Walls and Windows

By Hope Johnson

“Walls and Windows” by Judy Small and Pat Humphries is one of my favorite songs. It is described as “an anti-war song written from a woman’s perspective. The song asks that we recognize ourselves in the people, who are on the other side of the fence”

The lyrics include:

“Did you sing your children lullabies to calm their fears at night? Did you hold them gently 'til they went to sleep? Did you plant in them the seeds of hope for new and better lives? Did you make them promises you couldn't keep?

Do you think of me as enemy or could you call me friend? Or will we let our differences destroy us in the end? The wall that stands between us could be a window too. When I look into the mirror I see you.”

I simply couldn’t get that song out of my mind, heart, and soul as I stood in Nogales, Arizona at the militarized border wall. I looked through the wire fence until my gaze went up and was pierced by the thick coils of bright shiny silver-toned barbed wire warning everyone not to come near.

It felt so familiar—similar feelings welled up in me as I stood before the Berlin Wall before it came down. I found myself wondering, when this barbed wire would have to come down, when this wall would have to be dismantled. I felt like a voyeur as I took it all in. People on the U.S. side driving by, slowing down to take a look at the group I was with—Board members of the UUSC, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. At the same time I was keenly aware of the everyday life on the “other side.” People going about their ordinary lives.

“Often called, Ambos Nogales – 'both Nogales,' the adjoining but divided Santa Cruz Valley international border city of Nogales, Arizona and the Mexican city of Nogales, Sonora.

With more than a century of cooperation and conflict, the two communities have a unique shared history. As the Nogaleses developed from similar origins, both cities have suffered the effects of larger conflicts and issues – from having to defend the towns from Apaches in the late 1800’s, being a flash point of the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920, and suffering through a devastating economic collapse during and for years following the Great Depression.

Today, Ambos Nogales are again feeling the impact of national and international issues – the economic recession and unemployment (on both sides of the border), [illegal] immigration, the border wall, the Mexican drug wars, federal regulatory international travel restrictions and others.

And the cities (to be fair, city and town – there’s a city of 250,000 south of the border, and a town of 20,000 north of the border) tend to get caught in the middle, in a reactionary mode to the forces of change that push them.” (Planet No Gales/)

People on both sides of the city want the barbed wire and the wall to come down. After our group had gathered at the border, The Reverend Mary Katherine Morn, UUSC President, shared these words with the group as we honored the life of 16 year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez who was shot and killed, while unarmed in his neighborhood in Nogales, Sonoras, by a US Border Patrol Officer on the Nogales, Arizona side:

Decisions by Boris Novak

Between two words, choose the quieter one.

Between word and silence, choose listening.

Between two books, choose the dustier one.

Between the earth and the sky, choose a bird.

Between two animals, choose the one who needs you more.

Between two children, choose both.

Between the lesser and the bigger evil, choose neither.

Between hope and despair, choose hope:

it will be harder to bear.

I met and spent time with representatives of two different organizations who reminded me that we each—each member, and each congregation has a role to play.

No Mas Muertes /No More Deaths is a self-described humanitarian aid organization whose mission is “to end death and suffering on the US/Mexico Border.” I was thrilled to learn that this is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.

The other organization was BorderLinks, an organization that “provides educational programs in the U.S. – Mexico borderlands, helping participants deepen their understanding of borders, immigration and social justice.” I was pleased to learn that BorderLinks is the educational arm of the U.S. Sanctuary Movement.

So dear friends—wherever you are, I hope you’ll choose to get involved.

What can I do? You ask.

Remember that line in the song, “when I look into the mirror, I see you.”

Do your homework.

Take your decision.

Together we can change ourselves, our congregations, and indeed, the world.

Let’s get busy….

About the Author

Hope Johnson

Hope Johnson was a beloved elder in Unitarian Universalism. She served as the Congregational Life Consultant for the UUA's Central East Region and the Southern Region. She brought specialties in conflict resolution and multicultural congregational development.

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