Last week, Philanthropiece’s Youth Global Leaders wrapped up their Insight Trip through the Southwestern US, a journey providing them with incredible immersive experiences to explore social and environmental issues. Along the way they met with inspiring changemakers and continue to reflect on their role in creating positive social change in themselves and their communities. This is their final installment from the road!
We are reporting from El Paso, TX, after six very full days. Since arriving here last Friday morning, each day has contained back-to-back workshops, reflections, activities, and yummy meals. We are staying at Casa Vides, a shelter that is part of the Annunciation House. Annunciation House is a shelter on the border for migrants and refugees. We are participating in a program called the “Border Awareness Experience” (BAE). From the very first day of the BAE, this experience has expanded our horizons and opened our minds to immigration issues. Most of us arrived with inaccurate mental images of the physical border, which were shaped by our parents, schools, and media. However, seeing the border in actuality was jarring in itself. We walked up to the border – a chain link fence – and looked across into Juarez, Mexico. It was shocking after hearing all the sensationalized stories about the billions of dollars being dumped into Homeland Security and Border Control. Standing on US soil, we were reaching through the fence touching fingers with children in Mexico. Although we were face to face, we were standing in separate worlds.
This experience at the fence was on the first day of being in El Paso, and from this moment on we began to open our minds, to think deeply and critically, and most importantly – we began to question. We began to ask the hard and ugly questions, the hard to answer, and the hard to bear questions. What boundaries exist in our own lives, both physical and emotional? Why do we value one human’s blood and labor more than another’s? Are we consciously oppressive, or are we ignorant?
After this, we dove into the BAE, meeting guests at Casa Vides and Annunciation House. We started practicing our Spanish, engaging in conversations with guests, and discussing complex concepts with one another. We met with community members and they spoke of their passions and contributions to the world. We met Carlos who runs the Border Farmworker Center. We met Loraine who runs Mujer Obrera/Cafe Mayapan, a collective which advocates for labor rights of local women. We also met Shalini from Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services who gave us an informative presentation about the legal process of immigration and the insane restrictions on obtaining a visa and earning citizenship. We also engaged in a presentation from the US Border Patrol, which provided us with a different view of immigration and the militarization of the border. In addition we met with Ruben Garcia, the founder of the Annunciation House. His talk pushed us to question our own privilege and role in the unjust immigration system, which was uncomfortable at first, but ultimately sparked a fire of commitment in all of us.
We greatly appreciate the wisdom and stories shared with us from everyone we’ve met here in El Paso. We are here to bear witness to this borderland and to feel what it’s like to live in this community. We have had the privilege of seeing new perspectives, some which are often underrepresented in regard to our economic, political, and legal systems. Here’s what some of the YGLers have to say about the BAE:
What has been the most influential part of the Border Awareness Experience?
“A conversation that I really valued was our meeting with Ruben from Annunciation House. He gave us a very powerful talk on our responsibilities and the true meaning of what it is to bear witness.”
“The idea of collectivism that a lot people here have spoken about really impacted the way I think about myself as an individual in a community.”
“I had a strong emotional reaction hearing a guest and friend at Annunciation House’s story of his journey from Honduras to El Paso, TX. That moment allowed me to transition from a place of simple intellectual understanding to a place of emotional connection.”
“The most striking experience I’ve had during our time in El Paso was on the first day of our time here when we quite literally walked up to the border fence. Experiencing the close proximity of the cultures of Mexico and the US, and at the same time, the overwhelming division of the two, was startling. We had the opportunity to interact with young children who had been playing across the fence, and though it was heartwarming to connect with them about sports, family and friends, it was heartbreaking to experience the physical division between us, caused by an expansive metal boundary.”