Sometimes I really miss the United States. Despite my objections to many political or social issues, ultimately, it’s the place where I grew up. There’s a sense of familiarity and home to the United States. When we went on the Border retreat, I felt it almost immediately upon arriving in the US. However, after being in Mexico for 6 months, there’s something familiar here too. There are parts of Mexico’s culture that I love and cherish and my host family has been beyond welcoming. I am part of their family, no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s hard to love and yet be frustrated with my home country and it’s hard to love Mexico and yet know I will only be here for a few more months. And I haven’t quite yet figured out exactly what it means for me to merge my two worlds together, but I met someone during my Border retreat who did: Alex, the owner of the Blueberry Café (Visit the FB page HERE).
I love the Blueberry Café from the moment I walk in. It’s small but charming; it’s got great art on the walls, plus a display case full of yummy looking pastries and desserts. While we’re there, we eat some great food, drink some incredible tea, and I taste the best smokey honey mustard I have ever had. After we’re pretty much done with our meals, Alex, the café owner, pulls up a stool to the end of the table. While we were eating, we could see her working away behind the counter. Now, she’s chatting and cracking some jokes with a few of us as we all settle down and we’re already exchanging looks with one another and mouthing things like “Don’t you ADORE her? She’s awesome!” (spoiler: she really is awesome).
Finally, Alex begins telling us about her life living at the Border between Douglas, Arizona (US) and Agua Prieta, Sonora (MX). Alex is the only person in her family who was born in the United States, making her a dual citizen of the US and Mexico. She grew up on the southern side of the border, going to school, making friends, basically just living her life like normal. However, her status as a dual citizen made her eligible to attend college in the US, which was the best option for her at the time. As she tells us this part of the story, she throws her head back a bit and lets out a big laugh, “I cried and cried and cried! I wanted to go to college where all my friends were going!” But then she tells us about the opportunities that she became grateful for and how much she grew to love having access to both sides of the border. At a friend’s recommendation, Alex became a community organizer, which essentially meant her job was to meet with different groups in the community, such as schools or churches, talk to them about their needs, and then help come up with solutions. She tells us emphatically about it being her dream job and how much she loved the ability to travel and grow with her community. But then the funding for her job went away and hence, so did the job.
So, Alex turned to her second passion in life, food. The right pieces came together and the café happened to be for rent so she took a chance and turned it into The Blueberry Café. Since it’s still in its first two years of business it hasn’t made a profit yet, but Alex exclaims, “Every month, I tell my girls who work here that next month will be the month we finally earn some money! Next month!” She also tells us about her 11-year old daughter, the pastry and dessert chef who charges per batch of food she makes for the café. Apparently, she recently upped her fees and I’m thinking Alex might have a future business lady/baker on her hands, or perhaps just a really great negotiator. But the most important thing about the Blueberry Café is its location, right there on the Border. It gives Alex the opportunity to continue doing what she loves: being engaged in her binational community. This includes opening up the Café for local community groups to meet, having events like their upcoming Teen Night, or meeting with groups like our YAGMs! She tells us she doesn’t think she’ll ever leave the Border because it has given her some of the greatest blessings of her life. Her people are in this place. Both sides are home.
Alex knows the beauty of being binational at her very core because it makes her who she is and it makes her life the incredible thing that it is. On the Mexican side of the Border, the fence is painted with these stunning murals of birds, flowers, hearts, butterflies, etc. You see, Douglas and Agua Prieta used to be a whole community, but now it is physically split by a fence that they did not ask for. And yet the spirit remains the same. It’s the spirit of God and of community and of the tenacity to overcome and see beyond. It’s the spirit to take an ugly fence and make it beautiful. It’s the spirit to love thy neighbor. It’s the spirit of binationality. It’s the spirit of a mom starting a new business and making it a place for people to come together.
As I thought about Alex’s story of her life and love of the border, I thought of these verses below from Ephesians 2:13-22:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
No one I met in Douglas or Agua Prieta told me that they liked or wanted the fence, but everyone I met in Douglas and Agua Prieta told me that they love the Border. They love the blending of two cultures and communities. In current day, they express the same sentiments as what was written so long ago. The Border is a place of encounter, as my friend/coordinator Meghan calls it. It’s a “dwelling place for God” as the author of Ephesians calls it. God is there and just like Alex, God lives on both sides. And She is waiting there for us, to welcome us to a place we can call beautiful and holy.