Saludos Mi Familia de San Vicente de Pablo,
We sat at the corner of a desk, a blank asylum petition (form I-589) between us. Our goal was to prepare for an upcoming lawyer visit — if they could find a lawyer.
“In this section, choose the category that best describes your situation and why you left,” I explained, “The options are race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, or…”
I had to Google Translate the next category, “…o convención de tortura.”
“That one.” She replied.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to have a friend say that to your face. My guts shook. I went numb. My Spanish-speaking brain fogged.
I go about my days with this person. We tease each other, sing into broom handles as if they were microphones, and play ‘Guess the animal’(one person acts out an animal and the others guess) at the bus stop.
But there we were, sitting in the office crying. And although my understanding of Spanish gets worse with stress, I heard them and what they’ve faced.
And I felt a strange sadness. One that hurt for the past and the present and the future.
And then I got angry…
At their home country’s government.
Then at ours.
At the lawyer we can’t find (“We’re all booked up, call back next month.”)
And then at the flaws in our asylum seeking process.
And people who fight against migrants with their vote
Or their hate
Or their self-righteous inactivity
Or their silence
And finally at myself — wondering if I’ve done enough to advocate or fight or accompany.
Because when a friend tells you they’re in the torture convention category something changes inside. It’s like a strapping in — maybe that’s what solidarity feels like.
Tinamarie Stolz is a Campus Minister at St. Joseph’s University and a parishioner at St. Vincent De Paul in Germantown. She is spending the summer at the Oakland Catholic Worker in Oakland, California. Check back for more updates.