Here is the first installment in the “A Week on the Border” series. This happens to be a reflection I wrote for theology class.
Over February break I traveled to San Diego and Tecate, Mexico as part of the Global Encounter program. As the week progressed, I gained knowledge and perspectives on some of the most important issues of today. When I first stepped off the plane into the beautiful and majestic San Diego airport, I didn’t know what to expect. I chose the trip for a few reasons: to learn about immigration firsthand, to help those in need, to take a break from the frigid New England weather, and to enjoy a week with my fellow classmates. Not only were these hopes and expectations met, they were completely surpassed.
Over the course of the trip, I began to put the puzzle pieces together regarding the issue of immigration and its effects, both tangible and intangible. Even on both sides of the border there were multiple different perspectives and views of the issues. Every group was upset with certain injustices on the justice triangle. While the distinction regarding what is just for the topic of immigration can vary based on the lens someone views it, it became evident to me that the border has breaks and shortcomings on the justice triangle from the human perspective. Whether American or Mexican, legal or illegal, the issues on the border are a human problem. We cannot point fingers across the border or blame the government, because that only contributes to the problem. Many of these shortcomings are widespread but individually focused, meaning that a change of heart, one person at a time, can go a long way.
For the most part, cooperative justice is no shortcoming south of the border. Upon my arrival in Mexico, the bus driver, Jorge, greeted the group with a brilliantly joyful personality, upbeat attitude, and friendly smile. While this simple gesture is often overlooked, it was a clear example of cooperative justice. Jorge made me feel welcome, optimistic, and excited for my time in Mexico. I returned the justice by speaking to him a little bit (in Spanish) during our bus ride from the border town of Tecate through the mountains to the ranch where the group would stay.
Once I got to the ranch and unloaded my bags into the living space that we would later dub “the Frat House”, I walked up to a house on the hill for dinner. I exchanged a few greetings with the women of the house in Spanish, and proceeded to the dinner table with my classmates. A few minutes later, the women brought out a full course meal of tamales wrapped in cornhusks, a meal that requires hours of preparation. Again, this small gesture (in the large scheme of things) meant much more than my personal enjoyment of the meal; it made me feel welcome, just like Jorge did. In a foreign country with the cartel’s presence lingering in the air, I admit I felt a bit unsafe and uneasy at first. But the simple welcoming gestures from Jorge and the women hosting us just hours after crossing the border eased my stomach (satisfied it too with those tamales) and gave me a hopeful attitude for the rest of the week.
During the rest of the week, I tried my best to embody the cooperative justice that was shown to me in the first few hours of my arrival. A few days later, we visited a high school to meet the students there in order to talk to them and learn about what it’s like to be a high school student in Mexico. After the small talk exchanges talking about working, studying, homework, and sports, the translator dove straight into the topic that was on all of our minds: immigration. The first Mexican student to comment spoke at length about patriotism in Mexico. He basically said that Mexicans want the best for their country just as Americans want the best for theirs.
As the discussion progressed into the realities of the border, and being asked our position on the President’s policies, we began to realize that we have more similarities than differences. I spoke at length to the class as a whole about what we could do as young students to ease some of the social problems attributed with immigration. I said that we need to realize that the strongest thing that binds us together is that we are all humans. No matter what race we are, what culture we live in, what nationality we are, and what language we speak, we are all God’s children. While I didn’t realize it at the time, my impromptu speech in a small classroom in the middle of a Mexican mountain range was a small example of contributive justice. I wasn’t doing any physical service in that moment, I wasn’t writing policy to solve a problem, I wasn’t addressing an entire country on an issue, but I was doing my best to spread a message of love and solidarity to some people who needed to hear it most.
After watching the media and receiving mixed views of how Americans viewed them, I personally believe that standing up in front of them and asserting to these students that we don’t hate them or their country was crucial for the class and larger society as a whole. They can take their experience meeting Americans and spread the message we brought. One classmate said it best when he stated, “this may be the only time they have a personal encounter and discussion with Americans, and I think we left the right impression on them.” As they spread their message of what the Americans said to them, my classmates and I (as I’m doing right now) can spread the feelings of love, hospitality, and comfort we received in Mexico. And thanks to the distributive justice that Xaverian gave me for being able to be a participant on such a life changing and eye opening trip, I can now say that I know more by knowing that I know less. The trip revealed all of the unique issues and perspectives of the border region, and that it will take a multilateral effort to quell some of the issues and tensions.
Above all, my week on the border demonstrated that even when the justice triangle is broken on a large scale, just a simple smile can go a long way.