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.