BY TINAMARIE STOLZ | December 19, 2024
Our Lady Guadalupe is an accompanier. She accompanied Christ from her belly to Egypt and to the cross. And she extends this motherly accompaniment to Juan Diego and all of us, “… I…exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me.”
She’s also a mestiza woman, with darker skin, and symbols of indigenous culture—from the color and stars on her mantle to sun rays and more. And when she speaks to Juan Diego, it’s in his language, Nahuatl. She tells him—a peasant and indigenous man living under colonized oppression—to ask the bishop—a man with institutionalized power—to build her a temple. When the bishop doesn’t believe her Janito, Our Lady, tells Juan Diego to climb to the top of Tepeyac and miraculously pick roses in December. When he presents the bishop with the roses, he opens his tilma (cloak), and her image appears. She was with him all the way.
I didn’t grasp the depth of accompaniment until one of my best friends was picked up by ICE at their workplace during the 2019 raids. They left a voicemail from an unknown number. It lasted one minute and 39 seconds, and I was not the same person again. I took a deep breath and started drowning.
I’d been active in migration justice for two years before that call. I knew how to listen, learn, and advocate. I understood kinship and solidarity was action. But I didn’t know how to accompany. Engaging with this injustice wasn’t happening on my terms—like during a scheduled lobbying visit, protest, or organizing meeting. This time, I wasn’t prepared. I had no idea what I was doing, but doing nothing was unthinkable, unacceptable, and disloyal. So I started swinging.
For the next five hours, I checked the ICE detainee locator. Search Results (0). And called the Philadelphia ICE Field Office twelve times. Each 10-second conversation was the same until desperation met rage, “MY NAME IS TINAMARIE STOLZ, I’M LOOKING FOR ———, A NUMBER 836251857 AND I AM NOT HANGING UP UNTIL I KNOW WHERE THEY ARE.”
“… hang on.”
“Everyone we rounded up today got taken to York.”
For the first time in my white life, I knew from my own experience what it felt like to not trust law enforcement, to fear a government, and to be slammed into a deep sense of helplessness. I couldn’t imagine what my friend felt inside detention after living in the US for years to support their family in Mexico.
It also took about three seconds to realize no one in my life could begin to enter in, let alone empathize.
“It’s so hard with all that’s going on nowadays. If those Spanish countries could help their poor people, they wouldn’t have had to come here.”
“Just remember boundaries.”
“Trump sucks. But I’m sure they’ll be okay. Better than Mexican police, right?”
No one could hear me over the years of hateful rhetoric, misinformation, and disinformation about migrants, and the final product was twisting our friendship into a “political issue.” A number. A problem. Pain was politicized. My family and friend’s “love and prayers” had a limit; and I’d just hit it. So, I didn’t ask for prayer. I stopped reaching out. I felt incredibly alone.
By 4:59pm, the offices closed. I sat on the floor, wondering if the detention center gave my friend their insulin.
Then, the WhatsApp calls and messages began to pour in. I did my best, though my Spanish was only conversational then.
Agustin called, “I can cover their shifts until they’re out.”
Marilyn called, “I’ll start collecting money; we’ll need money if they make bail.”
Yessiena made soup and tortillas and organized a prayer night, “Would you like to come?” I did.
Then Daniela called; her warm, motherly voice soothing. She walked me through the entire process — the websites, phone numbers, and what to do and expect. She was so confident and knowledgeable. I was rattled and unsure why I was even getting these calls in the first place. I wasn’t blood related and I didn’t want to over step.
She explained that as a white, English-speaking US citizen, I was at zero risk, while she and many of those who reached out were. It’s not that they couldn’t; it was simply an extra risky time in an (already) unjust system. They’re brave, not reckless.
They taught me to wield my privilege. They accompanied me every step of the way. Together, we found a lawyer. She walked me to the end of the street and prayed while I entered the ICE building to get information. And when the first court date arrived, she and members of the community sent their older US children with me. I wasn’t alone.
They taught me sacred accompaniment by accompanying me. They lived out Our Lady Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, example.
Tinamarie Stolz is an adjunct theology professor and campus minister at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. She holds a master’s degree in theological studies from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.