When my friend, Zoe Winkler, first heard the news of families being separated at the U.S-Mexico border just under one year ago, she was compelled to do something about it and immediately joined forces with social Impact strategist, Elsa Marie Collins, and her sister, cross-border expert, Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade, to form This is About Humanity, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds to support families, refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers in Tijuana.
Last week I visited Tijuana with This is About Humanity to educate myself on the pertinent issues surrounding the current humanitarian crisis on our southern border. I write this now on the bus ride home, with raw emotion and steadfast determination to do whatever I can to help. The mood on the bus is somber and quiet. Everyone is mentally, emotionally, and physically depleted from the day’s experience. I hope that by sharing this story with you, we can amplify the dialogue about what is happening on the U.S-Mexico border and shed more light on the severity of this disaster.
The people we met in Tijuana are asylum-seekers, migrants, and refugees. Seeking asylum is a human right and, in case you didn’t know (because I didn’t), it is a protection offered to persons who have fled their native countries in fear for their safety. Asylum-seekers are NOT “illegal aliens.” Different situations drive them to seek asylum in the US. Extreme gang violence and human trafficking threatens daily life and, in some parts of Central America, persecution of LGBTQ individuals most often ends in homicide. Additionally, people are migrating due to climate change, which has affected the land and, therefore, agriculture options for many. For others, the economy in their native country is so weak that there are no viable jobs and they cannot feed their families.
The people we met in Tijuana are not violent people. We met sweet, beautiful women, young children, teenage boys and girls, innocent human beings. They embraced the help we offered and were so grateful just to be alive. One 17-year-old girl shared her story with us: she had to flee her country and is now seeking asylum because her grandfather tried to sell her in exchange for $270. A 15-year-old boy left home and fled his country because gang members were constantly threatening his life. He is seeking asylum so he can get a job to help his family. These young teens have hopes to come to the U.S. and work hard to build a decent life in a secure environment. The arduous journey to the border is a struggle, and can be extremely dangerous, but the hope of survival and safety is all they have.
We visited three shelters: Embajada Migrante Shelter, Caritas, and a shelter for unaccompanied minors. Caritas is where I experienced the most defining moments of my day. We brought in clean sheets and changed the bedding for the migrants. The shelter was filled with mostly women and young children, all of whom slept mattress-to-mattress on the floor, with multiple family members sleeping on one mattress. We brought crayons and books for the eager children and after we changed the bedding, we read and colored with them. At the end of the day, saying goodbye left me sobbing and feeling hopeless. I felt so torn when I climbed back onto the bus. I am grateful for the family and home I have waiting for me in Los Angeles, but leaving the children was heartbreaking. I tremble for their future, which is clouded with ominous uncertainty. Many will be separated from their mothers or families, maybe forever.
This is About Humanity is more than an organization; it is a movement with three forceful leaders leading the way. They have founded a selfless and dedicated community and are carrying out a beautiful mission. There is so much we can do to encourage elected officials to hold border agencies accountable for the treatment of asylum-seekers at the border. Elsa, Yolanda, Zoe: you are real life angels.
I urge anyone reading this article to check out www.thisisabouthumanity.com for more information and ways to help.
For every candle bought, 50% of the proceeds are donated to This Is About Humanity.