I could hardly eat lunch as I frantically scribbled notes. Pedro has the most numbers in his head of anyone I have ever met and rattled them off so quickly I was glad of the Spanish to English interpretation, just for the extra seconds to catch up. The numbers added up to a pretty depressing story of xenophobia based migration policies in the Dominican Republic. From January to the end of May of this year, over 3000 Haitians have been deported a month from official border crossing, violating all sorts of international standards. Given the number of unofficial crossings and the number of people who have choose to voluntarily leave, the numbers are probably much higher. You can meet some of the children and youth now living in limbo on our new blog.
For Pedro, these policies serve as a smoke screen to blame rising inequality and lack of public services on Haitians, not on corruption or government mismanagement of funds. In the van ride back to Port au Prince, our group reflected on how pervasive the narrative of hatred against individuals and groups seems across the Americas, not only in the DR. Blaming a person is always easier than dealing with structural issues; generating hatred out of fear, however, only contributes to an escalating crisis that leads to spiralling rates of migration.
Last week, I ate all the squash blossom quesadillas in Mexico City and also attended some meetings about migration. I sat in a circle with three partner organizations that work and do advocacy around migration, on the northern border, the centre, and the southern border with Guatemala. As we brainstormed how to better work together, we discussed the idea of alternative documentation, not simply of victimization and of violence, but also of radical hospitality, welcome, and the good that migration can bring.
From Douglas Arizona, Agua Prieta, Sonora, Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City, and the border state of Chiapas, people and organizations open up homes and hearts to those passing through, recognizing that because they are human, they also belong. Together, we reflected on how our local realities often cross borders and countries, despite narratives that demand we remain separate. We are all interdependent upon each other. How can we reflect on all the ways that our lives already go far beyond borders?
At the end our of meal in Haiti, Pedro gestured at the table, a mess of fish bones and leftover bowls of broth. “Maybe in the DR people put the hot sauce on the side instead of directly in the soup, but the food is basically the same. That´s what we have to remember, when we talk about bringing people together, is that we are already sharing life together. Cross the border and it is not even obvious who is from where. Rather, there are mixed families, there are kids that play together and economies and cultures are already woven together.”
The most damaging structures are the ones that rob us of our natural impulse for kindness. These are the systems that cause us to feel helpless and isolated, in the midst of events swirling beyond our control. While we continue to advocate for changes in policies and systems, sometimes the most radical acts we can engage in are kindness and welcome. When we recognize the humanity of those around us and do not allow smoke screen policies to dictate who is worthy, we are participating in a long human tradition of movement and acceptance that has already shaped our world.
The director of one of the organizations and I sat in Coyoacan, sipping on Mexican coffee and sharing stories at the end of a long day of meetings. She told me about one campesino from Chiapas who came to the northern border through an organization she directs, for the opening celebration of a coffee shop. The organization sells fair trade coffee from Chiapas with the premise that when farmers are paid a fair price for their labour, they often don’t migrate. In fact, families are starting to return from the US to Chiapas, because of the fair trade coffee. At the US border, the farmer stuck his hand out through the bars, just to feel the air on the other side. Later he shared about how he may not be able to cross, but his coffee, and therefore a part of himself, is constantly making that journey.
The director also told me a parallel story of a man in the US who cuts out the picture of the farmer on each bag of his coffee and strings them together like a rosary, in order to remember each person as he sips his drink every morning. I don’t think increased consumption is a solution to global problems, but fair prices and the recognition that we are all already connected through the products we consume is an important step that should cause us to demand trade and border justice, and also open our homes.
There is power when we meet face to face, person to person, community to community.
Instead of focusing on what divides us, let’s celebrate what brings us together and the radical acts of welcome that connect us across countries, regions and the globe. In the book, Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsha Walia writes, “Undoing the physical and conceptual orderings of border imperialism requires a fundamental reorientation of ourselves, our movement, and our communities to think and act with intentionality, creativity, militancy, humility, and above all, a deep sense of responsibility and reciprocity.”
As part of a celebration of the trans-local, of cultures and communities that cross borders, I want to share this recipe for mango chutney with you. I learnt it in Haiti, from a Canadian women who worked in Sudan and now runs a lovely Airbnb on the seaside. The recipe is from the MCC cookbook Extending the Table, comes from Botswana and originally calls for peaches, and mangos ,but in both Haiti and Colombia, mangos are much more common than peaches. Adjust accordingly for your local and serve with curry or simply on toast.
1 onion, grated
1 small apple, grated
1 tps caynee pepper or a minced hot chili
4 large Tommy mangos, peeled and chopped
⅔ cup of sugar
¾ cup of raisins
¾ cup of vinegar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp curry powder
Combine everything together in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer for up to 2 hours, until the consistency of jam. Stir often as mixture tends to stick. Eat and enjoy!