Above: Deming's Monica Topham, Ariana Saludares, and Kalyn Blazak are known as the get-it-done crew. Photograph by Allison Pharmakis.
ON MOTHER'S DAY MORNING, Ariana Saludares woke up to an unexpected phone call. Her friend Kayln Blazak was on the other line. Did Saludares have any children’s shoes? Blazak asked urgently. Saludares, who lives in Deming with her husband and two young children and collects gently used footwear to give to kids around town, said yes. Bring them to the fairgrounds, Blazak said.
It was “utter chaos” when she arrived, Saludares recalls. “There were people bringing food, clothing, and shoes” to some 170 migrants who’d been released in Deming by the U.S. Border Patrol the night before. The deluge of asylum seekers coming from Central and South America had surpassed the agency’s holding capacity, leading to their release in places like Deming.
Overnight, the town of 14,000 became a default transit station, a kind of forced layover for migrants en route to their asylum sponsors and relatives located elsewhere in the U.S.
“Just prior to the migrant crisis, we would meet for coffee,” says Saludares of the moms’ group that she and Blazak forged together with Monica Topham. “What just killed us is how Deming was portrayed in the media as ‘poverty stricken,’ or ‘crime riddled.’ We wanted to come up with a nonprofit that could evolve in response to need here.”
But as families arrived daily, the need evolved from being local in scope to being continental. Mothers who’d walked from Guatemala with their toddlers. Families from Honduras who’d been separated from their loved ones. A newborn just eight days old. All needed to be taken in, fed, and then sent off to their destinations. There was no precedent. Nor was there a process for dealing with it all.
Saludares, Blazak, and Topham started hosting volunteers and developing a digital intake process to make sense of who came and went. They ate meals with migrants, spent the night on cots at the shelter, organized piles and piles of clothing, and helped children adjust as well as possible by making art with them.
By the end of June, the nonprofit that the trio had envisioned to create parks, get community members to vote, host art pop-ups, and build mini-libraries had instead tailored its mission to respond to the migrant crisis. They decided to call it Colores United and themselves “the get-it-done crew,” says Saludares, who is now the group’s president.
Meanwhile, Blazak initiated the first online fundraiser in conjunction with the City of Deming, on Facebook, raising $20,000 in three months. Their goal was to build the shelter into a “peaceful entry for refugees,” a place where asylum seekers’ basic needs could be met, and where, if even for a day, they could feel accepted. “We’re just a representation of what people in Deming are,” Saludares says of the community’s greater response and generosity in the face of an emergency whose end, so far, is nowhere in sight.
“The reason we do it is for the children,” Saludares says. “Politics aside, not in our names will a child die in Deming. We have to be better citizens.”
HOW TO HELP
In October, Colores United self-published a book, The Butterfly Children. “The thing that’s the saddest,” Saludares says, “is that the children have nothing when they come here. So immediately we make art with them to say ‘we are like you. We are each other.’” That art is the foundation of the book—“stories good and bad of working with these children.” Purchase it at coloresunited.org. All proceeds support the shelter.
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