Community members gathered at Mancos United Methodist Church Friday night for an immigration forum, musical extravaganza, and media presentation sharing the stories of women living in sanctuary in Colorado churches.
The Mancos Creative District hosted the event in collaboration with Durango-based nonprofit Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center. It was part of the Creative District’s larger project on “Belonging,” and was held at the church where Rosa Sabido has taken up sanctuary.
Local immigration advocates spoke on different facets of the issue, before a multimedia project took over the Methodist church and musicians pulled out their instruments. Much of the evening centered around the importance of listening to one another’s stories, and the value of sharing air space.
“Just listening is the greatest step to take,” said Wendolyne Omaña, one of the night’s panelists.
The panel discussion featured four voices offering distinct perspectives: social and racial justice advocate Omaña, sociologist Benjamin Waddell, local community leader Gretchen Groenke, and Heleny Zacamoalpa, a 17-year-old DACA recipient, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Topics ranged from misconceptions about immigration and pathways to citizenship to confronting systemic racism.
Omaña said oftentimes she hears people ask why someone would risk a treacherous journey across the border just for a “couple more dollars.”
“Everybody has a different story,” she said. “But mostly it’s because you want a better chance. For yourself – sometimes your life is in risk. Sometimes your kids’ life and future is in risk.”
Zacamoalpa also spoke about the reasons for immigration, about the educational opportunities for her. She is originally from Mexico.
“Having an education is very important for us,” Zacamoalpa said. “It gives us a voice.”
She added that one day she hopes to become an occupational therapist.
“My brother has a disability,” she said. “And he was born here, but I know a lot of people that have not been born here, and they’re not allowed to get the same resources.”
Waddell, who teaches at Fort Lewis College, talked about the difficulties and high expense of legal immigration. Often people believe that there’s an easy “line” where people can wait in order to achieve citizenship – there is a line, but it’s extremely expensive, he said.
“They have a ‘golden visa,’ they call it,” Waddell said. “If you invest $1.8 million in the United States, the government will give you a visa and a path to citizenship. But most people don’t have $1.8 million to invest in the United States.”
Even without documentation, the cost is high. In June, it cost between $10,000 and $14,000 to cross the southern border without documentation, he said.
“It’s pretty amazing what people come up with in terms of funds to come to this country,” he said.
Groenke spoke about recognizing larger systems of oppression within the community and within the self, particularly as a white person.
“I think that first step is really looking inside, and really doing hard work, really facing up to yourself inside,” she said. “How do I benefit from this system?”
Following the panel, attendees trooped into the chapel, lining the pews to view “Sanctuary Stories,” a multimedia project featuring the first-person narratives of four women who have been living in sanctuary in Colorado churches: Rosa Sabido, Ingrid Latorre, Araceli Velasquez, and Sandra Lopez.
The voices of the four women were played aloud, while black-and-white images of the women and English translations were projected onto the walls. The women spoke of the uncertainty they felt, and anger that the government should decide whether or not they should be separated from their children.
The project premiered in Philadelphia earlier in July, according to Al Día, a news organization focused on sharing the Latino American experience.
After the projection, Rosa Sabido read aloud a poem she wrote, translated by Sanctuary Stories producer Ariel Goodman.
“Just remember that I too breathe air, I too have longing, I too know how to dream, I too would like to see my future, to make plans and feel satisfied with what I have been able to do for the people that I love,” Goodman translated.
The night ended with musical performances and a showing of the documentary “Rosa’s Sanctuary” by filmmaker John Sheedy.