Kayla, my Couchsurfing host in Oklahoma City

Kayla, my Couchsurfing host in Oklahoma City

Haters Gonna Gate

Sometimes during the darker moments of doing this work, like spending long days at detention centers, it's tempting to get sucked in by negativity. I firmly believe that the immigration detention center situation in the United States is one of our most shameful practices. And sometimes, I do receive comments from people who are also, uh, less than supportive.

Earlier last week, someone left the following comment on an article that was published about my work (ohh, the comments section):

"Ironic, isn't it? A lawyer practicing U.S. law to help illegal immigrants stay in the U.S. illegally?? Melanie, dear, if you really want to do something great for your country, try representing veterans or homeless AMERICANS."

And my response to that (which I also posted on social media) was the following:

What does it mean to be American? There is currently dangerous rhetoric that suggests that we are a country of exclusionists—to build the wall and to keep others "where they belong." But where do any of us truly belong? We are collectively a people who have descended from a lineage that has long been migratory, in search of basic human rights such as safety and peace. It is from simultaneously a place of great privilege and ignorance to not acknowledge both the arbitrary nature of where each of us is born (and born into) as well as the long history of US intervention (or lack thereof) in foreign/domestic policy that has contributed to such humanitarian migratory crises.

Being American is to hold space for all of this—empathy for a shared human existence that knows no imaginary borders. What makes America truly great are the moments where we as a people can rise up and topple the oppressive status quo that tries to continually hold us down through fear mongering and dividing us through our perceived differences.

Truth is the only thing that can save us all. And the truth is that we are much stronger as a country, as a community, and as individuals when we are open-hearted to those who need our help. We must continually strive to learn as much as we can from each other so that we do not exist in a silo or vacuum—pretending that the rest of the world doesn't exist. We live in a true global community and to be an American is to be a steward of it. And we as a nation must respond to the call to serve.

When the opposition gets rough (and some amount of resistance is unfortunately a constant in this work), I try my damnest to root myself tenets such as the above that I hold the most dear.

It is also during moments like this when community and open-hearted people are imperative to balance out, well, the haters.

From Austin to Minneapolis

I was born in St. Louis and it was great to pass through Missouri (albeit on the western side of the state). Lots of BBQ signs like this everywhere you turn in Kansas City...

I was born in St. Louis and it was great to pass through Missouri (albeit on the western side of the state). Lots of BBQ signs like this everywhere you turn in Kansas City...

This past week, I've been sleeping completely in strangers' homes through Couchsurfing, which I am a big fan of and have used a number of times before during this journey. 

Being welcomed in strangers' homes always restores quite a bit of faith in humanity—that there are plenty of Good Samaritans who are still out there. And this week reminded me that there is certainly no shortage of these kind-hearted people.

Oklahoma City

My first stop was in Oklahoma City where I met my Couchsurfing host, Kayla, and watched the Thunder unfortunately lose game 7 (ouch). There was another couchsurfer who was also crashing at her place that night—Taishi from Kyoto, Japan.

Taishi was in the middle of riding his bicycle from Los Angeles to New York City and I was just freaking amazed by his tenacity. He told me about how he would be sleeping under the stars after a long day biking and how so many people in America have helped him so far on his journey. Then, he told me: "Americans are so kind."

With all of the dangerous rhetoric swirling about that I was mentioning at the beginning of this post, I was uplifted to hear this comment. And it got me thinking about how the positive interactions and stories don't get uplifted nearly as much in the news. 

We all parted our ways in the morning and I was then off to Kansas City.

Kansas City

I was born in St. Louis and lived there until I was 4 years old, where my family then relocated to Lowell, Massachusetts. But being back in Missouri really did bring back these visceral feelings that were there from a very, very long time ago. The Midwest has a comforting feeling to me—even though it had been so many years since I even last visited Missouri but I could still sense its familiarity (e.g. frozen custard! It was so long since I have seen one of those stands.)

Darin was my Couchsurfing host in Kansas City and he very graciously took me around town and to his favorite places. I remember asking him why he was on Couchsurfing and why he wanted to host people (something I am admittedly always curious about). 

He told me: "I want to be able to help and give back any way that I can." It stuck with me. What a generosity of spirit.

Des Moines

With Rafa and Rachel, who showed me all around Des Moines in places I would have never known to go check out—and these two taught me so much about the area.

With Rafa and Rachel, who showed me all around Des Moines in places I would have never known to go check out—and these two taught me so much about the area.

The next day, it was up to Des Moines where I was hosted by a lovely couple, Rafa and Rachel. They were super knowledgable about all things related to Iowa, including Jeffersonian agrarianism, Big Ag, the Iowa Caucus, the local economy, and the immigration situation—including that western Nebraska doesn't have a single immigration lawyer (!).

We had a great time talking about all of these things in an evening picnic and they took me for a drive around downtown Des Moines—a lovely town.

Similarly, when I asked them why they were on Couchsurfing and wanted to show people around, Rachel responded: "to pay it forward." On her profile, she wrote about how one particular summer a couple had let her stay free of charge while she was doing an internship, and how she wanted to pay forward the favor. 

It's true that one person's actions can stick with you and cause a bit of a positive chain reaction.


With my host in Minneapolis, Allison!

With my host in Minneapolis, Allison!

Minneapolis was my (temporary) final destination this time around, and I was very lucky to find my current host, Allison. She told me that has hosted groups of up to 9 people (!) in her home while they were traveling through. Allison is also a big traveler and to me, is the definition of being a community ambassador—offering her home freely and having that generosity of spirit.

Even though I haven't spent any time in Minnesota before, it also has a strange sense of familiarity to it.

But now I am wondering if my sense of familiarity has more to do with the generous people I have been lucky to meet/stay with.  

What it means to be a community steward

When I think of all of the above people, and the many people who have hosted me throughout this last calendar year, my heart feels full—it balances out the "haters gonna hate" mentality that sometimes gets slung my way for working in a contentious field. (And I have to give a shoutout to all of my other lovely hosts who were already dear friends or became new ones: Carla, Aditi, Shanjean, Vinay/Ranjini, Brittany, Lindsey, Jordan, MariRuth, Jamie, Erin, Alan/Sarah, Duncan, Carolyn, Ivy, Terryl, Kristen, Khalid, Nobel, DNA Legal Services, Santa Fe Art Institute, the Brown family, sisters of the Incarnate Word, sisters of Our Lady of the Lake, and Estéban.) THANK YOU!!!

I think of you all when I think of community stewardship—and the spirit of what truly makes America great. Thank you for opening your hearts and your homes to me, and you continually show me that this mentality is what is needed to build a stronger community, country, and world. Much love to you all.