Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Little Pilgrimage

In August, 2004, I had been blogging for just under six months when I happened to write a piece that I'm still rather proud of. The venue was my AOL Journal, Musings from Mâvarin. The post was titled "Let 'Em In." In it I wrote about people dying in the Arizona desert as they tried to make the crossing from Latin America into a better life in the U.S. I found it inconceivable that anyone would rather see poor people from Mexico and beyond be overcome by heat, dehydration, wild animals and human predators, leaving their bones in some remote bit of desert scrub, than let them simply immigrate to the U.S. safely and legally. Sure, let's catch the drug smugglers and other criminals, but let's stop making the attempt to come to this country a crime in and of itself.

My inspiration at the time of that original post was something in the church bulletin at St. Michael's, promoting an event sponsored by some of the local humanitarian groups dedicated to stopping the needless deaths in the desert. One such annual event is the annual Día de los Muertos Pilgrimage. Tying in with the annual "Day of the Dead" celebration, people carry small wooden crosses across the desert, each representing one of the people whose remains were found in the desert over the past year. This year, the 8.2 mile walk was from St. John's Church at 12th and Ajo Way to Mission San Xavier Del Bac. Having done so much walking this past year, I was able to participate for the first time today.

Despite painstaking forensic tests to identify each person, the names of over half of them will never be known. Sometimes it is not even possible to determine whether the few bones found are male or female. So while some of the crosses have the name and age of a specific person written on them, most say Desconocido (meaning "unidentified male"), Desconocida (meaning "unidentified female"), or even Desconocido/a (meaning "unidentified male or female").

Even though "only" 179 people died over the past year, a great improvement over the year when I wrote my original blog post, there were far more crosses than walkers to bear them. Nearly everyone carried at least two, some as many as six or eight of them. I chose one with a name, Fernando Vasquez-Casteneda, age 29, and one of the many Desconocidos.

Ila Abernathy from St. Michael's also carried one of the crucifixes from St. Michael's, wrapped with a textile banner from one of her many trips to Guatemala. Robin Donaldson and Margie, a St. Michael's parishioner whose last name I don't know, also walked today.

I forgot to bring my portable charger, so my phone ran out of battery before the 7 mile mark. By then we were on Mission Road.

At the mission itself we had a brief ceremony. All the crosses from the previous eleven years were laid out in a circle. Each name or Desconicido/a was read out, and we answered the roll call with the word "Presente." We laid out crosses at the edge of the circle, and Father Steve blessed. Them. We closed with native musicians singing about the Virgin Mary, and a bilingual prayer.


1 comment:

Janet said...

I think it's awesome that you do this! Such a beautiful thing, just beautiful.