Asylum Stories

Stories give way to future tales yet to be told. As I stood at the mouth of the Rio Grande River feeding into the Gulf of Mexico, I thought about the miles that laid ahead of this journey.  This iconic river dividing the United States and Mexico for over 1,000 miles. For so many souls, this river is a symbol of their last barrier to a better life. The first port of entry on this journey begins in Brownsville, Texas. A whirlwind of challenges came up as our work was only starting. What began as two people traveling together is now only one. It is part of this work to be able to adapt and move forward, the greater good must always remain in focus. So that is where this story picks up and the people I met.

The air was hot and sticky as I attempted to cross the border into Mexico for the first time since Tijuana. I was accompanied by attorneys should they try to detain me again. To the left of the port were massive white tents that are serving as makeshift courts for the Asylum Seekers to present their cases. A dollar worth of change into a turnstile and we were crossing a bridge over the Rio Grande. I made it into Matamoros, Mexico without a hitch and saw the hundreds of tents nestled in tight bunches next to the path back into the United States. I had traveled over with Team Brownsville to observe their work as they brought food and donations to the Migrants.

Team Brownsville started last year when a small group of people saw migrants being dropped off at the Brownsville bus station with empty stomachs, dirty clothes, and no idea what to do next. What started as a small group of people helping and bringing food has grown into a nonprofit that serves food, donations, educational classes on Sundays, and hope. With the help of a local shelter kitchen, they send their steady influx of volunteers to cook up dinner for nearly 1,000 people to cross over every evening around 6 pm. When asked why, I am giving a resounding reply from each of the founding members “This is my home, my community. These are my neighbors. Why would you not help your own neighbors?”. Something that resonates within my own beliefs.

It was through Gaby Zavala and the Asylum Seekers Network of Support that I was given a tour of the entire area that the Asylum Seekers are staying at. Where most people do not venture far from the border bridge, Garcia’s restaurant being their limit, Gaby showed me around, Matamoros. With her family living on both sides of the border, she grew up navigating the streets of Matamoros. The work of ASNS is one of empowerment and creating a secure space for other humanitarians to operate out of. When a young girl drowned and was resuscitated while bathing in the Rio Grande, they took action to provide a safe means for the people to shower. Purchasing two large 300-gallon food-grade water tanks, pop-up tents, and buckets, they implemented a safe shower system that kept the migrants from having to use the river that was causing sores and rashes.

To speak on her dedication to providing aid, it is worth mentioning. The day they set up the showers, she was there right with us all as we helped her. She delivered her baby the next day! A week after having her baby, she was crossing back into Mexico to continue the work of ASNS.

Understanding of the place we are at now begins by understanding what came before. As I asked people about the history of Brownsville, Matamoros, the river, and migrants, they all said I needed to speak with Dr. Tony Zavaleta. To say he is busy would sell him short. Dr. Tony might be retired, but his work continues on. He has spent his entire career researching and understanding the border. I was lucky to sit down with him with mics in front of us as we conversed about all things border-related. My first podcast is that conversation! His work can be found at http://drtonyzavaleta.com/, check it out and learn more from a leading source on U.S. – Mexico border anthropology.

Getting the film gear in was the defining moment of this project. The first team of Asylum Seekers found themselves flocked by friends wanting to tell their stories or pose for the camera. I have to release a video that Jose, one of the filmmakers, made of himself. I will be releasing videos with interviews of the amazing humanitarians providing aid with all the links to their pages and means to donate or volunteer…but the gravity of what these fellow people are enduring. Jose presents his case for Asylum on 10/23/2019. He was told by local gangs that they will take him if he returns back to Mexico after his court date. Several members of his family have already been killed before he fled to the United States for safety.

It is important for us to lift up the voices of others. For us to lift up the voices of Asylum Seekers. A narrative is being spun about people, about their intentions. Humanity and compassion does not stop at an imaginary divide created by people. The color of your skin, religion, place of birth, sexual preference, gender or non-gender identity do not strip you of your right to equality. I hope we can explore that during this project. I hope those of you with questions are not afraid to ask, I want us all to learn and grow.

To move this project forward, we do need the help of others. Donations are greatly appreciated, but we are also looking for a potential person to travel with us on this journey. To assist helping the youth film their stories and working with the fellow humanitarian teams. As it stands, I find myself with next to no time trying to keep up with all the work. Click here to donate via GoFundme.

In Solidarity,

Nathaniel Dennison

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