. It was a place of poverty and almost no opportunity. Eventually she and her family moved to Chihuahua and found their way to Juarez for work. At the age of 16 according to my mom her family had ventured into some questionable “not so legal” industries just to survive. It was then that her mother (my grandmother) sent her away to live in El Paso with a close family friend. Her “Tia” Eva gave her a chance at a better life. It was there that my mom was able to finally dream a bigger dream. Everything that followed is our family history and the legacy of my parents 50-year marriage. After 40+ years of permanent residency, marriage to a born citizen and World War II veteran and what she witnessed on 9-11, she finally chose to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. But her wounds of living impoverished in Mexico and then being sent away to live with strangers in order to be safe, I know never fully healed inside her.
As I walked and listened to more recent stories of immigrants and the dangers they face from human traffickers to drug cartels to the natural elements, I was reminded of just how desperate things continue becoming in other countries. I realized just how lucky my mom was to have been spared these dangers but at the same time I cannot imagine what it felt like for my grandma to send her daughter to live in another country. While I listened to the stories of Melissa the 12-year old forced into prostitution while attempting to cross alone into the U.S. and Lorenzo who was forced to smuggle drugs in his home country but still does not qualify for asylum, my prayers were evoking feelings of knowing in my heart and in my own family history these stories hit so many of us close to home. As we walked from one station to the next my singing became louder and my prayers deeper for those who are walking across deserts for a chance to get to a better place, for those who are fleeing violence or war for a chance to live in peace and finally for those of us who are descendants of the migrant struggle.
Towards the last three stations I finally caught up to my son as he waited for me when he realized I wasn’t right next to him. We walked the last three stations together as the daughter and grandson of an immigrant. We prayed intently as we read and heard even more stories that demonstrate how the immigrant burden is heavier now than ever before. As I looked across the scenic vista I took a picture of the border wall and both sides of the two countries. I could see the possible reason why Fr. Costa chose this mountain to erect his monument to Christ. Arriving at the top after about a three-hour hike was an inspiring moment to see the hundreds that made the hike with us. We made our final stretch up to the monument and when we arrived to the very top along with the many others not even the wind could be heard as we stood in silence, in prayer and in solidarity with our immigrant family.
Our ride home was a quiet one. The next day we passed the stretch of highway next to UTEP and my son looked intently over to the Mexican side at all the colorful tiny houses. He asked me if those houses across the border were like the ones my family once lived in. I told him I did not know but having them in clear view every time we drive I-10 should serve as a reminder that people do live in them and should they choose to make the journey to leave their circumstances for a chance at a better life, they don’t deserve to lose their lives or human dignity in the process. He responded, “Grandma would’ve been proud of us”.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom and thank you for making your immigrant journey.