On a Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace

On a pilgrimage for justice and peace

I would like to dedicate this blog to Juliana, someone who taught me to appreciate the simplest things. I wish I had watched more movies with her.

As I hear the thunder of an approaching tornado in the distance, I keep thinking about all my experiences so far in North Carolina. I hear huge pieces of hail crashing onto the roof of the church that we are staying at tonight. Today was a day to listen closely to our surroundings. The people, the wind and rain, are synchronized like a symphony, ready to deliver a message and to teach us each a lesson. The constant struggle to be heard goes forward as we continue to walk through the South- battling racism and ignorance.

A few days ago, an anti-immigrant man looked me in the eye and without hesitation said, “You are not entirely human. You are just a criminal!” I remember the blood rushing to my head as I felt my cheeks turning red. I wasn’t embarrassed of being undocumented, but rather of being part of humanity. For a second I asked myself, “why can’t I be seen like everybody else?” Flashbacks from high school came to mind as I remembered old interactions I had with friends in my neighborhood back in Miami. Over there I didn’t look that different and always fit right in. When I expose the most intimate portions of my life I become vulnerable, much in the same manner that anyone who has their humanity denied would, as we go through our lives sharing our fears, dreams and hopes. So I feel the importance of asking even further: what makes people hold so much hatred against difference on a basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or even status?

Today finally, we made it as planned to Charlotte, NC to join in solidarity with the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace. This is an annual event that has been taking place for the last 24 years. Local organizers gave us the opportunity to join their pilgrimage around their state and learn from their experiences and their stories. I was quite impressed by the beautiful display of diversity and solidarity that I witnessed today. As I looked in the crowd I saw immigrants from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Not to mention, our brothers and sisters from the African American and Caucasian community walking through downtown Charlotte chanting “Education Not Deportation” in the rain. The weather could have become a challenge but it became proof that this community stands for justice and human rights.

We stopped in front of the local jail where many immigrants are detained, even though nearly 90% of them have no criminal record whatsoever. I couldn’t help but think about my friends, Walter Lara and Jesus Reyes. Both were held in a facility similar to the one I was standing next to. I remember their stories of isolation and sometimes even hopelessness. I knew that I could be held there as well and maybe I could have disappeared like so many already have in our community. Then I realized that the current immigration policy is based on extremist ideas such as the anti-immigrant man that called me “not entirely human”. Our laws were built on fear and hatred.

The extreme wheather outside the building is a perfect description of how I am feeling as I write this to you. We heard stories of several students in Charlotte whose only mistake is to work hard and do their absolute best to achieve their academic goals, but are still denied entrance to a college. As they went up to the stage, the image of detention haunted me throughout their presentation. Could they be the next ones to disappear or would I come first in the list? I am not sure but the flame of urgency was ignited once more in my soul, because I know that their stories cannot go unheard. The responsibility for change is ours –yours and mine- and if we don’t take action, there will be others, like the gentleman who could not see the humanity in me, to take opposing action on our behalf.

When we left the church where we met to hear the stories of the community, we opened the doors to a garden full of flowers. As the wind swung through the trees, flowers filled the air and covered the floor with the most colorful and beautiful bedding. I quickly remembered the wise words of my mother, “there is always stillness after the storm.” It was in the stillness of that moment that I realized and was reaffirmed once more that love conquers all. The local organizers from North Carolina have been organizing this pilgrimage for the last 24 years as a sign of love for their communities. They continue to do so because they have hope in humanity and their motivation inspires me to stay strong in this fight.

Felipe Matos


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