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A mother and a teacher:
The life and resilience of Noemi A.

In a portrait taken by Flagstaff photographer Amy Martin, Noemi A. holds a children’s book. Titled Amigo, the book hides the subject’s face, her pink and purple floral blouse, hairline, hands and forearms the only visible parts of her. The mother, teacher and undocumented Flagstaff resident is one of 21 women and non-binary people featured in Resilience: Women in Flagstaff’s Past and Present, currently on display at the Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library. Noemi A. is a pseudonym used to protect her identity, but she said her participation in Resilience was important. It stemmed from a desire to share her life as it is attached to, and often dictated by, an increasingly urgent issue of 

immigration and policy.

“It was wanting to share my story—this story that is lived by many of us here in the United States,” she wrote in Spanish.

The Obama administration saw the most deportations under a single presidency to date, and since Donald Trump took office in 2016, programs like DACA face increased threats while at least 5,000 families have been separated since July 2017, according to the ACLU. For many people living in the U.S. without legal documentation, daily life has significant hurdles, be they medical, job-related or otherwise. A single traffic stop can mean jail and deportation.

“Right now I don’t feel afraid because I don’t have papers,” Noemi said. “Still, every day my husband and I try the best we can not to get into trouble. We make sure we pay taxes, drive carefully. We do all that we can.”

Martin approached Noemi about being part of Resilience after the two worked together on Martin’s exhibit Todos Dignos: Voices from our Undocumented Immigrant Community. The project sought to question systems of power while giving voice to undocumented people in Flagstaff. Martin asked each subject to choose objects that represented their contribution to the town, with those then becoming part of the photograph. Objects ranged from guitars to cleaning supplies, construction tools and stethoscopes to a ceramic heart and Amigo, the children’s book held by Noemi.

“When the space is created for sharing perspectives and listening, we can connect to others in our community that have been marginalized and we can encourage a more informed, cohesive and kind community. Hopefully then, we can take this knowledge and understanding to the polls to change unjust policies,” Martin told Flagstaff Live! in a May 2019 article.

Noemi said motherhood and caring for her children is central to her life, something Amigo relays in her photo. She and her husband immigrated in 2000 and her first child was born in Flagstaff. Her life as a mother is one of supporting her children as individuals, in their lives as students and involvement in extracurricular activities. 

A few years ago, Noemi was also able to find work as a teacher, which sees her deeply involved in the lives of her students as well.

“I do my best in my work,” she said. “I really value helping the kids who are my responsibility. My husband, too, works hard to support our family as well as his family in Mexico.” 

Though Noemi misses Mexico—her family, parents, brother, friends, the places she’d vacation with her family, the beach, the villages and the country’s traditions, she said—she has also come to consider Flagstaff and the friends she has made here part of her home.

“I really like Flagstaff, the nature, the forest, the calm, its cleanliness and climate—all of those things. I love the snow,” she said.

In regard to the exhibit, Noemi said, it was with immense gratitude that she read the stories of each participants, drawing inspiration from “their lives, their challenges, their dreams and the ways in which they made it through life.”

“[But] to be anonymous is sad. Everyone in the exhibition has a name that demonstrates with pride their identity of who they are. In my case, that part had to be changed,” she said. “That was sad.”

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