Saturday, June 28, 2008

Week 3 - Raquel

Please allow me a moment to gush.

Southside Presbyterian Church has fast become one of my favorite locales in Tucson. My appreciation for Southside goes beyond my love for the hogan style architecture which delineates its campus from other structures in the surrounding neighborhood of South Tucson. While I love the rust colored adobe walls which ensconce the inner core of the church, I might just love the heavy splash of southwestern details which mark the church’s interior even more than it’s smoothly curved walls. For example, figures that look as though they could have been conjured up in the mind of a being from a much earlier time period appear to dance in the perforations which mark the light fixtures throughout the church. Even as the painstaking attention to detail which characterizes Southside’s interior and exterior design allures my artsy side, I am most intrigued by the incredible outreach programs which mark the church’s daily calendar.

The first thing that grabbed my attention when I visited Southside for the first time two weeks ago was the sign with an intense portrait of a dying Christ with the statement “Executions Have Always Been Wrong” emblazoned upon it. Pretty hardcore. In my meetings with the members of Southside over the past couple of weeks I have become increasingly impressed by the reality that Southside Presbyterian is far from an ordinary, run of the mill Christian church but rather puts into action the words of Christ found in the New Testament biblical book of Matthew in chapter 25 and verses 35 and 36 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me...’

I feel as though my experience at Southside has made and will continue to make an indelible mark on my notions of Christianity and furthermore the Christian experience.

Week 3 (Rachel)

Mexico seems like a lifetime ago. I have forgotten what it feels like to walk around the dusty colonia at night, the town alive with energy and music until the wee hours of the morning. I have forgotten that pulse that runs through the city, breathing vivacity into every corner of the sun scorched desert. I don’t hear that same rhythm now that I am back in Tucson. Just an hour away, it is troubling how these two places differ. It is troubling how much I have already forgotten. But I will never forget their faces.

We have been back in Tucson for a week now, our days filled with walks to the local coffee shop, working daily at our internships, grocery store runs and some therapeutic time with our missed laptops. Once back in the sanitized dormitory, there is little here to remind us of the place from which we have just returned.

Miguel and Alberto were such bright lights in the darkness that is Nogales. Such a violent city. Such precious children. Though their laughter is falling further into the recesses of my memory, growing fainter by the day, those niños still weigh heavily on my mind. They push me to continue on the tough days, the days when it seems as though nothing will ever change, the days when truly nothing seems to be on the horizon. I feel as though they will never leave me.

*Picture from José Castillo

Week 3 - Jose

This week has been an interesting time for me because I started the activities that I had planned to do for the rest of the summer. After two intense weeks of going around the communities of Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, and learning more about their stories, their living conditions, and their needs, I returned to Tucson to focus on three activities that will hopefully be targeted to help people within these communities.

On Monday, I went to get everything ready so that I may start volunteering at El Rio Community Health Center next week. Here I will be shadowing several dentists and learning more about the career that I want to pursue. After talking with people for two weeks, I have realized that there great need of dental services, and so I hope my volunteer experience will allow me to contribute to the oral health of this community.

On Wednesday I taught CPR and Standard First Aid in English while on Friday I taught the same class in Spanish. Watching the film “Crossing Arizona” convinced me of the importance of knowing first aid not only in the desert but in the community. Therefore, not only does it make me happy to have the opportunity to teach this course during my stay in Arizona, it makes me really honored to be able to offer these courses to groups like The Samaritans and BorderLinks.

Moreover, I went on a desert run with The Samaritans on Tuesday and Thursday. Lucy and I woke up at 6:30AM to go walk in the desert, and I remember being really excited to encounter a migrant and offer them my help during our run. I even had a pre-planned out encounter: I would call out “Somos Samaritanos. Tenemos agua, comida y ayuda médica.” They would gladly approach us to receive our help that would save them from dying in the desert, and then we would interact as if we were old-time neighbors. None of this occurred! I did not meet anyone in the desert, and it seemed we had walked for 14 hours for nothing. I was kind of disappointed for this, but a fellow Samaritan brought up an important point: Not meeting a migrant can actually be a good thing because this means they do not need our help at the moment. They do not want to be seen, unless they need help; then, they will probably approach us. If you think about it, the simple act of convincing yourself to approach someone for free food and water is an embarrassment and public shame to yourself. As ironic as it may seem, it was really true. Besides, we had left gallons of water in some locations that we thought were migrant trails, and when we came back to check on the gallons of water, we saw that they were being consumed. This made us happy and gave us a sense of worth because our efforts were being appreciated one way or another (it is not necessary to receive national recognition for doing this). Thus, I came to conclude that our Samaritan effort was not futile; instead, it was a beneficial act – useful to both the migrants and our country. While they received help in the desert, something that should not be denied to any human being without regard to citizenship or residence status (as stated in US federal law), we were strengthening our relationship with Mexico. After all, they are our permanent neighbors, and therefore it is better late than never to build camaraderie. What I was doing at the desert was not a way to increase immigration to the US. It was a way to alleviate the current problems that exist in the border. I recognized that going in a Samaritan run was not going to solve the problem, but it was definitely going to assuage it before a policy that addresses this issue is enacted. I came with the mind set in providing humanitarian aid a very specific way, but I realized that plans do not always go as they were designed …and this is okay.

Week Three (Karen)

One of the many pullouts on our way down Mt. Lemmon
This week the theme of remembrance came back to me over and over again.  Returning to Tucson was great; we came back to running water, electricity, and technology.  But the moment I stepped out of the van last Saturday, I began to forget.  

I began to forget the faces, the stories, the emotions.  And I hate that it is happening. 

I wrote nightly the first week and photographed everyday the second week.  Yet, when I look back on everything, I feel different.  To use Sarah's word, I don't feel the immediacy.  I am afraid that these next five weeks will only soften my recollection and emotions. 

I do not want this to happen.  I do not want their faces, stories, and emotions to become trivial memories that I simply recall and retell.  I had hoped, and still do hope, that the experiences and relationships I gained would propel me in my internships, Derechos Humanos and Samaritans, and beyond.  But as of right now, I feel a sense of guilt for taking pieces of these individuals and trivializing them in my own mind. 

During our reflection atop Mt. Lemmon, I did find a sort of comfort in that everyone felt incapable of relaying their experiences to friends and family.  How do we share our experiences?  How do we phrase our thoughts and emotions?  How do we pass on the urgency?  Figuring out these questions will be crucial for when we return to Duke.  I do not want to come back as a bumbling fool standing on a soap box, but I want to come back as an impassioned messenger who really understands the lives and issues in the Borderlands. 

Week Three (Christina)

Week 3 was quite the transitioning week for us. As we returned to the United States and experienced the somewhat of a culture shock that came with it, many of us were torn about how we were feeling. We delved right in, however, and began orientation for the everyday life that will be the rest of our summer. It all felt so different than the jam-packed, emotionally draining BorderLinks delegation. As we started learning and doing at our internships, it was easy to forget some of the personal stories behind the work.

Then we traveled 9000 feet to the top of a mountain.  Yesterday, we took a group trip to the top of Mt. Lemmon. From the small village 1000 feet from the top to the 40 degree temperature difference, it was easy to forget about Tucson and the desert—to take a step back from the everyday life we had just gotten into. From the top of the mountain, everything below looked so different. Not only were the buildings of Tucson nearly invisible, but there were actually green trees and plants to be seen. Still a part of Pima County, how could this place exist amid such barren land? And it didn’t seem fair. We could come to this place to escape our normal, busy, everyday lives, while others must escape theirs by dying in the desert. We could enjoy the view, the weather, and each other without a care in the world.

As we sat atop Mt. Lemmon, we reflected back on our week. Many people expressed the difficulty in blogging each week—in trying to do justice to the everyday life of the people in this region without someone experiencing it first hand. In using the same words over and over, and the monotony of doing so. But when it all comes down to it, we can’t explain it; we can’t do it justice. You, the reader, are only getting a far off glimpse of what we are doing and feeling—a look from the top of the mountain.

Week 3 Viviana

I'm standing on the edge of a cliff, on the precipice of the unknown.

Our group traveled to the top of Mount Lemmon yesterday.

I'm looking over the edge, wishing I could dive into the vast quilt of mountain tops. I want to jump and let the sweet breeze carry me, closing my eyes and trusting that the air will hold me. A leap of faith. I'm scared. There is such power in these mountains, such possibility--small crevices of beauty to be found if I just jump. I see jagged edges, winding maze-like trails--fears in sight.

I want to be strong and take a step of courage. In Tucson. In the desert. In my heart.

Just a little push.

Week Three- Lucy

during my run with the Samaritans, i saw a dead cow, a road runner, jack rabbits, desert quail with babies, multiple lizards, deer scaling up a mountain, horned lizards, vultures, hawk, coyote, humming bird, a metallic blue and purple wren, buzzards...

the desert is amazing and filled with life.

i experienced the monsoon.

today is emo boy day.

a more complete post to come.
while on ruby road one day. i saw one of the most erry sights. Someone, a migrant, had neatly hung a complete set of clothing: underpants, undershirt, jeans, and collar shirt on to a tree. there was no garbage. there were no shoes or backpacks. he was at least 200 yards or more away for a distinct path and much further for a rest stop we found. what was he doing there? why did he bother to place forgotten clothes so neatly? why wasn't anyone else there?

Week Three

Week Three was sprinkled with orientations and meetings. After our Borderlinks delegation and week at the children's camp, we headed back to Tucson to start our work with the Non-Profits. Thus far, Viviana, Karen, Rachel, Raquel, and Christina are working at Dereches Humanos. Lucy is working with the Samaritans until her stay at No More Deaths begins. Jose is teaching CPR to the both US-Mexico Borderlinks staff. He will also be working with the Samaritans as well assisting a Dentist at a Border Clinic.

Everyone is working and traveling together so that we can experience pieces of each other's role within their Non-Profits. Thus far, we have attended an orientation with No More Deaths that will also prepare us for Samaritan Runs. We had a morning lunch to mix and mingle with the staff at Southside Presbyterian Church. Right now, we are in the midst of a creative documentary. We've just finished our training and orientation with the recorders and cameras.

Last and most important, we have just our first monsoon! However, today is sunny and bright...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week 2 - Raquel

Today I made a new friend. His name is Ernesto, Ernie for short. He lives next door to my host parents. I met him when he stopped by in search of my host father, José, on the first day of my home stay. He braced his angular frame against the tall, chainlink fence which stood in front of my host family’s home. We greeted eachother and he waited a bit before he asked in rapid Spanish “¿José esta aqui?” His question rattled in the air startling me from my reverie which was caused by the combination of the intense desert heat and the fact that I was still visually exploring the neighboring yards and homes in the community of Bella Vista in which my host family resides. “Sí”, I responded. He groaned and feigned annoyance and subsequently grinned good naturedly. “¿De donde es?” Where are you from?, Ernie asked just as rapidly, or it least it seemed pretty rapid to my ears which were relatively unaccustomed to listening to Spanish at the beginning of my homestay. I was delighted by the window of opportunity created for me to explain exactly why I was there. The reason why I had come to Mexico but more importantly why exactly I felt an intense desire for change in policy related to the borderlands.

I spoke almost on autopilot as I explained where I was from in relation to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico which led to a discussion of DukeEngage and a general gloss of some of the specifics of our Encuentros de la Frontera program. I began feel a glowing sense of pride as I mentally checked off the topics which I covered during our conversation, with me speaking in stumbling Spanish and Ernie responding in slow and patient Spanish. His brow wrinkled slightly and he shifted his weight a little. “Uh oh,” I thought, this is not how he’s supposed to react. Most people with whom I had spoken about the program expressed excitement and wished me well on my endeavor, this was appearantly not going to be one of those cases.

As his body language suggested Ernie went on to politely tell me in more than a few word that he didn’t feel as though my work really meant much in the ocean of problems which surround the border. His questions felt like a deluge of ice cold water.What would my work at a children’s camp during my homestay mean in the grand scheme of things? What about the wealthy and powerful decision makers of our two governments? How were they going to be impacted by my group’s work this summer? I was speechless for a moment but then I regained my composure and thought back to a poem that we discussed in one of our reflections Prophets of a Future Not Our Own. “Nosotros esperamos poner la semilla que otros va a cultivar.” But still he questioned how our work would impact those with the power to illicit change concerning this issue. I was frustrated by his insistance but recognized that he was in some ways right. My frustration turned into a bubble of resenment caused by the fact that he pointed out the glaring flaw in my idealism. I hate to accept defeat thus I think I responded to Ernie with something weak, like, “Well, I hope that our group will in some way impact those with the power to make changes.”

Ernie smiled in response and reassured me that he wasn’t trying to upset me (apparently my poker face is horrible) but I think his questions will haunt me until I find a way to really answer them or until I grow to old to remember my week spent in Nogales during the summer before my senior year of college. It is my hope that the former of those two possibilites rather than the latter will transpire.

Week 2 - Jose

After having stayed for one week at my assigned home stay, I realized that I can definitely be flexible and that it is possible for me to modify my lifestyle to accommodate the lifestyle of others. As I am writing this, I am leaving from Nogales, Sonora, and I am already missing a unique sense of feeling that I felt this week. Not only did I learn a lot about teaching and making it fun for the kids during the summer camp, but I got to experience an environment that was somewhat familiar yet distinct from my own during my stay with a host family.

The week-long camp was great. The seven of us participated in different educational stations. The main goals were to teach students about diversity and the fact that people living in different parts of the world look different from us. My personal favorite was the sports station (there were also arts and crafts, music, loteria, and cine stations). I helped Vilma, one of the camp leaders, to come up with creative ways so that the daily topic of the camp could be fun and educational at the same time. One of the days we learned about the planets of our universe. We would mention a fact of a planet and asked the kids to run to the planet they believed the fact belonged to. The planets were hand drawn with chalk on the basketball courts outside La Casa. Another day, we learned about the continents of the world. First, we learned the location of the continents in relationship to each other (they were also hand drawn with chalk on the basketball courts), and then we asked all the kids to form a straight line outside the court. We would mention a country, and the kids would run to find the continent and the country where it was found. Every day, when there was a change in stations, we asked the kids that would come to sports to tell us a fact of a country they had learned at the beginning of their day (before the summer camp began every day, we all learned about two or three countries, their form of currency, their traditions, their language, and their typical food). The week long summer camp went really well. We did not have a problem with the little kids; they would do anything they were instructed to do. However, we had a little more difficulty dealing with the big kids. They would only really come to play soccer and basketball, but we managed to get their attention and taught them some facts at the same time. Moreover, to reward them for their patience, we would play a game of soccer near the end of their time at the sports station.

My stay with a host family reinforced in me the values of living a humble and frugal life that serendipitously creates a relaxed environment. Every day, Karen and I would walk to La Casa de la Misericordia for the kid’s summer camp at 8:15AM and return at around 6PM. The route to La Casa was a dirt road, and so our shoes would always be covered in brownish dirt. When it came time to wash our face and brush our teeth, we realized that they did not have running water (the whole neighborhood had the water pipes installed but the water company had not yet opened them for water to flow through the pipes). Instead, they had bottled water that they would buy from water purification stores. Additionally, we had to flush the toilet with buckets of water. A big eye-opening experience was to see that our hosts did not have a room for the kids and another for the parents. They all lived in the same family room. Everything was more communal than in the US and the sister, three brothers, and parents knew what everyone else’s plan was for the day. It seemed that they interacted more as a family than what I have seen in the US. Overall, this created a more relaxed ambient where everyone could say what they had in mind, and the close interaction between all of them enabled the individual to be heard every single time when they spoke. It was almost as if what we call a “lower tier lifestyle” lowered responsibilities and expectations, and you felt more liberated from daily distractions, problems, and worries. I personally felt freer of concerns and about life in general even though I always had a long day of running around in the hot sun.

Interacting with the kids at the summer camp and staying to live with a host family, I realized that I needed to be as flexible as possible and be willing to accommodate to changing circumstances. For the big kids in the summer camp, I would try to come up with something new and fun to teach them the following day (e.g. I taught them to make music with their own hands). I would try to leave them with a cliffhanger so that they would come back, enthusiastically, the next day. I definitely had fun challenging them to see who could handle the soccer ball the best and prevent it from falling to the ground. As for the stay with the host family, I learned how to conserve water and flush the toilet with a bucket, among other things that people in the United States take for granted on an everyday basis. Thus, while the whole week was full of activities that required serious physical and mental activity (including individual and group reflections), I loved the experience and the opportunity to share a week and learn from many individuals in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

Week 2 (Rachel)

Miguel and Alberto.

Our new amigos from the campamento.

Eleven and thirteen respectively, mischievous would not even begin to describe these two. It is hard to say how we became so connected with these boys as so few words were spoken between us. I love how much a smile can communicate unspoken sentiment. Lucy, for instance, speaks just a few phrases of Spanish, yet these kids adored her! They are worried when five minutes have passed and Lucy has yet to make an appearance—“¿Y Lucy?”—I have to console them that she is just refilling her water bottle.
A neighborhood mother described Miguel and crew as “niños de la calle”—children of the street. We met them as they were jumping off rooftops and putting each other in chokeholds. But as we get to know them throughout the week of camp, we realize we have never met more precious human beings. They want so desperately for us to join them in a game of futbol, and above all, they want to please us. They show us their drawings and beg for us—the big kids—to be on their kickball team. As the days pass, we realize how close we have come to the kids. But when Saturday comes, we will leave, and they have to stay here. The thought will not leave my mind—why don’t they have the opportunities I have? How come they live in a house with three families and no running water? How come Miguel’s mother has to work until late in the night and no one can watch him, discipline him, love him? What will become of him as he roams these violent streets for the rest of his life? And how is he so happy? There is a piercing cry of injustice that echoes throughout Nogales. It leaves you nothing short of disturbed.

Week Two Viviana

I've lost the words to express my thoughts, to capture the joyous moments I shared with the precious children of Nogales, Sonora. The smiles they gave me, the tears I cried for the uncertainty of their futures.

andres. miguel. alberto.



Excerpt from A los caidos en los desiertos de la muerte (Othon Perez)
En memoria de aquellos que por buscar una mejor vida,
Lo unico que encontraron fue la muerte,
En recuerdo de aquellos que todo lo arriesgaron y todo lo perdieron,
Se fueren con la esperanza en los ojos,
Y el desafio en el alma.
El sol los calcino, el desierto los devoro,
Y el polvo borro su nombre y su mirada.

En recuerdo de aquellos que nunca mas regresaron
Ofrecemos estas flores...
A ellos con respeto les decimos:
Su sed, es nuestra sed.
Su hambre, es nuestra hambre.
Su dolor es nuestro dolor.
Su angustia, su amargura y su agonia,
Tambien son nuestras...


**photo by Rachel Pea

Week Two- Lucy

Week Two-
Noel and Theresa, our Borderlinks guides have dropped us off at the home stay. I'm staying with Viviana. Our host mom, Gloria is awesome. Viv and I are eating vegetarian this week which interesting to me…in that I hardly noticed I wasn’t eating meat. We have two host brothers; one is 17 who we don’t see very much. The other is 5. He’s name is Jesus Miguel and our typical days at the house were spent playing checkers—incorrectly.

My first day with my home stays was filled with children (as was the rest of the week)! It seemed that every street was simply filled with young children playing pick up games of soccer and basketball. Though it certainly wasn’t true, I told one of the children that I was Michael Jordan in basketball. Silly enough, one of the children, Francisco said I was the same height as MJ! However, another child, Jose said that MJ was probably a little bit taller! In case you are wondering, I’m really only 5’7 err 5’8 on a ‘good’ day.

Anyways, this week was spent at the Children’s Camp at the Casa—Borderlinks’ Mexican base. The camp mainly focused on diversity, people and cultures throughout the world. My first station was crafts. Rachel and myself were responsible for passing out coloring sheets, crayons, and glue. We were really surprised when we saw all the children coloring the woman from Kenya as a Caucasian woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. Rachel did a more accurate depiction of a Kenya woman when a boy names Alberto became thoroughly flustered. He kept asking Rachel, “but why is she so dark?” He was so perturbed by the situation that he took Rachel’s picture and showed it to our Supervisor.

However, the most lasting memories were probably those spent with the members of the DE group and the children who became our close friends. Every night reflections were held over coconut paletas. We shared tons of stories with each other about our families, personal backgrounds, and even mistakes we had made. There were more than enough jokes and smiles passed between our selves. Time after camp was spent reflection about our own lives and stories to one another.

Finally, the children who stepped into our lives will never be forgotten. For me, it was my neighbors: Miguel, Andres, Jose, Choakey, Francisco, and Jesus Miguel. (Yea…there were A LOT of kids.) My host mother said that one of the biggest problems in her neighborhood and in Nogales, was the children who were left to fend for themselves because of their parents’ at work in maquiladoras or other forms of unjust labor. Children were still playing in the streets long after Viviana and myself went to be bed. Children at camp were often wearing the yesterday’s clothes or looking as if they had not had enough to eat. Yet through their meager means and my language inadequacy, they taught me something invaluable. Love and friendship prevails over politics, economic plight, and even language barriers. When I woke up on the morning of our departure, I saw all of my young neighbors waiting to say goodbye at 7:30am on a Saturday morning. Love and friendship persist in a place where it would seem so foreign and ill fitting. Nineteen years into this life and I’m realizing that I’m learning more about love and friendship from 7 and 12 year olds than I ever did from my own experiences.

Week Two (Karen)

This week we moved in with our host families, helped at Borderlink's kids camp, and volunteered at Las Madres. The pace of life was definitely slower than our jam-packed delegation week. But it has been a great opportunity to take it easy and experience the Nogales life.

As I write, our host mother is prepping beef for her son Ramon's graduation party. He is graduating today (June 21) from primary school. Our father commented last night that he wishes Jose and I could stay until Monday so that we can attend the festivities. What striked me when he said this was the realization that life will continue without us.

As obvious as that seems, it is what makes leaving difficult. What will happen to this family? Will Ramon finish secondary school? Or even more simply, after five years, will the family finally get to visit their relatives this summer as they have planned? The same concerns and questions apply to the children we met this week. There was George who has learned English listening to hip-hop and rap. He helped translate for me a couple of times in the afternoon. There was cute little Kevin with teenage parents. There was another girl, who I met Thursday morning, that lives with her mother and two brothers but has no idea where her father is. I wish I could just know that things will turn out well for all of the children at the camp.

Similarly, I think of the migrants we have met not only in the previous week but also at Las Madres, a migrant soup kitchen, this week. In particular, there were three individuals that stood out at Las Madres. There was the man from Utah who had been deported after 30 years. His lawyer was in the process of sorting out his papers so hopefully he is now on his way home. There was the 18 year old boy who had spent four days in the desert before being deported. As a result, he had difficulty swallowing when he arrived at Las Madres. The Utah man took him to a shelter on Tuesday but that was the last we saw of him. Finally, there was another man who had lived in California for nineteen years and was on his way back to his hometown after being deported from Tucson. He was waiting on Thursday for his brother to wire him $200, which was the amount he needed to travel to central Mexico.

Not knowing how their stories will end drives me crazy. But all I can do is hope that change will make living in Nogales, Mexico, and the US better for these individuals down the road.

Week Two (Christina)

Chester, Júan, Alma, and Júan Carlos—my new family as of Saturday, June 14. And quite a family they were. I learned so much about what everyday life in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, entails. This amazing family opened their arms and hearts to Rachel and me in every way possible, and they definitely embodied the phrase, “mi casa su casa.” And even though I am not nearly fluent in Spanish, the conversations we were able to have and the things we were able to learn from each other were incredible. Not only were they able to share some of their story with me, but I was able to also share mine with them. In this way, over the course of one week, we were able to actually build a relationship—something that can sometimes take years to develop.

Not only was I able to learn through conversation, I also learned quite a lot simply through experience. For instance, in the colonia, or colony, in which we were staying, running water is very rare. Therefore, many things are done differently, less frequently, or simply not at all. The climate in Nogales is also something that affects daily life. The extensive heat takes a great toll on the body, and, as air conditioning is also rare, less activity during the hottest hours of the day is a necessity. Living there, compared to life in the United States, almost feels like an entirely different world. A world, however, that thanks to a wonderful family, I also felt so welcome in.

Spending over three hours each day for a week sounds taxing in itself. Add in the great heat of Mexico and the fact that it was the first week of summer, and the energy level of the kids increases, while that of the “adults” decreases. I place adults in quotes, because that’s what we were to the kids—as Lucy put it, “fun adults.” But it sounds so funny for me to think about it in that way. After all, I don’t feel like an adult. In fact, sometimes I feel like those kids have a lot better grasp on reality than I do. Seeing the situations they live in and where they come from isn’t easy. The harsh reality that is every day life in Mexico makes any United Statesan (yes, we coined a new word…after all, we’re all American) look rich. And the thing is, the young kids have no idea; they’re happy with what they do have. The older kids are starting to get a sense of what living on the Mexican side of the border means. As I’m sure someone else will mention, some of the kids know that we’re from “the other side.”

But what does that mean? It means that we can come back. And I’ll be the first to admit that I missed my phone and computer during the ten-day stay in Mexico; I was happy to see all of my material things when we returned on Saturday. It means that after the week-long camp of singing, sports, and arts and crafts was over, we had to say goodbye. It breaks my heart to think just how many times those kids have had to say goodbye. Spend a week with a kid, and there’s so much potential for you both to fall in love. And then what? We come back. They stay there. They know this, and we know this. It doesn’t make it any easier. What if we could just bring them back with us? Ensure that they have the childhood we had. Would that make it easier? We’d like to think so. And for us, maybe it would. But for them, this is home. This is family. This is reality. And as they begin to see the stark difference on each side of the wall, who knows what will happen. This is the hardest part. Did we spend a week with future scholars, future workers, or future migrants? In the words of one Mexican camp leader, Jeanette, this week we planted a seed. And now that seed has hope. We can work and hope now for their future. After all, as the title of a poem / sermon by Oscar Romero states, we are “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own.”

Week 2 (Group)

As our second week begins, we are dropped off at our home stays in Nogales, Sonora, a border town just a few minutes from the line. The colonia—neighborhood—where we are staying surrounds La Casa de Misercordia, the Mexican counterpart of BorderLinks. “The House of Mercy” is a sort of community center with offices, dorms for visitors, a playground, basketball court and a kitchen where the neighborhood kids come to play and eat lunch on school days. The Casa is where we are holding the children’s day camp during the week. The neighborhood kids—about 100—ages five to fifteen, came to camp each morning to be a part of the excitement.
The day begins with singing led by Profesor Elias, and the group’s favorite would have to be “¡Basta!” a protest song that means “Enough!” Diversity was the camp’s theme as each day we focused on two or three countries and their cultures and all the stations aimed to reflect this theme. Manualidades (crafts), deportes (sports), música (music), cine (movie) and lotería (bingo) comprised the very busy day of activities. The week culminated in a ridiculously crazy water balloon fight that helped to cool everyone down in the 105 degree heat.
Running water is a rarity in the colonia and houses are made of a hodgepodge of materials. We stayed two to a house and enjoyed our nightly paleta runs. Paletas, the new group addiction, are a unique type of popsicle, filled with real fruit—coconut and mango were the biggest hits. Living in the barrio with the kids from camp was great as each night when we walked around the center we would see familiar faces and get to play with the kids on their own turf.
Tuesday and Thursday night we cooked and cleaned for four hours at a sort of soup kitchen for migrants called “Las Madres,” or “The Mothers.” The center is run by a few local nuns to feed and provide a rest stop for migrants who have been recently deported or are about to embark on the treacherous journey through the desert to El Otro Lado—the other side. The city of Nogales is the hot spot of migrant travels, as this is the drop off for those deported and also the town from which most migrants set off for the United States. Cooking dinner was a bit of a challenge as all of the food at Las Madres was donated in bulk, but none of the ingredients went together to form a cohesive recipe per say. We got to be pretty creative in feeding the fifty migrants that passed through each night.
The last night, Friday, we had a fiesta with our host families in the comedor—kitchen—of La Casa, where we had live music and more than enough food to go around. The following morning we head back to Tucson and even get to make a run for the paleta stand as we are waiting in line to cross the border.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Week 1 - Jose

DukeEngage “Encuentros de la Frontera” has been an excellent experience where everyone in our group has personally been able to see issues on immigration. Being from Laredo, Texas, a border town community with Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, I see many of these issues on a day to day basis, but this experience has enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of immigration. Having the opportunity to talk to migrants who have either been recently deported or are planning to cross to the US has allowed me to learn about the many problems that migrants confront not only when they cross the border but when they travel or arrive in Mexico. More importantly, I got the chance to analyze our current material culture and likewise recognize that there are people who are aware of our societal problems who have decided to contribute to their community in one way or another.

When we arrived in Tucson, Arizona, I was amazed at how similar it was to Laredo, Texas. But it was not until I visited many of the places I will be working in 2 weeks that I realized there is much more to the issue of immigration than what appears on the surface. One place our group visited was Casa María, a soup kitchen. Arriving, I saw many men standing outside the front yard. It was a really hot day but everyone was hanging outside, unlike our DukeEngage group who had just recently arrived to Tucson and was not used to the dry, hot weather - we wanted to just stay in the van with the cool air conditioning. The Borderlinks staff introduced us to Brian, one of the coordinators of Casa Maria. He talked to us about his personal endeavors that included serving food to these migrants, helping them get a job, and fighting to maintain the current bus price (an increase in bus fare would affect all these men that take the city bus since they could not afford to buy a car). Our group realized that Brian, a white man with a college degree was living with $10 a week. After college graduation he had decided to live at an impoverished house, next to the migrant shelter. It was interesting to listen to his life being transformed by the injustices he saw daily and the personal realization that the impoverished were being marginalized even more. It was even more eye opening that such an educated man could leave everything to help others in greater need.

Brian later gave us a tour of the place. When we went into the house, we found Maria and other volunteers making sandwiches for the men. She also lived at a nearby, humble house. It was interesting to know that all the food they had received was food that had not been expired yet but that local grocery stores could not sell to the public, anymore. While this food seemed profitless for the local stores, it had become very essential to the people in Casa Maria because dozens of hungry men were being fed daily. The loaves of bread and ham would nourish these men during lunch while they would try to find a job during the morning and afternoon, hoping that they were lucky enough to land a one or two day job.

Brian also showed us the showers that the men that were extremely poor or homeless would use for free. There were three volunteers that would organize the schedule for the showers. They would work without getting paid 363 days of the year (i.e. already excluding Thanksgiving and New Years Eve). They would go to nearby stores and collect clothes that could not be sold because of a manufacturer’s defect.

Everything that I saw at Casa Maria made me think on the importance of being frugal and consuming only what is necessary. It made me reevaluate the extent of how much people in the United States over-consume and leave to waste. This surplus food and clothes (as well as other material goods) should be distributed more equally. It does not even have to travel far to reach hungry people; goods can be given to the needy people like those in Casa Maria who unbelievably go through hunger every day even though they live in the United States. Additionally, Casa Maria showed me that there are still many people who volunteer and give their hearts to the community - there are still “Samaritans” who do a good deed without asking for anything in return.

Week One (Raquel)

The Road to Sasabe

In Altar, Mexico our group travelled to a dirt road which connects this town to Sasabe, Arizona. This road would be unassuming and barely distinguishable from any other route in Altar except for three crosses and a pair of toll booths which mark its starting point. Upon the three crosses are the words “mujeres”, or women, “hombres”, or men, and “niños”, or children. These crosses commemerate the deaths which have taken place along this route. Deaths which have come to pass as a result of the traffic—both human and narcotic—that travels through the toll booths and along this route. While there have been attempts to conflate the migration of undocumented workers with illegal drug traffic the reality is that undocumented workers avoid dealings with the often violent world of narcotraffic. People involved in the trafficking of narcotics may collect a fare at the toll booths which flank the starting point of the road to Sasabe but those paying the fare, almost always have nothing to do with those traffickers. But regardless, in thinking about the collision between the movement of narcotics and undocumented migration on the road to Sasabe I noted two common features between the trafficking of humans and drugs along this road—one that both sorts of traffic are demanded by U.S. citizens and two that major human rights abuses have been comitted as a result of these two forms of movement.
Simply put both forms of traffic fulfill U.S. desires. Human traffic fulfills the U.S. market’s need for cheap easily exploitable labor while drug traffic gratifies the insatiable desire for the white powder which fuels much of U.S. drug culture. Discussion about both forms of traffic is marked by rhetoric in which the U.S. refuses to take responsibility for its part in attracting the movement of people and drugs between the U.S and Mexico. The “war on drugs” which became a popular feature in U.S. “policy speak” during the late 80’s is linked to the “Colombian narcs”. While it’s true that narcotraffikers are providing the U.S. with the thousands of tons of cocaine which travels to the U.S. via routes through Mexico, policymakers will continue to find their efforts to stem the tide of drug traffic fruitless as long as there is lack of funding for programs which will aid addicts who crave, or rather burn with desire for the product which is transported to major U.S. cities by narcos. It’s basic economics if there is a demand for a product there will be a supply. While the media supports a notion that “illlegal immigrants” come to the U.S. to take “our jobs”, the reality is that we must be aware of the relationship between the low food prices we enjoy and the exploitation of undocumented Latin American workers in jobs that U.S. workers would never consider taking under the abusive labor conditions of the “third level job market.”
The second common theme between the movement of humans and drugs along the road to Sasabe is the reality of the human rights abuses which arise as a result of this traffic. Narcotraffickers come into communities and transform sleepy towns into havens for the violence which characterizes the drug trade. For instance, many communities in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico become increasingly more violent due to the druglords who have moved into this bordertown.. But the violence which comes part and parcel with the drug trade is not a localized phenomena, it moves as narcotraffickers move and impacts those who are not involved with the trade like the migrants who travel the road to Sasabe. These migrants pay a toll to begin a treacherous journey through the desert to escape the unlivable conditions which have been created by NAFTA and the lack of community development programs in many of the poorer regions of Mexico. On this journey these migrants are often taken advantage of and mistreated by those they come in contact with.

The road to Sasabe is a nexus for many of the ills which have effected Latin American and U.S. society. The losers continue to be the poor and the marginalized while the winners continue to be…well you and me, those who have benefited from parasitic economic policies. While I may not be able to directly transform these policies this summer it is my hope that in some small way I’ll impact those who have felt the brunt of these ineffective policies.

Week 1 (Rachel)

We shuffle into the courtroom and take a seat on the side. As we take in this new setting, we are struck by the mass of dark skinned men—and women—sitting identically in rows, lining the perpendicular walls of the pristine space. They seem so small, hunched over in their seats, with shame painted over their faces. I sense the anxiousness and wonder to myself if they know why they are here, if they know why “El Norte” has labeled them as criminals.
Just as we begin to take in the magnitude of the situation, a single sound rises above all the rest—the sound of metal on metal. These “criminals” are handcuffed and their feet chained together. As the judge calls each Latino to stand, they wobble forward, the motion made difficult by their shackles. Each defendant utters their plea:
Seventy times over, the downtrodden proclaim their guilt. What is the crime? Why, they crossed an invisible line, of course. They spent their life savings to make a treacherous journey to risk their lives, braving the elements of “el desierto” in the summer heat, to travel to the Home of the Free. They have come here to work. The wages in the maquilladoras—factories—are simply not enough to feed their mouths of their children, let alone fund their schooling. We return to the age old question: a man steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving children—is this a crime? Here, seventy brown people are tried in less than one hour, not for stealing but rather for journeying northward to work for their pay. “Operation Streamline” has made a mockery of the justice system. I wonder if such an atrocity would occur if the accused were of a lighter skin color. When did we criminalize man’s will to survive? Fitting with American history, these immigrants have come to the Land of Opportunity, hoping to live the dream of “rags to riches.” They are not fleeing religious persecution, but rather poverty and starvation. But the people of the United States are afraid that their pure nation will be contaminated, so we build a wall to stave off the “invasion.” Will it halt immigration? Of course not. The migrants are determined to survive, and they will return, no matter how high the wall is. No matter how many Minute Men line the “frontera.” They must return, they have to. You see, they simply have no other choice.

Week 1- Lucy

Week One

This is my second time coming back to the Borderland. The first occurred during a Borderlinks delegation with Charlie Thompson’s class, Farmworkers in North Carolina. My first experience with the border was nothing short of life altering. Suddenly, the evils of undocumented immigration were exposed to me. I have no idea that people, men, women, even children were crossing the desert every day. They crossed for the simple necessity of economic and financial stability. One of the most powerful quotations that has stayed with me from the first delegation came from a man I met at Groupos Beta. He said, “I would rather died in the desert trying to help my family, than watch my children starve to death at home.”

This second delegation has been quite different than the first. Although, we went to the same places and talked to some of the very same people, the mood of the delegation differed. Traveling in the summer, there were less migrants in Altar—the mecca of the human smuggling. However, I did meet two migrants who had been deported and were trying to cross again. They both wore USA baseball caps on top of their heads. This resonated with me because their hats seemed to symbolize an olive branch or peace treaty of some sort. They wore their caps proudly. They were proud of the U.S. of A, which seemed so ironic to me. As a US Citizen, I criticize my country so often. I criticize the environment policy. I criticize the prejudice and racism that still permeates in schools and work places. I am angered by the discrepancy and distribution of wealth. Yet, here were too men in front of me who were willing to cross, to risk their life just for a chance.

When a migrant crosses, he risks his life. If he fails, he fails himself. Some migrants sell all of their family’s belonging in order to pay a pollero or guide to take him to El Norte. This never truly resonated with me until we visited the Court during a session of Operation Streamline. Men and women chained and shackled, herded into seats by a boy who is scarcely a man. Ten men are trialed at once, in a chain gain. All pronounce ‘guilty’ as if there were no other choices. They are assigned strange adjectives such as felon, unlawful, and misdemeanor. As they are trialed, migrants walk pass me. Some younger migrants look at me with a smirk, saying that it won’t matter what the US federal government does, migrants will fine away. I don’t know whether to approve or feel conflicted. Yet, some refuse to look up, they seem to have had their spirit and soul beaten out of them.

Week One (Karen)

In the US, we often say that family and friends are the most important things in our lives. But it begs to question just how much we love them. How much are we willing to sacrifice? Can we talk the talk and walk the walk? This week has definitely made me question our claims, my own even.

Family is a constant theme in the personal stories we have heard. The migrants risk their lives crossing the desert. Not to mention the risk of never seeing their families again, risk of US federal prosecution, risk of losing the thousands of dollars they invest in each trip. But what drives them, from the father facing 150 days of jail time to the two men waiting in Altar, is desperation. Hearing these stories stories over and over again makes me wonder if we would be willing to do the same. The teary eyes reveal the constant struggles, concerns, and fears the men must endure. And even if the migrants make it to their final destinations, they are never safe. A few of the men we conversed with had lived up to 20 years in the US before being deported. These men, who speak perfect English, now face the difficulty of returning back to the lives they had built.

But perhaps the story that best reflects these various issues was the one told by the migrant at CAAMYN. Migrants were scattered around the shelter's courtyard so Raquel, Sarah, and I approached two men sitting along the wall to see if they would be comfortable talking with us. As we delved further with our questions, we found out more about this one man. He is a father of two and fisherman, who had lived on the coast in Ash, NC. He came back to Mexico for family, but as a result, he is now caught between the US and Mexico. He mentioned that he owned a boat in Mexico but that the Mexican government would not issue him a fishing permit. He also talked about the difficulties of getting the proper papers to immigrate. You can either choose to stay in Mexico and apply for papers or head to the US to see what you can find, he said. But if you get prosecuted, you are ineligible to apply for future papers. With tears in his eyes, he asked if we could help him. But can we? What can we do to even scratch the surface of their problems?

Week One (Viviana)

In many ancient religious texts, fallen angels were bound in chains and buried beneath a desert known only as Desolation. This could be the place. (Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil's Highway)

In March 2008, my documentary class participated in a Borderlinks delegation, much like the one my peers and I completed during the first week of our DukeEngage program in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Sonora. During my first delegation, I sat in a church pew in Altar, Mexico. Each of my classmates carefully taped a thin strip of paper bearing the name of a deceased migrant onto a cylindrical glass candle holder. The image of La Virgen de Guadalupe printed on the glass shone brightly against the white candle. I lit a flame for the fallen dreams of the migrant, carried the candle during the two-hour caminata to the entrance of Sasabe, the point of departure for those crossing the desert. I set the candle under a white wooden cross built atop a mound of desert sand in honor of those migrants who lost their lives. A memorial site. The sun began to set, the harsh sunlight faded into shades of pink and orange sky.

Yesterday, three months after my first visit, I returned to that very spot in Sasabe and stood for a moment, in silence, at the foot of the white cross. The candles we had so carefully arranged had rolled down the mound and were covered in red sand, the color of aged rust. Jagged glass edges lined the tops of the shattered glass candle holders. The small colored image of la Virgencita could still be seen beneath the dust.

As I walked on, I strayed to the the outskirts of the desert road. Abandoned water bottles, tuna cans, plastic bags lay splattered across the terrain.

A worn pair of children's cowboy boots lay encrusted in the sand. Footprints.

Fallen angels.


I ran into a Guatemalan man whom I had met and befriended on my first delegation to Altar. The first time we'd met in March, he was disillusioned, downtrodden, lost. Long after I'd returned to Durham, I kept this man's story in my heart. I was afraid to think of what had happened to him. Had he made to the other side alive?

I was shocked when he walked into CCAMYN, a migrant shelter in Altar, Mexico. He was alive. Smiling. His plans had changed, he told us. "Tengo muchos suenos". He found hope and dreams of opening a soldering shop of his own in Mexico, with his eyes set on one day acquiring a visa to the U.S. Amidst all the sadness and fear I saw in the eyes of migrants preparing to cross that day, my Guatemalan friend walked in to remind me of the light that could still be found in this desperate situation. The beautiful resiliency of humankind.


Throughout this first week, I have been painfully aware of the racial undertones driving our border debates. The most outstanding example of this was our group's day in court, witnessing the prosecution of detained migrants in Tucson, AZ. Seventy dark-skinned men stood shackled in the room. White lawyers. White officials. Seventy dark-skinned men tried and convicted in less than one hour. Echoes of slavery.

**photo by Rachel Pea

Week One (Christina)

(written June 14 in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico)

I can’t believe it’s only been one week. One week since I flew into a brand new city to spend my first summer of college with brand new people. As I look back on this week of brand new experiences, it’s hard to explain what I’ve seen and felt. From the faces to the wall, there have been so many thoughts and feelings.

The Borderlinks delegation has provided our DukeEngage group with a great introduction for the rest of our summer. We have heard many stories about immigrating. The stories, fortunately for us, have come from migrants themselves. To sit and listen to such personal stories and not know what to do or say is a difficult situation to be put (or put yourself) in. After all, as we are discovering, there is no one solution to the massive problem that both the United States and Mexico currently face. The not knowing what to do or say, however, is becoming a norm that we must deal with in order to begin communicating across borders.

Which brings me to the wall. What is “the wall” anyway? I surely had no idea what this phenomenon for closing our borders looked like. But here in Nogales, Sonora, it’s just that—a tin wall of varying heights along the border separating people that once were neighbors. It prevents any kind of crossing, whether people or animals, and has recently become a place of expression. Alberto Morackis, a local artist, uses the Mexican side of the wall as a gallery depicting the migrant journey. In other places, “the wall” takes a different form. For instance, elsewhere in Southern Arizona, “the wall” is the desert. Due the physical wall, thousands of migrants have died attempting to find work and provide for their families by crossing through this less direct wall.

Another form “the wall” takes is in us. It’s easy to put up a wall when thinking about the deaths—to dehumanize immigrants and make them the villains. But behind this wall, we are human. And so are “they.” And, as we have learned and hoped this week, maybe someday that will be enough.

Week One (Group)

Hola. Somos de la Universidad de Duke en Durham, Carolina del Norte, y estamos aquí con un programa que se llama DukeEngage. Este programa existe alrededor del mundo y nosotros escogimos venir a Tucson, Arizona, y Nogales, Sonora. Vamos a trabajar con organizaciones en Tucson como No Más Muertes, Los Samaritanos, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, y una iglesia presbiteriana que se llama Southside por seis semanas después de regresar de Nogales.

Hi. We are from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and we are here with a program called DukeEngage. This program occurs all over the world, and we chose to come to Tucson, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora. We are going to be working with organizations in Tucson like No More Deaths, Samaritans, Human Rights Coalition, and Southside Presbyterian Church for six weeks after returning from Nogales.

This speech was heard many times during our first week of this DukeEngage program. Our group had the opportunity of meeting with many different people and organizations to learn about border issues, so introducing ourselves and the program was a regular occurrence. During the first week, we participated in a delegation through BorderLinks, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering knowledge about and rights of the border. Below is a brief description of the places and people we were able to learn from on this delegation.

In Tucson, Arizona:

Crossing Arizona:
Crossing Arizona is a documentary that displays all views of illegal immigration through the Arizona desert. Many people are featured, from both right and left political views, and it is a very comprehensive exhibit of the vast issue at hand.

Mike Wilson:
Mike is a member of the Tohono O’Odham Nation. The reservation is near Tucson, Arizona, and migrants regularly die on the land. Mike is an active member of Humane Borders, an organization dedicated to placing water stations in the harshest parts of the desert. Due to his status as a Nation member, Mike is the only person allowed to put out water on the Reservation.

Operation Streamline and the Tucson Courthouse:
Operation Streamline is a new government program created to deter illegal immigration. Daily, 50-70 migrants are brought to trial in the Tucson Courthouse, charged with a federal crime, and deported. It takes less time for a migrant to plead guilty and be repatriated than to plead not guilty and suffer the judicial process.

Casa Maria:
Casa Maria is a part of the Catholic Worker Community in South Tucson. It provides food to the homeless and food boxes to neighborhood families. It also distributes blankets in the winter and works for justice in causes that affect the homeless. Workers at Casa Maria willingly live on a ten-dollar per week salary, as suffering with the people is a Catholic Worker policy.

In Mexico:

Alberto Morackis and the Nogales border wall:
Alberto Morackis is a local Nogales, Sonora, public artist who uses the border wall as a place of expression. His work reflects migration and issues of the border. Militarization of the border in Nogales began with the building of the wall and Operation Safeguard in 1994 and has since increased. The 14-foot wall prevents the crossing of people and animals between Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona.

Casa de la Misericordia:
The House of Mercy is a partner of BorderLinks on the Mexican side. Besides housing BorderLinks delegations during their time in Mexico, it also has an adult education program and offers many opportunities for children in the area.

Grupos Beta:
Grupos Beta is a federally funded agency with approximately 15 sites along the United States and Guatemalan borders with Mexico. It offers basic services such as food, water, a phone call, and information to repatriated migrants.

Altar, Sonora:
Altar is a starting point for many migrants heading north. People gather from all over Mexico to find guides, also known as “coyotes” or “polleros,” to help them make their way to the United States. These guides often lie to the migrants about distance and travel, and they charge a very high price for their services.

CCAMYN (Centro Comunitario de Atención a Migrantes y Necesitados):
The Attention Center for Migrants and those in Need, CCAMYN, is a catholic center in Altar that offers shelter and food for migrants. It is a free and safe place for those often taken advantage of by guides. CCAMYN also offers valuable advice about the dangers of the desert before migrants travel north.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

It helps now and then to step back
and take the long view
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives
include everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, no master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

--attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero