La Ruta de las Mujeres (The Women’s Route)
By the Rev. Delle McCormick
Submitted upon request to Conspirando Magazine, Chile, October, 2008
I walk the path that you took
hours or days ago.
Stones and slope and thorns
threaten each step with
I see where you slept
under the mesquite tree
home to spiders, snakes, ants -
familiar to coyotes, Gila monsters,
God knows what.
A piece of plastic,
grass woven into the branches
for shade against the merciless sun,
a tuna can, toothbrush,
tortilla cloth, used bus ticket -
all part of your story,
your life lost in this desert.
Nearby a tiny silver spoon
engraved, a love letter,
your bible, a pair of panties,
birth control pills,
breast cancer medicine,
a baby bottle, diapers,
one chancla, perfume bottle,
a pair of pants with
a name and number written in the inseam.
O, what you leave behind
I know you
Sister, mother, friend,
we will all be held
accountable for your
your suffering, your loss.
Some day, we will
celebrate your courage,
your story, your making
your way to the Promised Land.
Some day we will name this Exodus
and thank God that
some of you make it
Reflection by the Rev. Delle McCormick
When I first encountered the tiny handprint of a small child in the middle of nowhere in Sonoran Desert – that vast stretch of land bordering Arizona and Sonora, Mexico – I knew I was called to work here. I had come from eight years of ministry in Central and Southern Mexico, and had been sent home to “be a missionary to my own people.” When I saw and touched that tiny print, I knew I had stumbled upon my next calling.
Since then, I have been to the desert many times and witnessed evidence of many lives left behind. The once pristine paths through the desert are now littered with the precious “stuff” of people’s lives.
I recall one desert visit with some professors from Chicago, when we came upon what is known as a lay-up site, where migrants who have crossed the desert must leave behind anything that identifies them as a “walker.” We sat and wept as we were confronted with tons of “trash” – baby bottles and diapers, women’s make-up, toothbrushes, bibles, bikes, high heels, clothes, and love letters.
Even the most tender and private possessions lay open to our stranger’s gaze. “Trophy trees” draped with pretty panties and bras commemorate the place where women’s bodies and souls are raped. Sanitary products, bras and panties, birth control pills, even breast cancer medicine were strewn about as though some tornado had picked their people up and carried them off from their things.
One day, while on a Samaritan Patrol in which volunteers search for migrants hurt or left behind and provide food, water and medical supplies, I found a Dora backpack with a soiled pair of child’s panties inside. What had she gone through, out there in the middle of nowhere? In the smaller pocket, I found her Mom’s make-up and perfume. I wondered if they even made it to the “Promised Land.”
Another day a Samaritan volunteer found a worn walking stick with chord attached and two little nooses at each end, perfect to fit the tiny wrists of a child. The desert is a dangerous place and the pace that migrants must keep in the dark of the night is brutal. This was one woman’s way to keep her children safe in the unsafest of circumstances.
Temperatures in the desert can vary over 100 degrees between morning and night. Perilous terrain, snakes, wild animals, sharp thorns, shallow underground tunnels all make night travel a nightmare. Women carry a shawl or plastic bag to shield them from the elements, but far too many have died there, unable to keep up, lost, dehydrated and hot. Their bones are all that are left after a few days.
Yet they keep coming because, like the women at Jesus’ tomb, they know that life must go on. Women who migrate are incredibly creative, resourceful, and tenacious.
How far would you walk to feed your child?
Rev. Delle McCormick is a minister in the United Church of Christ. She lived and worked in Mexico for eight years and is currently the Executive Director of the bi-national organization, BorderLinks/Enlace de Fronterasrderlinks in Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora. McCormick can be contacted at email@example.com