January was a blur and then came February. Now with some reflective distance, January is starting to not seem so fuzzy. There are many moments that stick out highly in focus, and provide a heightened sense of the big picture of the Casa’s work–what we do and why we do it. At a few weeks distance from the two Field Studies–one with Redlands University and the other with Haverford College–a few reflections give me perspective on what made those two weeks transcendent.
First was the learning we did together. Although our job as volunteers and staff of the Casa was to guide and engage the learning of the students, what we found continuously over the course of the two weeks was how much our job was also to absorb and reflect and challenge our own knowledge. Whether it was practicing interpretation or visiting organizations that are not part of our day-to-day work at the Casa, my mind was taken along the same intellectual, emotional and ideological roller coaster as all the students and group leaders seemed to be on.
One of the best examples of the new eyes this experience gave me was through the visit to Tochan with the Migration Field Study. Prior to this visit, I had been to Tochan only twice before, once in my first week at the Casa, and again with a CEMAL group in October. As a migrant shelter which is currently over-capacity with new guests, I knew that this would be a particularly important part of the Field Study, (and the reason I love visiting Tochan so much) as we would have the chance to listen to the testimonies of some of the migrants there, mostly Central American, and to ask them questions. The opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of trauma and violence, loneliness and heartbreak on the migrant trail has consistently been one of the most invigorating experiences of my time in Mexico. The human element of the migratory phenomenon never ceases to awaken my mind and my heart to what is happening in North and Central America. Sitting in a room with a spectrum of Central American nationalities, ages, and life experiences represented really hit home the idea of how widespread and devastating persecution and violence is for these fleeing Central American asylum seekers. There at Tochan, on that particular day, I sat there realizing that before my very eyes I was witnessing (on a small scale) an unprecedented diaspora of fleeing Central Americans finding themselves in Mexico tired and with their hands empty.
Each of my visits to Tochan has been so different depending on who is there on a given day, which impacts what perspectives are shared and represented. Right now, in Mexico City, a 17-year-old Honduran boy paints flower pots to relieve some of the anxiety and pain of being forced to leave his life and his home. Others sit in boredom all day, waiting for papers that might never come. Although I thought I had prepared myself for the intensity of the stories to come, it’s impossible to step into a migrant shelter in Mexico and be prepared for the realities and experiences that people have lived.
But, because of the spirit and animo of all those participating in our visit, after an hour or so of brutally emotional testimonies (which I helped to interpret), we got to relieve some of the residual heavy air in a game of street soccer. The troubles of the Tochan residents weren’t abated, but we did get some time to run and laugh and play all together to rid ourselves of some of the numbness of sharing and listening. (Below: Tocan/Haverford Field Study gather for a photo-op after the soccer game.)
Another lesson was looking at the “big picture” in Mexico. With the Redlands Field Study, the week with the Casa was more a general introduction to Mexico than an opportunity to study one particular topic. We covered many basis, with Introductions to Mexican History and Politics, visits to Museums and touristic sites, and the opportunity to present the work of many of our partner organizations here in Mexico. One of my favorite parts of this week was the chance to meet the folks over at Barrio Activo, a community and cultural center in a neighborhood in Northern Mexico City plagued with youth delinquency, drug use, domestic violence and poverty. We also visited an urban garden, heard from Antonia, one of the founders of the Flor de Mazahua cooperative whose hand-embroidered textiles we sell in the Casa. As many of the Redlands students were traveling outside of the country for the first time one their own, the eagerness to absorb these experience was contagious.
As power struggles in Michoacán were making big headlines at the same time as these two Field Studies (see two blogs posts prior), and the student’s constant questions forced me to become aware of how comfortable I am with how much I know but how much I have yet to know about Mexican current events, politics, and society. By dedicating the first month of the year to education, with all of our human resources launched into full gear, the Casa’s mission surged with a very concrete model of outreach and action, and gave each of us volunteers the chance to apply ourselves fully to our passion for working toward social justice in Mexico.
We were definitely sorry to have to say goodbye to our new friends, but now we have the chance to think once again about different ways the Casa can put its mission into action, to continue to bridge communities and issues and look for ways to grow, both as individuals and as an organization.