Reflections from Tía Jolita
Hi y'all! My name is Holly Buttrey, and I have a masters in Global Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. This summer I spent one week collaborating with Angry Tías and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, a group of eight women from Texas who decided to help the asylum seekers at the port of entries and bus stations. Here some thoughts about this experience!
These questions are seemingly asked every day: How can I best help migrants? What can I do to help migrants? What skills do I have to help migrants? They are ubiquitous in the Twitter-sphere and around kitchen tables. It is nearly impossible to grapple with the immense idea of people lacking basic hygiene, the ever-changing immigration policy, and that migrants are detained for weeks on end. So many people want to do something. For me, that something was volunteering with Angry Tías and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley.
Often, I think, volunteers believe that immigrants only need pro-bono law or medical services. This is not true. Your language, your time, or your ability to listen are invaluable in themselves. This does not mean that you should not host clothing drives or create GoFundMes for organizations from Tías and Abuelas to RAICES to the ACLU. Any action you make, regardless of how small they may seem, will help migrants successfully navigate their arduous journey to the United States.
As a volunteer for Angry Tías and Abuelas, I spent my days in the McAllen, TX bus station. My primary role was translation. This meant anything from translating bus tickets, to providing information about pro-bono legal resources in migrants’ final destinations, to offering to translate legal paperwork. So, while I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, I do speak Spanish. And luckily those language skills are always with me. Through Spanish I can tell migrants what their route looks like from McAllen across the United States. I can tell migrants that the fact that a date and time is missing on their paperwork is not an error they committed. I can also spell out the hotline that will help them find both of those missing numbers (1-800-898-7180 y para español marque número 2).
One of the easiest things to do is to listen to migrants’ stories. Migrants want to be heard regardless of where they come from or what kind of story they need to share. Listening to their stories allows you to learn from them and better understand the variety and diversity of migrants’ experiences.
In McAllen, I listened to a woman, Judy, who is carrying twins due in October. She has been walking from Honduras to meet up with her brother in Fort Worth, TX. Before leaving Honduras she was a student of anthropology at the autonomous university. She left, however, once her anthropology cohort dropped out and school days became less and less frequent due to nation-wide protests. Now, in the United States, she was waiting in a bus station. Her bus was at 1:15pm but she arrived at the station around 9:30am. She said she’d rather be in the station, where she has her own seat and there is more space, than in the respite center where it’s crowded.
Earlier in the week, a mother and daughter arrived at the bus station the very day they had crossed the border. They were exhausted but tried to sleep in their chairs before their 9pm bus. The mother, whose feet were still caked in mud, was wearing flip flops, ripped stretchy pants, and a t-shirt. Her daughter, who clearly had also not been able to shower since she arrived in the United States, had sneakers which had held up better during the journey. They were in the station after having eaten a meal in the respite center and were ready to continue on their journey because they felt so close to it all being over.
On my last day at the station, I met Alexa. Alexa is 6 years old. She’s traveling with her dad to Virginia and has four buses and just under 30 hours of travel before she reaches her final destination. Many children in the station are shy, quiet, and tired. Alexa is full of joy and really wanted to create a successful puzzle, which was the toy she received at the shelter. Alexa likes stickers and the color orange and happily followed me around as I talked with other families to make sure that she understood the map and the route. When it was time for her bus, Alexa took me outside to stand in line with her and her dad. It wasn’t actually appropriate for me to stand in line, so I stood near the doors, waving goodbye with Alexa the entire time the bus was being loaded.
This is just my experience. You don’t speak Spanish? That’s fine. There are senators, congresspeople, and state representatives you can call to advocate for policy that supports migrants. You can read, promote, and share reports, news articles, and tweets across social media. Educate yourself about the current—and constantly changing—immigration policies and then encourage those around you to do the same. Regardless of which or how many steps you take, any action, no matter how seemingly small, can positively affect migrants seeking asylum in the United States.