When an Activist Dies

Tucson mourns the loss of Amy Shubitz.

For some, Amy Shubitz was their American mother, grandmother, big sister or dear friend.

She met refugees with open arms and a warm heart, and she invited them in. She made them feel at home in a strange world where she planted seeds of hope. She believed they could heal from the trauma and dislocation. She knew most could move forward into a productive life.

But not everyone heals from torture. And not everyone survives cancer.

The refugee community lost a treasure last week when Amy died. One of Tucson's best has left the house.

"Torture? What do you mean?" I asked Amy the morning I met her almost six years ago.

And she opened a door and ushered me into this less-than-easy place. A place that knows what creates that look in people's eyes--that discomfort in their own skin that terror and violence leave in its wake. I learned that this darkness is something that happens to real people, not in the Middle Ages, but today. That knowledge can't help but change a life, and the lives of those who have made a commitment to help heal that look and ease the backs that tremble under the light touch of a hand.

The good wishes during her illness and the cards that arrived offering condolences were postmarked New York, Minnesota, Vermont, Copenhagen, Denver, Toronto and Japan. Words arrived on e-mail from Washington, D.C., Nicaragua and Chile. Refugees from Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and Uganda cry with those from Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras, part of the more than 10,600 Amy helped usher through Tucson in the 1980s when they escaped the death squads in Central America.

Every Tuesday night for years, Amy reigned at the recently re-named Shubitz Family Clinic at the University of Arizona, where torture survivors receive physical and emotional help, where refugees get care without cost. Amy would greet each person with a hug and a smile. During the evening, she'd spend time to find out how things were going. Did they need help with food? Could she get them a ride? People without an appointment would drop by on a Tuesday night just to see her--to check in with their American mother, tell her how school went, about their new job, or new baby, or about a letter they'd received from family back home. It wasn't much of a surprise that Amy would choose a Tuesday to die.

But she didn't leave us empty-handed. Amy gathered pioneers, explorers and emotionally generous people. She introduced government representatives to activists, organizers to regular people making important things happen. Amy invited people to provide funding, drive a client to clinic or mentor a child. These people are the rich landscape of the world Amy traveled.

Thanks, Amy. Tucson is kinder and richer for your presence.

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