The Paw Print
Many are attracted to social service – the rewards are immediate, the gratification quick. But if we have social justice, we won’t need social service.”
Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a learning experience and immersion into different cultures. ASU groups have gone to New Orleans, San Francisco, and Mexico. Students pay a $200 trip fee, do fundraising, and commit to pre-trip meetings. They also learn about and serve our local community. Many trips focus on deeper social justice issues, while often doing direct service in the process. ASB is sponsored by ASU Newman “Grizz Catholic” in partnership with United Campus Ministry. Funding for the trips also comes from private donations and from AS&F.
A key part of the trip is reflection and discussion every night after the activities of the day. It is a trip that requires commitment and patience, along with many other personal qualities. This ASB trip to Mexicali was different in that we returned to the same site so that those who went in 2014 could get a deeper look into projects and issues and make stronger connections with the people.
The night before departure, we loaded vans and received a blessing from Fr. Michael Chrisman, the local Catholic priest. The next day, we drove 13 hours to Calexico, California and crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at night. Some were nervous to do so, but it all turned out fine with our Mexican guide, Alonzo. We enjoyed our first meal in Mexico, which was home cooked, and settled into our humble living quarters—a small house in one of the colonias. The following day, Sunday, we were introduced to Los Ninos . Los Niño’s is an organization that provides support for grassroots community projects through funds received from supporters and school groups like ours. Community leaders who accompany us and give presentations are subsidized with our funds, as are local projects and programs which help the community. We listened to a panel of local women, Promotoras, trained by Los Ninos to become leaders in their communities.
One day we visited a primaria (elementary school) and laid cement. Our registration fees helped buy materials. Luckily, the school children, were eager to help. The work was tiring, but it was good, knowing the concrete will help lessen the amount of dirt that blows around and contributes to asthma. Thanks to generous donations back home, we were able to offer playground balls to the school in a gesture of friendship. In return, the principal shared information about the Mexican school system.
We visited the headquarters for a microcredit program. This is kind of similar to a bank but without signing your life away. This is the community lending out money for business projects. If someone would like to start making salsa and selling it, this group will give them a certain amount of money to get started and the person pays it back with low interest. Another situation would be if someone did not have enough money to buy supplies in bulk, that individual would take out a loan with a few other people. This is so that if that individual couldn’t make the payment, the others would be able to make the payment for them and sort of owe them a favor. This all creates sustainability in the community and incentive for people to remain in the country.
A trip highlight was visiting the University and interacting with students in the Language School. ASBers split into three groups and each was responsible for teaching an English class. It was a great learning experience. Later, music students entertained in the school courtyard. One student sang “Thinking Out Loud” while playing guitar and singing in English especially for us. Other students sang and played instruments. There was food and dancing to popular songs. Professors came out and we were presented with certificates of appreciation. We were invited to come back and we invited the students and professors to Adams State University.
We visited two organizations directly involved with helping those affected by deportation. At Caritas, a program sponsored by the Diocese of Mexicali, two head women shared statistics, photos, and stories relating to immigration and deportation. We then went to Casa del Migrante, another organization that provides shelter and meals for those who have been relocated. We listened to personal stories from two recently deported men, one from El Salvador. This person had traveled across Mexico by hopping a train known as “La Bestia”—The Beast. People who have no other means have been hopping the train in desperation for years.
Another day, we traveled 30 miles to the community of Algodones. There, we were taught about a beehive project which feeds into the nutrition program. We ate lunch with the family, practiced making tortillas, and learned to make clay roof tiles. The tiles are made by mixing clay, water, manure and sand together to make the tile strong and then firing them in a stove made of stacked tiles. We learned that the Algodones tile business has been severely impacted by a U.S. company that crossed the border into Algodones and began mass producing tiles.
U.S. A soccer game with the youth of the Algodones topped the day. They pretty much destroyed us because they are so good at that game! That evening, we went to a local Chinese restaurant and learned about the population of Chinese that live in Mexicali and this region of Mexico. When the U.S. was building the railroads, it was the Chinese who built them but were deported when it was completed. The Chinese then migrated to Mexico and became integrated into the culture of Mexicali. The food was interesting because it was a mixture of Chinese and Mexican.
Always on ASB, a large part of learning involves being part of a group. Sometimes this can be a challenge as it was this year. It is also a chance to grow and learn about ourselves. What I bring back from this experience is that borders are just walls that society thought clever to put up to separate difference countries. This is not natural and should not be the case. We are all part of one human race and we should embrace our similarities rather than focus on our differences. It brings back the questions of Why did we build this border in the first place? What benefits or harms come from it being there? How many people have been negatively affected by this border? What made us block out people who want the same lifestyle as we? I strongly encourage people to go on these trips. ASB opened my eyes and ears to the injustice that is being done to our brothers down the river. Experience new cultures and you will be more sensitive and sympathetic to the people around you.