The Video: The Land That I Love
In March of 2010, I was invited to stay and work with Shura Wallin and Rev. Randy Mayer – co-founders of the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans/Los Samaritanos.
We arranged a concert at The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ, where Randy is the minister. I went to learn more about the situation on both sides of the border with Shura and Randy as my guides and companions.
I carried a digital video/still camera with me everywhere. The video accompanying the song draws all its images and footage from my experience on both sides of the border with Shura and Randy.
I photographed the landscape, the desert plants, the hands of deportees at the comedor in Nogales, Mexico.
The comedor is a Catholic-run aid mission feeds and helps recent deportees, who often wind up back south of the border often separated from their family members, husbands, or wives, without their medications and possessions, without money, without phones, and – after what for many is a life-threatening ordeal in the desert wilderness – without the physical and emotional resources for the journey back to their home villages.
Desperate, poor, and hungry, the migrantes are often victimized on both sides of the border. As migrants and later deportees, they are easy prey for the drug smugglers and criminal gangs that haunt the night streets of Nogales, Sonora.
The video opens with footage of the beautifully decorated and maintained cemetery in Nogales, just down the hill from the comedor. Within its fences and among the graves, many recent deportees take shelter.
The meals at the comedor are prepared with the help of deportees and the staff.
This deportee was ‘dusted’ by a Border Patrol helicopter. The Border Patrol helicopters drop down low on groups of migrants, raising a dust storm that blinds, chokes and disperses them. Unable to see or breathe, migrants often throw down their belongings and run when they are ‘dusted.’ The scratches on this man’s hands and arms are a number of days old. Running through the desert is dangerous when you can see, when you can’t it can be life threatening. He knew he shouldn’t have run, but he couldn’t breathe. You can also see that he is missing a ring off the ring finger of his right hand.
Women, in particular, are offered a chance and encouraged to write down what happened to them on their journey. Almost all women who migrate begin taking birth control pills the month before they go, because they are afraid that they will be raped at some point. According to advocates for the migrantes, many if not most of them are sexually assaulted.
Shura and I visited the early Spanish mission churches: the 1751 San José de Tumacácori at Tumacácori National Historical Park (fifty miles south of Tucson; eighteen miles north of Nogales) and the 1797 San Xavier del Bac (a little more than ten miles SSW of Tucson, visible from I-19, the road to Nogales).
With its colorful original statuary and murals, San Xavier del Bac Mission is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. The church was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. The current structures were begun in 1783 and completed in 1797. Entering it, worshipers and visitors have a chance to step back into an authentic, working 18th Century space.
The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners and is open to visitors as a National Historic Landmark.
These special smokeless commemorative or votive candles – unos cirios – are $3.00 each currently at the gift shop and in the museum foyer. The Mission requests that only these candles be lit in the church because they have been specially formulated so as not to harm the frescos, paintings and statuary in the church. Lighting a candle represents someone’s intention/prayer when lit and left in the church.
These distinctive white bell towers are in the Mortuary Chapel, just to the west of the main sanctuary of San Xavier del Bac Mission. Nicknamed “The White Dove of the Desert,” the Mission was created to serve the needs of the local community in the village of Wa:k (San Xavier District) on the Tohono O’odham reservation, which it still does today.
These rustic wooden crosses mark known, early 20th Century graves at San José de Tumacácori. Though the mission records show that 593 people were buried here between 1755-1825, the gravesites have been lost to time, weather – and to cattle! The mission was abandoned between 1825 and 1848 and any records from that time have been lost to time, as well. In the late 19th Century, this corral was used for cattle round-ups. In the early 20th Century, the local people feeling that this was campo sancto – holy ground – once again buried their dead here. The last burial at Tumacácori was in 1916.
In front of the main sanctuary at San Xavier del Bac Mission, there is an atrium surrounded by a fence wall with an adobe bench build into the side facing the church. There in the shade of the wall on the day I was there, this dog was sleeping peacefully, blessedly unconcerned at our presence. It reminded me of Will Rogers wonderful remark: “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Shura also took me to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Saguaro National Park-West, to see the majestic Saguaro cacti in the only place in the world where they grow. The Saguaro are those classic cartoon cacti with bent arms reaching out and up, seen in the Peanuts comic strip.
Rattlesnakes only live in North and South America. Thirty-six species have been identified and Arizona has 13, more than any other state in the US. Rattlesnakes are pit vipers, and use a temperature sensitive pit (loreal pit) located behind each nostril to detect differences in temperature that can be only a fraction of a degree apart. The heat given off by an animal is detected by the snake helping it to identify both predator and prey. The Rattlesnake shows up in the first bridge in The Land That I Love video, which I suppose can be taken as an indigenous southwest variation on what is sometimes called vulture capitalism: viper capitalism.
Even for desert flora, Saguaro are among the slowest growing plants on the planet. They must be at least 75 years old before one of those classic arms begins to form.
At the museum they have a 14″ round clay dish of sand with a dozen or more Saguaro growing in it. They range in size from a dime (five years old) to a tennis ball (25 years old). A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall.
Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall (12-18m). When rain is plentiful and a Saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh 3-4 tons. Saguaro can have a taproot that extends about 2 feet down, but the majority of the feeder roots lie just 4-6 inches below the surface of the ground and radiate out from the plant a distance equal to its height.
The quiet images of the stoic, majestic Saguaro and the gray-clouded evening sky that appear as the instrumental chorus quotes from the traditional Mexican song of parting, La Golondrina, were all taken in and nearby the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
The Longhorn Grill has turned up in a number of films. It is just off I-19, 33 miles north of the border on the road to Tucson. It is 24 miles from Arivaca, Pima, AZ and at least 45 miles cross country from Sasabe, Mexico, where a number of migrants cross the border into the forbidding Tohono O’odham Reservation.