Last October I was invited to take some photos at Casa Alitas, the migrant refugee facility run by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona (CCSAZ). While there, I got to meet and photograph Tomasa. These drawings are from photos I took that day. Both originals were donated to CCSAZ.
Tomasa's solo journey began in her native Guatemala more than two months earlier and was about to reach its climax. Tomasa was to be reunited with her son who she had not seen in 14 years. I was told Tomasa is 78.
From what I’ve been able to learn, Tomasa had been in the states years ago, and for whatever reason returned to Guatemala. She lived there with a niece or nephew, but wanted to return to Phoenix to be with her son and grandson.
One day, she packed up a few things and, on her own, headed north. Apparently, even though they could have deported her back to Guatemala, Mexican authorities allowed her into and through their country. When she got to the U.S., she asked for asylum. The U.S. authorities, it seems, didn’t want to take custody of her, so they let her in and gave her to the folks at Casa Alitas to care for. She was at Casa Alitas for about two months, during which time, staff, with the help and cooperation of the Guatemala counsel, located her son and arranged the reunion that took place the exact time I was there photographing.
The young woman in the drawing is Andrea Ricardo Castro Serrano. She was a volunteer from Colombia assigned to Casa Alitas through a Tucson based group called the Shalom Mennonite Fellowship.
Andrea told me: “During her time at Casa Alita, Tomasa shared adventure stories and prayers. Her wheelchair rides throughout the shelter empowered others, giving courage and love to the migrant families and the volunteers. She was always ready to start the day with a smile and a new story. Tomasa always said that she would be 'Patechucho Por Siempre!' (Adventurous Forever.)”
“Casa Alitas was the place where Tomasa could rest, receive guidance from the Guatemalan consulate about her case, and get medical attention. And through the team at Casa Alitas, she was able to connect with her family and coordinate their reunion. There were several difficulties during this process, but Tomasa remained positive and hopeful to see her family.”
“That day there were tears of happiness and hope because the dream of seeing her family again came true.”
Andrea told me she believes that Tomasa and her son are back in Guatemala for now, because of the Covid pandemic.