Music with Asylum Seekers

May 4th, Me and David Sorensen went down to a church in Phoenix that cannot be named with clothes and musical instruments including my portable piano. The picture that says “Music – God’s answer was written by Dave, a veteran who had fallen from a plane and lost his ability to speak. He wrote it just as we were leaving.

This is what Jen Buck director of ALL Hands AZ had to say about the weekend. A quick disclaimer: David Sorensen is a licensed music therapist, but I am not.

“This weekend was one for the record books.

Friday, we provided hospitality for 100 asylum-seekers, then another 50 on Saturday, and another 23 on Sunday. While this may seem like an ordinary number, with the ordinary crew of volunteers, in our ordinary space, this weekend was anything but ordinary. In fact, I will go as far as saying that this weekend was absolutely, undoubtedly, completely, and utterly extraordinary.

We had a huge amount of toys, which meant that there was a lot of playing and interaction with the kiddos. But, even that is how things ordinarily look. The kids squealed and giggled as they rode on our favorite security guard, Dave’s, scooter; also totally ordinary (and completely joy-inducing). The people were incredibly emotional and grateful, but again, fairly ordinary.

What added to making it extraordinary is that we had music therapists who showed up with about 15 different instruments, as well as a huge bag of about 50 percussion pieces, and they proceeded to get everyone in the whole building involved in the healing and connecting, through the music, for five hours. We sang, we danced, we hit our drums and shook our tambourines. We clapped, and chanted, and moved our bodies. We laughed and smiled to the point that our faces hurt. We were serenaded through a meal and then got to join in on the concert; John Lennon, The Beatles, La Bamba, the list goes on and on. There was even a birthday celebration in the evening, with cake, music, and a piñata that the kids got to scramble to devour and enjoy. The emotion and joy that was felt by everyone was palpable. Saying goodbye was gut-wrenching and, yet, incredibly beautiful and hopeful. We even had a family ask to stay with us and not leave. Oooooooof.

Sunday morning, we were told that there were another 23 who were dropped at the bus station and needing help. So, we sprung into action and our drivers converged on the scene to pick these people up and bring them out to Marta’s ranch. Once there, we relaxed, we shared, we connected, and got to hear each other‘s stories. The kids played with goats, chickens, and ducks, and were able to run around and be carefree, lively, joyful kids, again.

As I’m thinking over this weekend and the multiple gifts that I received, I was yet again reminded of how fortunate I am to do what I’m doing. What we’re doing is life-changing not just for others, but for those of us who are choosing to do this work. If you have thought about getting involved, but have been on the fence, I encourage you to jump in. Stop waiting and just say Yes. This past 5 1/2 months has been the honor of my (almost!) 49 years on this planet. The love, emotion, connections, empathy, and deep friendships that I’m experiencing are things that I feel undeserving of, but incredibly and overwhelmingly grateful for.

Thank you, all, for making this All Hands AZ experience EXTRAORDINARY”.

These Bridges Keep Building Themselves

Thursday I went to Pueblo High School in Tucson Where Margo Cowan, founder of Keep Tucson Together, leads a team of paralegals and just plain people helping people who face deportation. It was a gigantic room filled with maybe a hundred people. I recognized Margo from an all day workshop she led in Prescott Valley a few months ago. Whereas before I felt somewhat powerless to help, this time I had no choice but to ask somebody if there was anything I could do. They told me that if I observe a session, it would be a start in my learning to help when I get back to Prescott Where there is Keep Prescott Together group.. They also said that just being a witness is important. What I discovered for me, is that every story I become intimately aware of, makes me feel more connected to Truth. And Truth, believe it or not, relieves me of fear.

The first group was a young man, his wife, and a two year old boy who was running around the room delighting everyone. The father has been here 20 years after being brought over at about the age that their son is now. They were facing two possible tracks. One would cost $13,000 and would be relatively permanent, while the other would be less than $1000 and would be relatively temporary. It included a $500 filing fee. Their guide wanted to know if it was the best decision to pay rent rather than the filing fee which had a deadline. It was decided that they would try to get an extension on the rent. In the meantime, he has to wear a $400 a month ankle bracelet. He has not been to Mexico since he was a little boy. English is his first language. He has been fully employed the whole time he has been here and has never committed a crime Not even a traffic violation. He just happened to be in a car that was stopped.

The next couple was a little bit older. They had a boy and a girl and the mother was due in two months. He has a steady construction job. Their story shares a lot of similarities to the first, the main one being that they are human beings deserving of thoughtful considerations for their futures.

Overall, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for being allowed into these extremely sensitive sessions. And now I feel a sense of debt as a human being to tell the stories. Over the last few months I’ve heard many more stories that bring me tears. I’ve written two songs that were inspired by these stories and a third is on its way. My hope is that I will be able co-create these songs with people who have stories they want to tell.

Friday I spent the day with a van full of college students in Nogales, Mexico courtesy of  Jerry Haas, Executive Director of Border Community Alliance. The first place we visited was Proyectos de Integracion run by Francisco Trujillo. where people who need prosthetics and wheelchairs are employed to build the things they need. One man had lost his arm when he fell off La Bestia. He builds wheelchairs.

We visited various community support centers, including a shelter and sang the Build the Bridges song with the students and patrons at a restaurant. Then we capped it off by meeting the US consul at a fancy restaurant. After a full day of being blown away by people driven by passion and compassion for zero money, ending it by listening to a man being paid top dollar to spew bull seemed totally appropriate

Monday I went to sit in on a Operation Streamline session with the Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritans and was again treated to a stream of bull from one of the court appointed attorneys after watching 70 plus people either sent back to the hell they came from or to another hell within our prison industry.

Tuesday I went back to Comedor in Nogales with Shura, the co-founder of Sahuarita-Green valley Samritans. This time I brought my ukulele and we jammed out on Construyamos Puentes (Build the Bridges) and Shura danced with the refugees to De Colores.

Truth Can Pass Through the Wall of Lies

Yesterday I went with The Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritans to a place in Nogales, Mexico called the Commodore where migrants can get food, legal help and overall support. I decided not to bring instruments and just help serve food and wash dishes. There were enough volunteers that often times we would simply stand in support. Shura, the founder of this particular Samaritan group said that if I bring my ukulele and sing songs, she will dance on the tables. So next Tuesday I will bring instruments and we’ll have a lunch party.

This wall is more than just a physical barrier. It’s a wall that doesn’t let truth pass through. If everyone on this side knew the humanity on the other side, none of this devastation would be happening. I have lost track of how many times I have opened my suitcases full of instruments for people to play. If you know me, you know that I’m always losing and forgetting things, particularly when I’m playing music. Sometimes, the settings are pretty wild, but when we’re done, I get little kids and big people bringing me instruments that I completely lost track of. Never have I ever wondered what happened to a particular beloved instrument. It feels weird to even have say this stuff, but I know that racism goes so deep that we all have to be reminded of each others humanity at every turn.

Music slips right through divides as if they aren’t there, and it brings us along for the ride. Really! I’m serious. I’m usually very conservative with the word need, but I need to use the word now. We NEED more music! Real music. Music playing with each other. If we don’t learn to see through the wall, we will not make it.

Build the Bridges Update New Years Eve 2019

Since we last talked I’ve taken two Build the Bridges journeys. The first was the weekend of November 16. It was an event called Encuentro in Nogales, AZ and Mexico, co-hosted by SoA Watch and Veterans for Peace. Its intention was on raising awareness in our country about being human beings towards immigrants. I played the Build the Bridges song in the parade which crossed the border into Mexico to a stage where many speakers and musicians played. One loudspeaker pointed through the bars to the US side where there was a wireless microphone so the music was able to cross the border in both directions without any documentation. While in Mexico, I attended a workshop facilitated by Unified US deported Veterans Resource Center

They told me that they would be serving food to caravan migrants at the border on Thanksgiving day and I was invited to join them. So I hurried back to Prescott to get my van ready for our trip to Tijuana and I missed an opportunity to play Build the Bridges on the stage with Meg Bohrman and Emma’s Revolution. This picture was taken by Thatcher Bohrman from the US side.

I drove through the night of Thanksgiving Eve to the Tijuana border, hauled a huge suitcase filled with musical instruments (many of which were donated by you) across the border, and then went to get some dental work done. In the cab on my way back to border, the driver was trying to explain why she was going in another direction. While my ego was getting boosted by me knowing more Spanish than her English, I finally got that the border was closed and it was too crazy there and she was taking me to another crossing ten miles away. I decide not to fight it figuring I could come back the next day.

Well, the next day turned into next week after me and David Sorensen played a couple of gigs in LA including a Farmers Market where Elizabeth Newman of Family Village who I’ve talked about from our Tijuana adventures last July, was helping kids draw more “Nuestra Familia es Tu Familia” cards which we brought down.

This time we brought two big suitcases full of musical instruments to the Unified US deported Veterans Resource Center. But they told us that we wouldn’t be able to get into the Sports Arena where the caravan migrants were being held. Instead they took us to Enclave Caracol, a community center we had been to last July. The place was packed full of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere, spilling into the street. We put all of our instruments out in a circle and watched the energy rise as we jammed out until nighttime. Then we left most of the instruments and headed back to the border.

Build the Bridges Video

The Build the Bridges video is taking off. This is a montage of a bunch of clips taken in Prescott, California and Tijuana in English, Spanish and Russian. Hebrew and Arabic versions arein the works. This video will just keep growing as we add more clips. It includes chords and lyrics if you want to sing along and make your own clip that we might add. You can see what we got so far here.

Meet Our New Van

This is the beauty that took me straight to Tijuana, to Los Angeles, and back to Prescott. 

I am now working around the clock to get it ready for its next trip this coming weekend to Nogales and Tucson, where I will spend the next 10 days lining up volunteer opportunities for myself and some other helpers. I will let you know how that goes. In the meantime I want to make sure you know how gratefull I am that you helped put this dream on the road. We’ve got so many bridges to build. We need to build them together. And there are endless ways for us to do that. Send me your ideas!

How we use music to Transform

We belive that the world is made of music. We is ready for the magic of music in any setting. We also believe that music is an intrinsic part of every human being. And yet its presence is often blocked in our society. It doesn’t take much for Jonathan to inspire the release of cascades of healing, connecting music, whether it be in an assembly hall full of hundreds of children, or in an intimate living room with suitcases full of exotic instruments. If he can roll his portable piano into the venue he will use his unique piano connection to help with the music facilitation.

The voice is our primary instrument. Many people are afraid to sing. Jonathan will use call and response to loosen the illusory restraints that many adults feel. He will create a safe space for children to keep their musical hearts open before societal restraints start to solidify.

Many people feel disconnected from their innate rhythm.  There is a groove waiting for everyone to participate in. Jonathan finds the seeds of that groove within any group, tiny or gigantic and nourishes it with his confidence in our musical humanity. When that groove is combined with singing, any group will become more powerful than it ever thought possible.

We believe that music is able to transform the way human beings see each other. Through music, we are able to see each other’s humanity in ways that words can often hide. That is the basis for the Build the Bridges Project of comMUSIKey.

Building Musical Bridges Across Borders

I wasn’t sure where to take my Build the Bridges Tour this summer so when Rita Cantu and Jay Grant invited me to stay with them in San Diego and told me about the work they were doing across borders, I knew I had to turn my attention southwest.

So, I loaded up my van with my piano, and a whole bunch of musical instruments and headed to San Diego. What I didn’t know is how much passion there is all around us to collaborate on building bridges at the border. From the work Rita and Jay had already done in Nogales, Mexico, we had a framework to start with. Then Elizabeth Newman from Family Village at High Sierra Music Festival connected in through our video.

We have all heard the horror stories of families being separated and people being tortured.

I do not need to repeat the stories I heard directly from the survivors. What I do need to repeat, is that I have to continue to do this work even though I sometimes find it stressful. What you see in these pictures and movies is the rewarding part. And though that part feels very good, it also feels like a band aid on a wound that I cannot deny my participation in. Helping to heal some of the suffering caused by US policy is a wonderful thing. But we also need to change US policy and that requires waking people up. Music wakes people up.

That is why the Build the Bridges Project is not just about bringing food and music across the border to displaced people. It’s really about building bridges and taking down walls wherever we can. comMUSIKey and I do it through music…and stories. Every story I bring back builds a bridge. And when we sing the stories with people, walls come down.

Every time we crossed the border, a bridge was built.

And the bridges stay built. Over a three week period between Build the Bridges stints in San Diego, I took several trips across the border with various combinations of people playing music and serving food. With donations from Bob’s Red Mill and Trader Joes through Family Village, Elizabeth drove a car filled with enough breakfast to feed 200 people and clothing to bring to a shelter. Kids at Family Village made cards of support.

We brought a huge suitcase full of musical instruments which we invited all the people who were waiting at the border entry point, to play. We handed out cards donated on the DL by a Staples employee with the Build the Bridges lyrics in Spanish. We created music playshops in shelters and left instruments for them to play after we left. Some of these instruments were donated by Bertrand’s Music in San Diego. You can read a wonderful more detailed account on the Family Village Blog

If we were simply applying a band aid, I probably would not feel quite so compelled to continue. The music wakes me up. All the people wake me up. They force me to face my fears as I face the divides that need bridges to cross them. And then I must face my fears about crossing those bridges. When I play music, I am not afraid. I want us all to face our fears together through music.

We plan to go to Nogales, Mexico in October, and back to Tijuana around Thanksgiving. The month of January will be spent following the border along Texas. All these border trips will include lots of bridge building in the US as well. In fact that is where Next summer we will have an extended cross country tour. Wherever we go we do music workshops and performances all geared to more music making by everyone. For the three border trips we are envisioning about 5000 miles of travel.