Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reflection and Goodbyes

Our last couple of hours here in San Diego have been spent in reflection led by Pat Ell who guided us in an exercise entitled "ver, pensar, y actuar" or "see, think, act".   We decided to share this reflection with Juan, Rigo, Gabe, and Sara, all members of Via who helped us this week and made our experience what is was. This exercise required us to imagine images or feelings that stuck out to us from the trip Then we had to dig deeper and think about why these images stuck out to us and why.  Finally, we brainstormed a list of small, yet important and achievable actions that we could complete within a week of returning to campus.  Pat explained that as we continue to process our week, we may find it difficult to understand everything, and we may feel helpless, but by completing small actions, we will slowly work through this and make large differences in our communities.  We all vowed to achieve at least two of these actions within our first week of returning to campus, and that we would hold each other accountable.
After reflection we did another activity linked to all that we had learned that week.  The first day we arrived, we took a paper out of a hat that had the name of another group member and our goal was to get to know that person better during that week. At this time, we each shared who our secret buddies were and the qualities, dreams, or stories that we discovered about them.  It was a truly a learning experience to be able to grow with each one of the people on this trip and sharing our admiration for each other and our secret buddies solidified the family that we have all gained after this week. 
As we begin to the load the plane and head back to the northwest, and back to what we are used to, we will never forget the stories, faces, and feelings that were shared with us this week.  Each person we met shared a little bit of themselves with us and in meeting them, we discovered another brother or sister in our human family.  Their struggles will always be our struggles as we try to dissolve the borders that are both seen and unseen. 

Last Full Day

Today was our last full day in California and it was spent very simply and wholly.  On the way back from our powerful trip to the desert yesterday, we stopped at a the local panadería near Chicano Park and picked up a couple dozen postres or pastries.  Then, this morning, we met our friend, Nelson, who works as a day-laborer commonly referred to as jornaleros.  Those who are day-laborers often come to San Diego everyday, with and without papers, to stand outside Home Depots and other construction wholesales waiting to possibly be picked up for work.  To support their families, they must risk this each and everyday.  As we approached, it was clear how suspicious many of the men were and they began moving away from our group.  We soon realized many of them were moving away because of nearby camera.  The cameraman and reporter, we soon learned, worked for Dan Rather and were doing a report on immigration reform.  Nelson and Rodrigo, a member of our group, agreed to wear microphones as we asked Nelson questions and he shared is story to the camera. 
We were all so incredibly grateful to hear Nelson's story.  After loosing his business in Miami, he was forced to come back since there was no work in his native Perú, leaving his wife and daughters behind. Since then, he has never been able to go back, nor has he seen his family in over 12 years.  Nelson went on to share the very harsh and unjust reality of the life that he and many others live, the exploitation and abuse they receive.  Over 50% of the time, Nelson shared, the day-laborers are not paid for their work, but are unable to fight back against their employers because many of them did not have legal papers.  Exploitation of the workers is not a new thing, and many of the other men we met had stories of abuse, harassment, and cruelty that they had experienced.  To think that this cruelty is going unnoticed and unaddressed as we speak is a sickening thought, especially since it seems that very little can be done for the victims, but Nelson explained their desire to organize and change this pattern of injustice.  By organizing, they can help to ensure the fair and equal payment and treatment of workers, and it is still a work in progress to do so. 
After this experience, we all shared lunch in Balboa park, a park which spans nearly two miles of parks and gardens, containing over a dozen museums to visit inside the park boundaries.  Although a very beautiful site to visit, it was clearly a much more affluent area than where we had just been speaking with Nelson and other day-laborers.  We had a relaxing lunch and heading to are final site: Southwest Key, a home for children in limbo.
When there are children that cross the border with a parent or guardian but are caught, their guardian is often detained awaiting deportation or other legal trial, but the children cannot always be immediately returned to their home country as they  may have no one to go back to, nor can they legally reside in the U.S. without legal papers, so they become a child in limbo and live in homes such as Southwest Key.  Many of these children stay for about a month until a sponsor, another guardian or trusted member of their home community, can be validated and they can be safely taken home. If a sponsor cannot be found, then the children are simply sent to other homes such as Southwest Key throughout the United States until things can be worked out.  Some children even pursue legal cases and so must reside a little longer in order to complete them.  Either way, these children lose much of their identity as they are forced to stay, unwelcome, in a country that is not their home country.  Many have siblings in other homes across the U.S. while some were with their siblings at Southwest Key.  During our time their, we did arts and crafts and played soccer with the kids, and it was one of the highlights of our trip, to be able to be kids and forget some of the borders that exist in our lives that separate us unnecessarily.
There was one girl that we struck up a conversation with as we sat in the shade next to the soccer net making pulseras, or bracelets.  She began to ask us about our own homes and the places that we came from. Then she began to asked something I will never forget.  She asked if we saw her home country and her land as different.  She was not asking if we saw her people or the cultures as different, but the land itself, the earth as different because it happened to be on one side of a line that we decided to put down.  I honestly could not see any difference between the two, which also echoed similar feelings of being on the border, at the fence, and looking through to see a world that was different in many ways and yet the same.  Erica, the young girl, shared these thoughts with me and I will never forget them, and the most amazing part, was that to this young woman, it was so clear and obvious that land is land is land and that we are no different because we were born on one side of a line in the sand. This is so often forgotten, but  I, and all of us really, will try our best to not forget that, but rather, think of the people on either side first.

Getting to Know Sara and Visiting "Turning Hearts"

Today was a very special day for our group.  Today we had the privilege to sit down and hear a bit more about Sara's story and experience the work she does everyday in Tijuana.  Sara is a promotora for Via International, the group that allowed us to come to San Diego this week.  Being a promotora, Sara is very highly respected in her community because becoming a promotora is no easy task, and she shared a little of that with us today.  As a promotora, Sara has gone through hours of nutrition and cooking classes along with community leadership training to become a nutrition authority and guru in her own community.  Sara and other promotoras, after completely their intensive program, go out into their community and share their knowledge of healthy, and more affordable, cuisine with other women, and the occasional man. 
To begin our time with her, Sara opened with an activity that she uses as a promotora to begin new sessions.  It was called teleraña or cobweb in Spanish and it begins with Sara holding one end of a ball of yarn and introducing herself by sharing something important to her in her life before passing the ball to someone else in the group who would do the same.  Each person, as their turn comes, holds onto a piece of yarn before passing the ball to the next person across the circle.  In the end, we learn a little more about one another and realize that we are all connected and without one of the members, the whole web fails.  Following this interactive and fun introduction, we learned a little more about how Sara teaches her classes before heading to the kitchen to prepare some ceviche with soya or soy ceviche, a traditionally seafood dish that is cooked in the acidic juices of lime, tomato, and onion along with cilantro, and cucumber.  It was not only fun and informational, but delicious!  And now, we all have a little bit of Sara that we can bring home with us!
Later that afternoon, we traveled to the "Turning the Hearts" Center, which is a local center dedicated to youth and adult empowerment in the local community.  The programs offered by "Turning the Hearts" address issues of teen pregnancy prevention, career-minded and work-readiness programs, mentorship connections, G.E.D. and educational assistance, anger management and substance abuse sessions, and their most famous "G.A.M.E" program which stands for "Gang Awareness through Mentoring and Education.  All of the members of the Turning Hearts staff are dedicated to these programs but do not offer a service or program unless their heart is in it, in order to offer the best results for those in need.  One of the highlights of the visit was our participation in a specially designed game that the staff had created for their youth.  In the game, there is a 54-square mat on the ground and the goal is to go from the start side to the finish side by stepping in the correct squares.  If the correct sequence is not employed, then the player must start over.  Players can only step one square at a time but may go in any direction and will be signaled if they have not chosen the right square.  There is no talking to or touching of the participant by the rest of the group, but they can offer advice in any other way they wish.  The game, admittedly, was very difficult, but the point was to show the difficulty in making important or even just daily life decisions.  There may be an innumerable amount of advice or pressure from the outside but it ultimately up to the player to make a decision and live with the consequences.  Additionally, there comes a point when no one in the group had come to the next step or next square in the sequence and so had no sure ideas on which way to direct the player, which simulates life in many ways.  Another goal of this was to emphasize the importance of back-tracking and trying again, never giving up, which was done many a time for our groups that played. 
Another highlight was hearing the personal story of Manny Castro, the adviser of the G.A.M.E. program, who himself had to leave a life of gang violence and drug addiction to find himself in the place he was today.  He, and the rest of the staff members and volunteers, have strong convictions and deep passions for the people that they serve, and it was refreshing and inspiring to experience the vision of their program.

A Visit to the Desert

Today, we met some larger-than-life characters who inspired each and every one of us. We started, as always, with a delicious breakfast made by the lovely Sara. We then made our way to the Sherman Heights Community Center, where we met the first inspiration. Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, spoke with us for a while about individuals who have lost their lives crossing the desert areas of the border, about the work that Border Angels does to prevent those deaths, and what he continues to do to change public policy. He name-dropped the entire time, but it gave us all the more respect for him; by working with such important figures, he has found a way to make a tangible difference in his community.           
After our talk, Enrique took us out to the desert. We stopped at a strip of fence that marked the border. For those of us from UP, we had seen a similar sight only two days before on our Border Patrol tour, but to be able to reach across at this particular stretch, to see the boy herding sheep on the other side, and to see the enormous gap in the fence just over the mountains, we all realized exactly how ludicrous the issue has become. Only 5 feet would have changed our citizenship, and yet these 5 feet are causing people to die every day.           
Enrique took us farther into the desert, to a place with fewer houses on either side and more open space. Under the bushes, we placed gallon jugs of water, not necessarily hidden from view. This is one of the Border Angels main projects. Our guide told us that approximately two people die every day from dehydration while crossing the border. The wall isn’t necessarily making it harder to cross; it’s only making things more dangerous. This morning, we had the ability to make a difference. While we might not have saved every life, at least we were able to help one person, and that meant the world.           
This evening, after a quick dinner, we were whisked away to the University of San Diego. There we met professor Alberto Pulido, who teaches a course on ethnic relations at the university. We discussed the border and what that word really means. We discussed borders in our own lives and examined their value: are we really building walls to keep ourselves safe, or is there a deeper motivation? Are we really benefitting anyone by building these borders?           
We then watched Rory Kennedy’s short documentary The Fence, in which she discusses the merits (or lack thereof) of the fence and the history of the border as it exists today. She examines various groups that claim to keep the border “safe,” including Border Patrol and the Minutemen. In one particularly interesting segment, she looks at the incidents of terrorism in the United States since the fence went up. It is interesting to realize that not a single one of those incidents have occurred due to an immigrant crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. And yet we take such precautions to distance ourselves from those people that are supposedly trying to harm us.           
In the end, today was a great day. We all learned so much about the real issues surrounding immigration. Yet it’s interesting to think about how much we still don’t know. We hear things all the time on the news, read headlines in the newspaper, but do we really have an understanding of what’s going on at our southern border? Today was another reminder of how important it is for us to keep learning, especially once we get back to the Pacific Northwest, and how even 22 of us can make a dramatic change, if only for one person. But one person is worth it.