The one question I always have trouble answering is, “Why do I keep coming back?” I find this question most difficult because I feel as if I never have the right words or enough time to share all of my experiences in an adequate way. Esperanza means so much to me as a volunteer; their mission, the families, the staff, construction days…the list goes on. The individual encounters are what have impacted me most during my time spent in Tijuana. Four strong and wonderful women, Maria, Rosa and Ruby, stand out to me in particular, all women of the families Esperanza works with. Meeting Julia this week was a breath of fresh air, her light-hearted demeanor and love for each of our group members comforted me and left me encouraged at the end of each work day. On the last day of work Julia gave a speech expressing her gratitude and offering her home to each of us. I left the work site on Friday with a heavy heart because I knew that I was leaving having gained so much from her yet still unsure how much I had helped this week. What I take away from this trip is a unique story and encounter I’ve had with Julia.
She reminded me the value of family and community this week and the tears in her eyes as we said final goodbyes symbolized the love and compassion she showed all of us. Julia and the week I spent at her house is one of the answers to, “Why do I keep coming back?” By coming to Tijuana and sharing these experiences I’ve been able to discover more about what the values of family, love and community are while at the same time build friendships across the border. Today I leave with tears in my eyes because I’m leaving the country that has taught me something new about what it means to be a citizen, has brought new friends into my life, and has strengthened my values. I am forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to be a part of Esperanza and work towards empowering and educating others and myself about global issues.
The sound of the cement saw is still buzzing in my head, what a glorious day of work with Roberto, Eduardo and Julia’s family. Today we cut 4 inches away from the edge of the concrete roof so that we could chisel out a 4×4 spot for the new roof to be joined to the existing roof. Julia is the woman whose house we are building, she has cooked us food for lunch every day this week. What a wonderful woman. Roberto and Eduardo are two employees of Esperanza, a non-profit that builds houses for people who need the help. I have never seen anybody happier with as little as Julia and her family have, there are 7 people living in two 8×10 feet rooms. But, they have each other! This is such a glorious experience.
I think that if anyone needs an inspiration to make them appreciate our beautiful area we call home, they should come to Tijuana Mexico. Water is precious and hard to come by down here; we must drink purified water and can only take minute long showers. I will continue to take my minute long showers when I return to Seattle and challenge you reading this to use only the water that you need. There is trash everywhere, on the hills, on people’s properties and in the streets amidst the wild dogs running around. We are privileged in Seattle to have garbage and recycling pick up in our neighborhoods, so that our trash is hidden from our daily lives, it makes me prideful of our city just thinking about it sitting here in the Esperanza community room. When there are things to complain about, I am going to try to remind myself of the daily life in Tijuana so I can realize that I need to appreciate what I have.
Today we went to the Casa De Immigrante a place for travelers from all over the world who are in need of a place to stay for a few nights for free. We had the privilege of eating dinner with the migrants. With limited Spanish and their limited English, we were able to talk about their lives and why they were there. I sat across from Rocco and Immanuel who had been deported from the United States. Rocco had lived in Washington and had been working in the state for more than 25 years and a week ago he was deported. He had done nothing against the law, just moved in the state based on the season; doing metal work for Redhook Brewery around Seattle, including West Seattle, where I grew up and Yakima for picking fruit. I don’t understand what the reason was for sending him home, other than he didn’t have papers that claim he is a human being. I shook his hand and knew that he was a real human being. Immanuel was a father of 4, a loving husband and skilled carpenter in the Sacramento area. I think that some business and resource restructuring for Mexico could be something that would provide Mexicans more jobs. This would allow us to truly share our specialties with each other.
We call them borders
Daunting and distinct, codes and mapping
Longitude and latitude
They stretch far, invisible
They limit us, our people, el mundo (the world)
They prohibit some, not all
They benefit few, never all
Force us to hold guns rather than hands,
To tear children from their mother’s arms,
To tear mothers and fathers from their countries
Pushing back against nature’s will
Lines in the sand, even in the ocean
Give me a reason for lines,
For creating differences, ignoring our sameness,
Have and have nots
Born into and born out of
Slips of paper, colors of cards, passports, documents
For paper we give meaning.
Take back your lines in the sand
Draw a circle.
You’ll find it is shaped like the world
As it is, as it should remain.
Our second day of work on the house was intense. We passed buckets of cement from person to person for about four hours. The cement maker had to be set up on the outside of their wooden gate because the entrance was so small. So our bucket passing line stretched from the street all the way across their front yard and up their steps. It was very repetitive work so everyone got into the rhythm and learned to work together quickly. We were able to work with the family whose house we were building more today, as well. They helped pass buckets with us.
The experience of working with the family was very unique. I don’t speak any Spanish so working side by side was really the only interaction I could have with them. It was frustrating to not be able to communicate with them verbally. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask them. Normally when I travel or meet new people, we can both speak English and that is really the only way I have learned to get to know people. Not being able to use language as a tool to communicate was a challenge for me. Yet, I still feel very connected with the family, more so than many people I have met and been able to talk with for hours. I think the reason for this is because we are working towards one goal: to help build their house and eventually their community. These families are also letting us into their homes and are allowing us to see and experience something that is very personal for them. Many Americans would feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help on their home. So much emphasis in the United States is placed on material things: the size of your house, your income, how many cars you have, and so forth. So if you don’t have these things, it’s a personal reflection on you. In Mexico, this is not the case, especially since poverty is a norm. This family, and in Mexican culture, the emphasis is not placed on what you have. This is why I cannot say that this family has nothing; although, if you look at a picture of their home you would probably want to say that. This family is so happy, positive, and welcoming. They are so close and open with their neighbors. Their family works together, loves each other, and loves their community; something very rare for many Americans. I have learned a lot from this family, even with our language barrier.
The materialistic U.S. culture I grew up in has also taught me to consider many things rights, when they are actually privileges. On this trip, I have not been able to put toilet paper in the toilet, it has to go in a garbage bin or the toilet will overflow. Many toilets don’t even flush or are 200 feet away from the family’s home. I have never been so grateful for toilets and good plumbing in my life. Also, we worked the entire day on pouring a cement floor for the family so that they no longer had to live with a dirt floor. In the States, we are accustomed to carpeted or hard-wood flooring; cement flooring would just be out of the question. This family was so appreciative to even have a floor. Even taking out the garbage, something I consider a chore is actually a blessing. There are major issues with dumping garbage down cliffs or ravenes and littering because there are not proper garbage and recycling regulations in place in Mexico. Working toilets, comfortable flooring, and taking out the trash are just a few of the expectations I have as a U.S. citizen. Coming to Mexico, the first developing country I’ve visited, has helped me to understand the gap between the rich and poor and the impact of materialism and consumerism. It has also helped me understand the importance of family, solidarity, and simplicity.
Sitting down to write this, I am struck by how much I feel as if I’ve experienced today, let alone in the three short (but long, actually) days I’ve been in Tijuana. Tijuana is a very chaotic, colorful and multifaceted city, and It feel as if I am still processing a lot of what I’ve seen and done so far, but I will do my best to share some of my experiences here.
Today began with a trip to the health clinic that is partnered with Esperanza. They are located in an area near Tijuana’s old dump, where a lot of people live in the garbage in really unsafe and unsanitary positions. We received a tour of the facility by Sister Silvia, the sweetest woman who was very excited, but nervous, to practice her English. The nuns and medical staff who work there do some amazing work with the local community. They offer an array of services, from dentistry to gynecology to psychology, and it seemed to me that they did a lot from not that much. They also train local community members to be advocates for health in their own neighborhood, which I believe really is an example the self-supporting principle that is so important to Esperanza. I really enjoyed the visit and once again gave me some hope that good can be done in areas facing such difficulties.
After the clinic, we were back at the work site. Alyssa is blogging as well tonight, so I will let her share more details about the work we did today, but it was a long day full of some hard work. I left very dirty and very tired, which is definitely a sign of a good day!
I am constantly wishing that I knew Spanish so I could further understand what was happening around me and be able to communicate with the people we interact with more. However, I’m learning that a lot can be said without words. As I previously said, I am still processing a great deal about this place and what I am seeing here. But I am sure that I am having an amazing time and learning a lot about Tijuana, Mexico, and myself.
As many students at Seattle University know, it can be difficult to persevere through Winter Quarter. We have once again said goodbye to our loved ones after a relaxing holiday, the weather is cold and rainy, and classes are ruthless despite our deep-seeded desires to bundle up inside all day and sleep or play in the snow with our friends. However, we somehow all bear the coldest season of the year and anticipation builds up as friends excitedly ask each other “What are your plans for Spring Break?” Spring Break, the one week of freedom we have to recharge our academic batteries and gear up for the school year’s home run, Spring Quarter.
When I was personally researching study abroad options, I knew I didn’t have the time or money to complete a full quarter studying abroad, but still really wanted a worthwhile experience in a foreign country. I was drawn to the Xavier Global Outreach Project, a one-week, spring break trip that included working in solidarity with communities in Tijuana, Mexico facing extreme poverty. The program fee was $700, and after one class session, I already knew I would be compensated much more than that from the overall experience of this trip.
Our class met once a week throughout the quarter and analyzed issues of the US-Mexico border, specifically focusing on Tijuana’s history, politics, economics, and environmental issues. We were also introduced to the collaborating grassroots organization, The Esperanza Foundation, based in Tijuana. Esperanza’s mission is to help the impoverished people of Tijuana help themselves, and while they essentially build homes for people, their main goal is to build relationships for the highest form of compassion to be discovered, solidarity.
So far, this program has been a great opportunity to continue holistic education over spring break in a meaningful way. It has also been an opportunity to build wonderful relationships with fellow classmates, SU faculty and staff, and kindhearted people in Mexico. But most importantly, it has been a rewarding, fun, worthwhile escape from the Seattle cold and an embrace of the warmth of Mexico’s environment and its people.
Today was the first day for working at the sight. We went to a family’s house and helped build their house. We were constructing a pillar, making the base of the floor by filling sand, and cutting wooden materials for the framework of the house. What I liked about our working was the visible process and the sense of solidarity. I could clearly visualize what my contribution to the house, and seeing the house being built little by little was encouraging. Passing buckets of sand all together was the moment I felt strongly that we were working for the same purpose. The family served the lunch for all of us and their hospitality made the meal one of the best ones I have ever had.
We visited an orphanage in the afternoon. We had dinner together with the children and played outside. It made me smile to see the children excited to play with us. Through playing soccer, hide and seek, and just being together, we had a great time communicating beyond languages. Touching was one of the most frequent communication tools, which was the most impressive experience for me. Whenever the girls were trying to hold my hands, I felt their honest want for love. When I was talking with a girl, one of the first things that she asked me was if I was going to come back. That hurt me a lot causing a sense of guilt of being unable to stay with them, but I gave her a hug as tight as possible hoping that it was going to be a part of the collection of love to empower her.
During the reflection, we looked back at our day of service. It was a good opportunity to see ourselves from an objective point of view. Continuing the efforts to improve myself as a mission volunteer, I already look forward to tomorrow’s work and coming experiences.