Reflections on Rio: Reproductive Rights, Measuring Success, and Why I Never Had Time to Get in the Water

“Rio+20″ is the short name for the United Nations Conference on  Sustainable Development which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  in June 2012 – twenty years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along  with thousands of participants from the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure  environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet. The official discussions focussed on two main themes: how to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and  lift people out of poverty; and how to improve international coordination for  sustainable development. Kimberly Lovell is a UU-UNO partner and the Program Director for Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program. She had the opportunity to particpate in Rio +20 and share her experience.

Reflections on Rio: Reproductive Rights, Measuring Success, and Why I Never Had Time to Get in the Water

Sitting in a circle on a bright Tuesday morning in central Rio, a group of bubbly Brazilian teenagers are talking sex. (more…)

From the Road: Mexico City

On the heels of the recent BorderLinks service learning trip, which ran from Jan. 24-27, UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales had the opportunity to visit with UU’s in Mexico City. Below he shares reflections on worshiping with this vibrant emerging community.

I have been hoping to visit the UU community in Mexico City for a couple of years, but things never worked out schedule-wise. Last week I finally got the chance, and it was a great experience.

One of the exciting things happening in the international world of Unitarian Universalism is the springing up of UU communities. These communities are typically the result of someone finding us on the web and realizing that they are and have long been UUs. The Mexico City group is led by the amazing and indefatigable Francisco Javier Lagunes Gaitán.

Francisco arranged for media interviews in the morning, followed by a lunch with a group of a half dozen theologians and seminary professors. They came from a spectrum of faith traditions including Catholic and Presbyterian. Religion in Mexico is undergoing rapid change just as it is in the U.S., but with special twists because of the setting in Mexican culture. Like here, young people are drifting away. Yet there remains a deep spirituality among Mexicans (a quick visit the to shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe proves that!). Our little delegation included Ramon Urbano, a member of the President’s Council and Pacific Central District President, his wife Karen, my wife Phyllis and my assistant Dea Brayden. Four of the five of us speak pretty fluent Spanish.

After the lunch, the community had its service. It meets for worship twice a month. We had a record attendance helped by the theologians staying after lunch to attend and, I hope, by the fact that the UUA president was there. Twenty-nine people were in attendance.

The service itself was an amazing mixture of cultures. It included readings from such UUs as the UUA’s the Rev. Sarah Lammert (Sarah leads our Ministries and Faith Development staff group) and UK Unitarian minister Andy Pakula.

Preparing for a chocolate communion
Preparing for a chocolate communion

Francisco uses the UUA’s Worship Web resources and also reads tirelessly sermons by UUs on the web. Part of the service also included a reading from a ten year old sermon of mine that he found! (By the way, anyone who has ever tried to translate knows what a labor this is.) The highlight of the worship was a chocolate communion. That might sound frivolous, but in fact in was a sharing of almost pure chocolate (not sweet, and very strong in flavor) as a symbol of embodied spirituality. I spoke for a few minutes on the theme of religion that goes beyond a creed.

Among the work Francisco does is to do chaplaincy at a prison. He had hoped we could visit, but the authorities did not like the idea of the UUA president coming to the prison.

I left thrilled and filled with new questions. How can we help nurture such emerging communities? Especially, how can we help without being heavy handed and culturally inappropriate? Francisco and his small group certainly don’t want a relationship of dependency (indeed, they have so much to teach us). What are the possibilities of expanding his ministry electronically?

One thing is for certain: the potential for Unitarian Universalism in places like Mexico City is enormous.

Cross-posted from President Morales’s blog, Beyond Belief.

From the Road: Nogales

In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization, BorderLinks. The first trip began on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and continued until Jan. 27. The delegation was led by UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, who encourages UUs throughout the country to participate in one of the Service Learning trips planned for April and May with BorderLinks. Below, Rev. Morales shares his reflections on a broken immigration system and glimmers of respite along the border for those deported. 

Speaking with Father Pete (yellow hat) in the comedor.

Father Pete greets our small delegation with a big smile and a loud voice. We arrive at the “comedor” (dining room) in the early afternoon to help serve a meal to people who have just been deported. The comedor is a simple room with a tiny kitchen (we Americans wouldn’t want an apartment with a kitchen that size). It is a simple ministry. They serve a meal to people who have been apprehended. The comedor, supported by Kino Border Initiative, is a short walk from the border.

We help serve meals to 70 people. The numbers are down from the peak a couple of years ago, but the migrants still come. Funny, the word “migrant” utterly fails to convey the reality of these Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans. These are desperate people. It would be more accurate to call them economic refugees.

One man I see has his feet heavily bandaged and can barely walk. Having just seen the rugged mountain desert trails these people attempt to cross, I wonder that anyone makes it. I spoke with a man who had not been caught crossing, but had been deported after 18 years in the U. S. He leaves behind two children, both U. S. citizens. He was stopped for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt and taken into custody when he did not have a driver’s license.

Every day the comedor feeds them, offers a prayer and a smile. It treats these dejected people with respect. Father Pete, who has been at this for years, wonders when it will end.

Joining in prayer before the meal.

Back in Tuscon the following day we visit the federal courtroom that is processing around 70 undocumented immigrants as part of “Operation Streamline.” The scene is surreal after the comedor. Here is a vast, opulent, courtroom larger than most church sanctuaries. The immigrants are processed in a procedure no more personal than a transaction with an ATM. Each deportee has a court appointed attorney who stands there and does absolutely nothing–but collects $125 an hour. Operation Streamline is in a number of cities and costs about $3.5 billion a year. It was touted as an anti-terrorism measure. Last year 327,000 were arrested. Not a single terrorist has been caught. Not one in the seven years of the program.

If they have been caught before, the detainees are given prison sentences. Most of these prison terms will be served in for-profit prisons run by the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America). Prisoners appear handcuffed and shackled with chains dangling. As they shuffle up to the front of the courtroom the chains rattle. They clink again as they hobble out of the room. This happens every day.

The federal prosecutors and public defenders hate the process. The magistrate hates it. The marshals hate it. They are caught in a system they see as insane and a system they cannot control or even influence.

What has become of us as a people that we tolerate this?

Cross-posted from President Morales’s blog, Beyond Belief.

From the Road: On the Border

In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization, BorderLinks. The first trip began on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and continued until Jan. 27. The delegation was led by UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, who encourages UUs throughout the country to participate in one of the Service Learning trips planned for April and May with BorderLinks. Below, Rev. Morales shares his reflections on walking in the same desert where thousands of migrants traverse, often at the cost of their own lives, in the hopes of crossing the border each year.

Picking grapefruit and oranges. Walking in the desert where migrants die by the thousands. Dinner with a small intentional community that devotes itself to helping migrants who are released and have nowhere to go. Not a typical day at the office. This was the second day of our BorderLinks delegation learning trip to Tucson and the U.S.-Mexico border.

The morning began with picking two pickup truck loads full of grapefruit and oranges that will be donated to a refugee group. They will sell much of it. I know I will feel the effects of actual physical labor tomorrow, yet it felt good and satisfying to see the bins fill.

The afternoon was much tougher. It was a trip to a site where No More Deaths leaves water for migrants. The terrain is amazingly rugged. As enforcement gets tougher, migrants try more and more remote and arduous routes. Hundreds die in this southern Arizona desert every year. We see a rough memorial at a place where migrants were found dead. Far off in the distance are other mountains they would have to cross before getting this far. This land is hard to walk in broad daylight; migrants walk it at night with no lights to guide them. When I was young and fit I might have had a chance. Perhaps. Today it would be certain death for me as it is for the young, the old, and those who simply get disoriented.

In the evening we met a young woman from the Dominican Republic who had just been released from detention after something like six months. Her family had paid $10,000 for her to attempt to get to New York via Guatemala, Mexico, and the Arizona dessert. She was caught in the desert. She is 22. Her reports of mistreatment in the for-profit detention center are disgusting. The detention center is run by a corporation that supports laws like the infamous SB 1070.

On the walls of Casa Mariposa, hundreds of butterflies record the names (if known) of those found dead in the desert.

This bright and charming young woman is staying at Casa Mariposa (Butterfly House), run by dedicated young people. They go to the bus station at midnight to offer a place to stay to anyone who arrives from a detention center. We learn that these centers often hold people for several years. There is no time limit. The law, such as it is, works very slowly. The profits pile up.

Yet we leave inspired. There are so many people doing such good work—BorderLinks, No More Deaths, Casa Mariposa, and so many more. They do the work of compassion day after day, year after year. If the arc of the universe does bend toward justice, it is because of the stubborn, loving resolve of people like this. And, I trust, people like us.

Cross-posted from President Morales’s blog, Beyond Belief.

From the Road: Tucson

In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization, BorderLinks. The first trip began on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and continues until Jan. 27. The delegation is led by UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, who encourages UUs throughout the country to participate in one of the Service Learning trips planned for April and May with BorderLinks. Below, Rev. Morales shares his reflections on meeting with undocumented students along the Arizona border and the challenges they face.

I find it painful to listen to their stories. We all do. We heard the stories of six Tucson area Latino and Latina students who were either seniors in high school or recent graduates. They were all near the top of their class, taking advanced placement and honors courses. They dream of college majors in everything from engineering to psychology. They speak fluent English and Spanish—and are wonderfully articulate in both.

I sit and listen with other UUs who are part of a study group visiting Tucson and the Arizona border. The BorderLinks nonprofit is making the arrangements. These students are receiving support from and working for an organization called ScholarshipsA-Z.

Their stories are painful to hear because none of these young people can go to college. Each one of them is undocumented. They came to the United States some years ago with their families. They entered school, studied hard, and did well. They are the kinds of young people colleges are dying to get, the kind that get scholarships to excellent colleges and universities. Now they are trapped. They can’t even get a job, for they have no social security number.

They watch as classmates who have poorer grades and lower test scores head off to colleges. These students have to fend off questions about where they are going to go to school next fall, because most of their teachers and classmates do not know they are undocumented.  At worst, they face deportation.

On a personal level, I am struck by how close I came to being one of them. I was a Latino high school kid with good grades and good test scores. I dreamed of higher education, but could not afford it. But I was born on this side of the border. So I was given a full tuition scholarship, then another, then another. I received an education at a private university my family could never have paid for. It shaped my entire life. Doors opened—a graduate fellowship, a Fulbright lecturership. I have been blessed with the gift of doing wonderfully fulfilling work. None of this would have happened if I did not have that birth certificate.

What madness! What human waste! I find myself wanting to scream. I find myself feeling as powerless as they are feeling. But I know that I am not powerless, that we are not powerless.

How very beautiful these young people are. How stubborn and yet fragile their hope is. What madness.

Cross-posted from President Morales’s blog, Beyond Belief.

We Are One: Crossing Borders as Unitarian Universalists

In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization, BorderLinks. Rev. Eric Cherry, Director of the UUA’s International Office, is taking part and offers his thoughts on this joint Service Learning trip.

The first trip will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and continue until Jan. 27. The delegation is led by the Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President, who encourages UUs throughout the country to participate in one of the Service Learning trips planned for April and May with BorderLinks.

During the trip, the group will learn about and work with several organizations, including the following:

  • Scholarships A-Z: A network of students and advisors working to make education accessible for all students. They help connect students to available resources and train them to be their own advocates.
  • Samaritan Patrol (a.k.a. Samaritans): People of faith and conscience who patrol the desert at the U.S.-Mexico border on a daily basis during the hot months. At least one member of each patrol is a fluent Spanish speaker, and one is, ideally, a medical professional. Patrols carry water, food, emergency medical supplies, communication equipment, maps, and packs for travelers containing items necessary to survive in the desert.
  • The Restoration Project: An intentional ecumenical community that blends faith and action through social justice work. They sponsor the Greyhound Bus Project, giving hospitality to recently released immigration detainees and providing them with information and resources.
  • Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC): HEPAC is a sister organization to BorderLinks and a community center in Nogales, Sonora. Programs offered at HEPAC include adult education and training classes, and the Child Food Security Program, which provides lunch to children and education for their families on nutrition and gardening. HEPAC also is home to a women’s cooperative that produces jewelry that raises awareness about deaths in the desert.

Please follow stories from the journey over the next week.

Argentina’s Lower House Recognizes Gender Identity

La identidad de género es “la vivencia interna e individual del género tal como cada persona la siente profundamente, la cual podría corresponder o no con el sexo asignado al momento del nacimiento,” text from the Gender Identity Bill that was approved in the Argentine Lower House on November 30, 2011 

One year after legalizing gay marriage, the lower house of Argentina’s Congress passed a gender identity bill, which will give trans people in Argentina the right to gender recognition under the law.  This bill will also allow trans individuals to access proper health care, such as hormonal or surgical treatments, within the public health system.  In order to become a law, the Senate will have to approve the bill in 2012.  A newspaper article in La Nacion, an Argentine periodical, is available in Spanish here.

In a world filled with a great deal of intolerance, we at the UU-UNO are refreshed by the progressive stance that the Argentine government has taken on LGBT rights.  The bill’s text, cited above in Spanish, defines gender identity as the experience of gender as the individual feels it, and recognizes that this gender experience often does not correspond with the sex an individual has been assigned at the time of birth

Sustainability Research Internship in Mexico

The UU Fellowship of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico has partnered with the following summer research internship opportunity:

Research Internship in Mexico
June 30-August 1, 2011
Theme: SUSTAINABILITY, MIGRATION AND NAFTA
View the brochure (PDF)

Learn how NAFTA has been pushing campesinos off the land and driving them to El Norte. Observe how people are striving to make life sustainable in their communities.

The Center for Global Justice (GJC) presents its fourth annual, Summer Research Internship Program scheduled from June 30 through August 1 in San Miguel de Allende in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato.

This Research Internship Program is planned as a cross-cultural, cooperative learning experience for activists and college students (upper division undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate) who will study under the guidance of an outstanding international faculty. Interns will examine and analyze the realities of corporate globalization through selected readings, lectures and on-site, faculty-supervised field investigations culminating in reports intended for publication on the Global Justice Center’s web site. The program is organized to acquaint interns with the social, economic and political realities influenced by US trade and foreign policy supporting corporate globalization over the past half century.

An Urban / Rural Study –Research Program in Two Parts
During the first two weeks interns will live with families in the city of San Miguel de Allende. During this time interns will participate an intensive two-week study on the causes and effects of corporate globalization, including creative local responses and alternative solutions to the status quo in Mexico. Academics, activists, practitioners, and community members from both the global North and South will facilitate these courses, providing students ample opportunity to engage with a wide range of perspectives. Interns will also have the opportunity to participate in public lectures, informal discussions and socials events during their time in San Miguel.

During the second two weeks, interns will live with Mexican families in nearby rural communities where we have well-established cooperative working relations. Working with and supported by faculty and host community leaders, the interns will carry out community-initiated projects which can involve opportunities to learn about transforming family structures, changing roles of women, community economic initiatives, resistance to land privatization, and the search for alternative economic means of survival and development. During the last two days, interns will return to San Miguel to write their reports and prepare their public presentations about their projects and their experiences.

The combined theoretical and practical participatory-research experience will deepen the interns’ insights into the effects of global restructuring on the Mexican people and perhaps themselves. The equivalent of third year college fluency in conversational Spanish is needed.

Certificates of completion and letters of recommendation will be issued to the students upon successful completion of their written reports and their public presentations.

Cost
$1,800 covers all program costs as well as living expenses during the month-long internship. It does not include transportation costs to and from Mexico. Limited scholarship assistance may be available.

For more  information, visit www.globaljusticecenter.org or contact admin [at] globaljusticecenter.org.