ASU Alternative Spring Break in the US/Mexico Borderlands

Nathan Crites-Herren                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Paw Print

The Alternative Spring Break trip (ASB), held annually by The Newman Club, ventured to the borderlands of US and Mexico during the 2014 spring semester.   The group of ten students and two faculty advisors embarked for Mexicali, a sprawling Mexican border city that joins with Calexico in California’s southern San Bernardino Valley.
The ASB members partnered with Via International, a 501(c)3 service organization based in San Diego dedicated to building “paths to self-reliance for an interdependent world.”  Focusing on grassroots independent projects for economic and community health improvement, Via has an established track record of helping local communities get the tools they need.   As early as 1975 Via began to support local communities and community organizations to be self-sufficient.
Via believes that local participation and ownership of projects is the only way to secure self-reliance.  Setting up a strong connection with Los Niños, a local community organization in Mexicali, Via ensures that service is directed to the true needs of the community.
Los Niños works to create a viable future for the people of Mexicali. Focusing on microenterprise loans, local agriculture projects, migrant and immigrant support and elementary school funding, Los Niños is helping to plant the seeds for a diverse and local self-sufficient economy.  Mostly volunteer operated, the marked success of Los Niños has been the ability to ubiquitously integrate their initiatives with Via International.
After a two day drive and a short but strenuous four block walk to the US/Mexico border crossing, the twelve ASB members found themselves in Mexicali, Mexico.   The members were greeted by Los Niños organizers and set up in a humble dormitory building.  After introductions and a layout of the organization, ASB members prepared for the intensely engaging week to follow.
Members mixed and laid cement, crafted handmade adobe tiles, weeded a cactus farm, and observed local honey production along with visiting migrate and immigrant shelters.  The activities highlighted a larger theme of immigration to the US and its effects in Mexicali and beyond.  “Los Niños wants to stop this diaspora of Mexican migration to the US by creating sustainable economies, so families don’t have to be split apart,” commented Alonzo Sandoval, director of Los Niños.
As the ASB group worked throughout the week in direct service with the Mexicali community, it is important to note that the money raised and funded by student senate for the voyage was being put to use under the directive of the local community.  “It is great to see that the money raised by the Newman club to facilitate this experience is directly invested into the local community, ensuring further growth,” said Shirley Atencio, Newman Club advisor.
Because of the predominate machismo found in Mexico and other Latin countries, the work of Los Niños to bring women into leadership roles within the organization signifies important steps in creating a more egalitarian community in Mexicali.  These women are referred to as Promotoras and spearhead all of Los Niño’s projects.  “Many  women are locked up in their house while their husband works, being a Pormotora gets women out of the house giving them a sense of place in their community, and above all instilling a sense of pride and leadership,”  said Marta a Promotora in Mexicali for six years.
Promotoras help organize and manage microenterprise business projects from producing local honey, harvesting cactus, making roof tiles to beauty salons and corner stores.  All the projects are aimed to bring marginalized communities out of the long shadow of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), which has helped to choke local economies as foreign companies steadily streamed into the border regions of Mexico after 1994.
ASB members not only directly experienced the everyday workings of a cactus farm or a roof tile operation, but they also underwent intellectual and spiritual reflection resulting in a deeper understanding of what it means to engage in service and social justice action.  Members were also encouraged to recognize their own privilege as a way to transcend the common dichotomy between those who serve and those who are being served. is powered by WordPress µ | Spam prevention powered by Akismet