For the second time in my YAV experience, I was invited to ask hard question, hear stories, speak Spanish, and bear witness in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona with the Presbyterian border ministry Frontera de Cristo. This trip to the border was a little different because I was chaperoning a group of 35 Menaul high school juniors as a part of their Mission Week. To read about my first trip to the border please click here.
On this trip, there were challenges, especially when crossing back into the United States because of the size of the group and because we had many international students with us. Mission Week with the juniors for me as a chaperone was filled with lots of fun, and perhaps more responsibilities than I expected. I was happy we stayed at Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Agua Prieta right across the street from Café Justo because that made it easy to stay caffeinated with delicious fair trade coffee. To be honest, I often felt like there wasn’t enough coffee in the world to wake me up early and prepare me to keep up with the students. Thankfully after our 4 days of mission week, we all made it exhausted but safely back to Menaul as more thoughtful and insightful individuals when it comes to the United States-Mexico border.
One of the most meaningful experiences for me on this trip was eating dinner at C.A.M.E, a migrant resource center with people whose ultimate goal is seeking asylum in the United States. As I sat around the table I was the main connection between the three students next to me, a family who had arrived from Honduras hours before the dinner, and a gentleman from Guerrero, Mexico. I happily and effortlessly translated back and forth between Spanish for the migrants and English for the students. The family who sat across the table from me consisted of Celia, her two granddaughters one six and two plus their mom. The family shared their story of the struggle of leaving other family members behind in Honduras and the hope they had for their future in the United States but also the fear of the children being taken away from them. The gentleman on the other side of me shared a difficult story of having gotten separated from his family, ran out of money because he had been going to different points of entry looking them, and at that point he was frustrated and didn’t know if he would going back to violence in Guerrero or trying to seek asylum in the United States. We went back and forth between the students getting questions answered and the migrants getting questions answered. The most difficult question the gentleman asked me and the students was if we thought he would be welcomed in the United States. Before translating that question for the students, I looked him in the eyes and said in an ideal world you would be welcomed, and after translating the question I got a similar response from the students. Despite the serious nature of the topics of conversation, we all were able to laugh as well, especially when the migrants at the table were trying to figure out where I was from and why I was able to speak Spanish so well. This was the second meal I have shared with migrants which served as a reminder to me that the stories I have heard and am sharing are not the first or the last experience of its kind for people trying to seek asylum in the United States. The process is complicated.
Frontera de Cristo does an excellent job of humanizing the experience of living on the border and providing multiple viewpoints by incorporating stories and organizations that fall on both sides of the immigration discussion. We had the opportunity to speak with two border patrol agents who shared their non-political experiences while describing their job. I think because of the media and the current state of problems at the border the agents often get dehumanized. I thought the agents did a good job of humanizing themselves while describing what their job entails and explaining the job is to keep all people from entering the United States illegally.
Overall the I think the trip was a great bonding and learning experience for all of the students. A highlight of the trip was attending a carne asada fiesta with a local private high school. The students talked, danced, and played basketball. It was fun to see them make new friends and add each other on social media. I thought that particular experience showed the students how they themselves could break down barriers and cross borders by simple interactions. Another highlight of the trip was visiting DouglaPrieta Works a women’s opportunity center co-op where we met with women who were teaching other women skills. There we picked up garbage and pulled weeds in an arroyo where the women were planning on planting corn as a part of their garden. After working in the sun, we enjoyed a meal of delicious pozole.
We met so many incredible people who graciously offered up their stories and as a group were always welcomed to ask questions. We ate so much good food and enjoyed all of the different experiences. I loved watching the students engaging and learning with the people we met and with each other. Would I want to be a chaperone for a trip like this again? Ask me once I recover from this one…