While Sara is originally from Virginia, she moved to Guatemala in 2016 to work for Mennonite Central Committee. In 2020 she moved to Tucson to work for Kino Border Initiative after ending her first (but not last) stint in Guatemala. The following objects below represent the story of Sara’s life from her childhood in Virginia to Guatemala to Tucson and now her plans to return to Guatemala. Apart from work you can find her tearing it up around Tucson on her road bike.
Here are a few questions we asked Sara about her work.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
What gives you a lot of life in your work?
What are some of the greatest challenges you have in your work?
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Ruby Bridges was a black girl who integrated in schools in the 1960s and is Sara’s childhood hero. It was Sara’s first glimpse into the past and was what sparked her interest in history and the Civil Rights Movement. The book also gives a glimpse into how Sara sees her family and past. For Sara, when she read the book as a kid, she saw that there was a right side of history and a wrong side of history. Then when she started talking with her parents about Ruby Bridges and the Civil Rights Movement, she learned that her family was not on the side of history that she wanted to be on. This book sparked Sara’s awareness to question what is going on in the world presently and think about on what side of history she wants to be on. This book was Sara’s catalyst for wanting to work with immigrants and immigration issues. In high school and college, immigration seemed like the big issue occurring in the United States, and so she decided to understand those issues so that she could one day work for immigrant justice.
Ultimately, Sara now strives to live and reflect from history in a way where she is not blindly molding to culture and religion. She finds history very disheartening in the fact that we continue to repeat injustices against certain groups of people. One of the reasons she no longer identifies as religious because she has seen the danger of blindly following religion and how Christianity has been perverted in history. While she thinks that religion can provoke good reflection and thought, she does not think that it is very common. For her religion can provoke groupthink. And while she knows this can happen to any people in all areas of life, it is the church as an institution that has been the tool to justify many of the atrocities she is against. This is also why she is drawn to churches that are social justice oriented because it proves to her that the institution of the church can be used to do good in the world. However, she was not exposed to more progressive religion growing up nor does she see religion painted this way in history.
El Colibri (hummingbird)
When Sara became interested in immigration issues, she knew that she needed to learn Spanish. So, a year after college she received a job with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Guatemala. And she went to Guatemala with the purpose of learning Spanish and why people migrate. One of the first communities that she worked in was Santiago Atitlán (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_Atitlán). It was also how she met her good friend Kat and the women at ANADESA (https://www.natik.org/anadesa) who do mostacilla (bead work). For Sara this colibri (hummingbird) represents many things, like her intro to a Mayan culture that she did not even know existed before. It also represents the people in Santiago that she met and how important they are to her, something that she did not even realize for her first years in Guatemala. El colibri reminds her of why she went to Guatemala in the first place, and all the things that she uncovered in Guatemala, and why she can’t stay away from Guatemala now. She finds friendship in el colibri because Sara shared experiences with friends in Guatemala who have become some of her longest friendships apart from childhood.
Sara also identifies with the meaning of el colibri in Mayan culture as a sign of resiliency and bearer of strength in confronting obstacles. Sara acknowledges that as much as she loves Guatemala, there were other things occurring in her life and being in a foreign country added extra layers of difficulty. Some people have asked Sara why she did not leave Guatemala during difficult parts of her life, but Guatemala felt so much like home for her that she wanted to make the best of her life even in those difficult times. She now realizes that while she would have never used the word “resilient” to describe herself before Guatemala, she now has constructed resiliency for herself, and she enjoys that aspect about herself.
Migrant Trail Bandana
This is the bandana that Sara took on the migrant trail. Sara started to work for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 2016 and it was her job to facilitate learning tours for MCC Guatemala. So, she had the opportunity with MCC to participate in another MCC learning tour anywhere around the world, and she chose to go to the U.S./Mexico border because she really wanted to learn about this part of her country. She was drawn to immigrant issues there, and she felt it was really important to know what was happening with immigration in her own country on the border. On the learning delegation she visited Tucson, Douglas and Agua Prieta, MX. She remembers feeling that there was a great harshness to the borderlands, but there were also a lot of glimpses of hope from the harshness.
She was inspired by Jack and Linda in Douglas, AZ of their intentionality of living on the border, and how they had found hope and beauty in the midst of the injustice and the ugliness of the borderlands. After the learning delegation, she participated in the Migrant Trail (https://azmigranttrail.com), and it was a powerful experience for her to reflect on the journey of migrants to the United States. She also met many people like Jack and Linda who have shaped their vocation and profession around helping immigrants. The bandana represents her redirection in life from her visit on the border that eventually led her to live and work with immigrants on the border in 2020. It was after the Migrant Trail where Sara went from saying that one day, she wanted to work with immigrants to saying that she wants to work with immigrants on the border after her time in Guatemala. Sara has made this a reality for herself when she moved to Tucson and began to work with Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, MX. However, she thought she would be here in Tucson a long time, but it has not been a great year for her professionally. Her time in Guatemala was supposed to be like a steppingstone to work in immigration on the border, but she has not felt belonging in her work or she has the skills for her job. Now that she has been re-directed back to living and working in Guatemala, it feels a little bit weird for her. But Sara is also really excited to go back to Guatemala for more aprendizaje, and she feels good with making the choice to go back.
Santiago Atitlán Painting
The last year that Sara lived in Guatemala, she lived in San Juan La Laguna, which is a small village on Lake Atitlán (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Juan_La_Laguna). The town is almost 100% Tz’utujil Mayan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzʼutujil_people), and it was a culture shock for Sara because she had been never exposed and immersed so much in Mayan culture. She lived with a family who adopted her into their family like a daughter. Since they were a family of painters, they wanted to gift her paintings when she was about to leave to the United States. She asked them to paint her a woman from San Juan and a woman from Santiago. The woman in this painting is from Santiago Atitlán.
These two places for Sara are important because they are the sandwich of her aprendizaje (learning) of indigenous cultures in Guatemala. When Sara worked for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) she would visit the town of Santiago often. It was in Santiago where the community helped her learn the Tz’utujil Mayan culture and norms there. Her aprendizaje in the community of Santiago then helped her do work in San Juan La Laguna. In this way, the painting is like a representation of how her life in Guatemala came full circle. In Santiago Atitlán she had to go through a lot of cultural choques (clashes). Sara feels that during this time in her life she did not do things with a lot of grace, and she was frustrated all the time. Her frustration came from that everything in the Tz’utujil Mayan culture just did not make a lot of sense to her. But then when she lived in San Juan La Laguna it was not such a cultural choque because the people in Santiago Atitlán had been so patient to teach her. Her time in San Juan La Laguna was really beautiful because she knew she was utterly different from everyone else there, but it was not an obstacle, her differences were something that she could celebrate. And she feels that her time, exposure and personal growth in Guatemala allowed her to learn to celebrate her differences.