My Path, My Story: Helping Immigrants at the Mexico Border
Many students and alumni have taken unconventional paths through Tufts and in their life choices. In this occasional series, Tufts Now shares their stories.
Our personal stories give shape to who we are, but they can also reveal what we hope to become. Those two threads came together in an uncommon way when Sarah Glover, J91, of Arlington, Massachusetts, traveled to southern Texas this summer for a three-week service mission with Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries, a nonprofit that supports refugees and asylum seekers with aid in the Rio Grande Valley.
She witnessed how the migrants, once released from local U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention centers, arrive at bus stations with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some have enough money for a bus ticket to get them to family, friends, or other sponsors; others don’t. As Glover helped them on their way—providing such basics as diapers, food, and medicine —she was also taking a meaningful step on her personal journey to what she calls “a fuller life.”
Shortly after she turned fifty this spring, she left a high-level position at a thriving startup advocating for K-12 public education improvement. Glover’s daughter spends the summer with her father, giving Glover an opportunity to devote the summer to this exploration of what her next steps would be. She turned to the pastor of her church, First Church of Somerville, for guidance on how to embark on this journey. Soon she found herself in Brownsville, Texas, along the border with Mexico. This is her story, in her own words.
The people I see arriving at the bus stations from the federal detention centers typically have only the clothes on their backs. Sometimes they can get right on a bus to get where they’re going, but if they have a wait, there are respite centers to make sure they have food, a chance to bathe, toothbrushes, socks, diapers—any and all basic necessities for the next step of their journey.
It was clear to me in talking with families that they had virtually all made harrowing journeys; they had taken daunting and startling risks. I met one mother and her thirteen-year-old son from El Salvador. She was clutching a small claim ticket for a suitcase that immigration had not yet released. They had no shoelaces—shoelaces and belts are removed when they enter the detention center.
I remember watching them bend over to put brown laces in their white sneakers—I will never forget that image; it seems so symbolic to have to bend to the floor and replace something as basic as shoelaces, which had to be given to them. After talking to them, I learned they had just four pesos and were getting ready to board a bus to New York. I bought them lunch at Subway and gave them a little bit of money. I did not give them enough, but we did connect them to the respite center, and someone there who made sure she got her suitcase.
They told me about how they had fled El Salvador nearly a year ago—it was one of many harrowing stories I heard. I am not overstating this when I say the people I met were running for their lives. Two young teens traveling with their father attached themselves to me in the bus station one evening when I was serving dinner. When I asked them why they left, they said, “because the bandits killed our mother.” The criminal activity and lack of government and police presence in parts of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala is real. It is really hard.
Turning fifty made me want to really think differently about next steps. I wanted a fuller life, and I didn’t think I’d find it in a high-rise building attending more meetings. Part of my inspiration was David Brooks’ The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, and I am now in the middle of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. After you do the first part of life—what is the next part? How do you experience meaning? How do you answer your calling?
At the same time, I was overwhelmed by all the news reports about immigration and the struggles of asylum seekers. I was thinking: how does my spirit stay afloat? Then I read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. He says—and this was really my call—that you have to be ‘proximate’ to the need. This call to be proximate felt really important.
I thought: I want to literally put food into people’s hands. And that is what I did. When a kid was sick in the bus station, I bought cough medicine. When a mom had no diapers, I bought the diapers. I cried with the mom who was overwhelmed. I had a conversation with a child whose mother got killed—to look in their eyes, to hug them, read to them, and give them another juice—that is what I could do. I think being here has changed me, unquestionably. I’m becoming braver, because I see how beautifully brave these people are.
I have one more big goal this summer, going to West Africa to help set up a school in Guinea. I want to continue to look for proximity and to be close to people who are struggling. The wealth divide in our country and the world is really pernicious, and while it is very difficult to leave our own ‘bubbles,’ I think it is necessary. I think our own humanity kinds of rests on it. I’ll certainly be looking for a new job, and hope that this summer’s experiences will help me focus that search so that I can keep walking in this second part of life.
Learn more about Sarah Glover and her volunteer work in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas—and how you can help—by visiting her blog.
Laura Ferguson can be reached at email@example.com.