The Caravan “Migrant Viacrucis”

This week the notorious cargo train that carries migrants symbolically rerouted itself right into Mexico City’s center–and the national spotlight. Over a thousand hungry, exhausted (mostly) Hondurans in need of international aid (and with a list of human rights demands) arrived at Mexico’s political doorstep, and knocked hard. Then they kept moving. Because their needs weren’t going to be met if they weren’t met in that moment. The purpose of the caravan being not solely to visibilize their realities, but to survive. The Migrant Viacrucis Caravan’s stop in Mexico City was not just a demand for justice; it was part of a longer, need-driven journey for a better life. The message being at once political and humanitarian.

Venturing down to the march from Los Pinos late on Wednesday afternoon, Arturo and I didn’t really know what we were getting into. Later I realized that I hadn’t been ready for what we found. By the time we reached the march, most participants had stopped and were resting–looking weary. They hadn’t eaten since early that morning. The invisibility of this population which passes daily from Central America and across Mexico had never been made so visible in Mexico City, the center of Mexican government, international institutions and a general Mexican population who rarely have contact with Central American migrants in transit.

There at the march, Arturo and I met up with several Casa Refugiados volunteers, who made it clear that more help would be needed later to assist in the reception of this massive caravan at CAFEMIN, the largest (but not big enough) of the migrant shelters in Mexico City. So with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose, we headed back to the Casa to collect clothes and food donations and then went directly to the shelter.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we experienced next.

Arriving to CAFEMIN with a taxi full of donations, we piled out and got ready to help in any way possible. The caravan had arrived just before us, in need of food, water, medical attention, bathrooms, clothes/shoes and rest. This was a huge task for a shelter that is used to accommodating less than 50 migrants/refugees/asylum seekers (and receiving even less) at a time.

Stepping into CAFEMIN, this is what we saw.

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At this point, almost all of the migrants had been able to eat and rest. Next we volunteered ourselves in the clothing donations room, sorting clothes while an interminable line of migrants peered through the windows as they waited for a change of clothes and maybe socks if they were lucky. The people waiting to be let in were shut out, watching as donations dwindled and as time passed we had to rush people through to get everyone back on the buses on time. The men would not be sleeping at CAFEMIN, space and resources were too scarce. The Mexico City government would transport them to a gymnasium nearby for everyone to sleep. Later, a truck of mattress pads and blankets would arrive for the women and children who stayed behind. There were even children that appeared to be unaccompanied by any adult. Before closing for the night, everyone made a line and registered themselves in a roll-call type procedure. Below, the frenzy brought upon for a change of clothes.

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Every once in a while, a transcendent collision with humanity knocks us off our feet. We are left with a primordial sense of coexistence, codependence, with the billions of other human beings who inhabit this earth. Most often when this happens it occurs suddenly; in a rapid manifestation of kindness or appreciation, a lightning bolt of unexpected love or affection. Although these manifestations are available to us constantly, they tend to go unnoticed, and so when for whatever reason we are hit with the reality of our collective existence, it is felt all the more intensely.

In this case, it took the forced displacement of people, in the form of massive migration–to unite the many realities into one of great need, and great suffering. This transnational crisis forces us to bare witness to the vulnerability of others on this earth, and though it may be an impossible challenge, we have to attempt to process it.

 

This is the Best (Year) of My Life

It was brought to my attention recently that I might benefit from actively seeking ways to restore hope and positivity to my soul amidst the high volume realities of violence and trauma as experienced as part of my work and life in Mexico City.

On Friday, the team took a little rest from our work to go to the Ice Cream Festival of Tulyehualco for some fresh air and fun. It was precisely on this excursion to the Ice Cream Fair (and only a couple hours after a 7.2 earthquake shook our precious D.F.) that I realized how in love I am with Mexico City, my work and my community. All it takes is getting on a crappy pesero for an hour to a nondescript town center almost in the State of Mexico and a little cup of cactus flavored ice cream to put me under the spell of this majestic, live-sustaining capital. There, among friends, we could just enjoy the moment together.

Nico, taking a concentrated bite of amaranto-mushroom-chili pizza said it just right, “This is the best day of my life.” And when he said that, and I was surrounded by a brigade of my house and workmates (and hundreds of exotic ice cream flavors), I realized how much this year has changed the way I see and know myself, how much I have learned about Mexico, and how much passion I have to keep seeing myself become a more just person in the world. Ultimately, that’s what this year is about, changing me, proving what I’m capable of. So I’d take Nico’s thought and take it one step further. This has been and will be, the best year of my life.

A Case of Urban Delirium

On some days, the dramatic shifts in the urban landscape of Mexico City are enough to make you feel faint. Traveling back from Santa Fe last week, the visual experience of urban inequality across the southwestern edge of the city was startling. Walking home from near Tacubaya–just two metro stops over from where we got off the bus–a replay looped in my mind of the billions of micro-interactions happening all around me. Impossible-seeming displays of human perseverance are made mundane only by an endless stream of people in situations of extreme poverty. Among those pleading for money you witness the blind leading the blind on the metro, an overweight woman in a wheelchair rubbing a stick across corrugated plastic, a disfigured man in overalls asking for forgiveness. On the street, a sprinkling of men and women in orange jumpsuits sweep the dust-laden D.F. sidewalks, and with an absurd quantity of dirt all around I asked myself what world I have stepped into and out of…what kind of world we have created. All of a sudden all of it seemed like a frenetic, but all around blurry dream.

I had just finished reading “Down & Delirious in Mexico City,” which articulates some of the sensations implicated in living in a city with notorious levels of violence, corruption, and urban problems. “Everything is thrilling here because everything is out of whack. There is a sense of delirious rupture, everywhere” (Hernandez 237). And there is the out of whack-ness that one experiences as a visitor, which is entirely different when you start to understand the way things work here. Water shortages, political scandals, racial discrimination, extreme and violent levels of sexism, over-crowding, organized crime. The city has been termed as la DeFectuosa” (playing off D.F.), “the Defective” City by some, while still others argue that miraculously, “everything still manages to work here.” I would not dare to say that everything works here, especially as one strays further from the center to the north or the west, but there is perseverance here that defies all odds for survival in this monstruopolis.

Of all the topics in Daniel Hernandez’s book, the one that hit closest to home with recent events at the Casa and in the larger political context was the chapter on kidnapping and disappearances. Here in Mexico City, and Mexico as a whole, violence against women is appalling. The aggressively objectifying treatment of women in public, private and institutional settings shows how far there is to go to strive for gender equality. In the last couple of weeks, a report about a prostitution ring funded by the PRI party of Mexico City came out, sparking small-scale protests and demands for reform, but even if they convict the responsible parties, the oppression of women remains wholly entrenched in Mexican society on a much larger scale. This is not just an issue of cat-calls or groping on the metro. Small displays of machismo and misogyny are the condoned and uncensored forms of misogyny which cover a much more sinister reality more often made invisible. It is the same society which condones attitudes and micro-level acts of violence that hides the most brutal and inhumane realities of gender violence.  Kidnappings, murders, forced disappearances and trafficking of young girls occur daily in Mexico City, and much more often in the rest of Mexico.

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“Between January 1st, 2011, and February 13 of this year [2012], 1,872 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 disappeared in Mexico City, all with similar physical characteristics.” (Universal, March 7, 2012). That’s one girl every five hours that is disappeared in Mexico City alone. This is not counting the outlying State of Mexico, which has among the highest statistics of violence against women in the entire country. In the majority of these cases, human trafficking is implicated as the cause. Just this last weekend a young woman that was close to our partner organization Casa Refugiados, disappeared on her way to a job interview in the Center. They sent out this communication this week:

“CasaRefugiados asks for your solidarity in sharing this information and helping us to find our friend and co-worker Nayelli Drisdell Hurtado Muñoz. It is enraging that things like this continue to occur. Please help us to find her!” (with the following photo): nayelli

We are just talking about Mexico City here. The situation is deplorable, so much needs to change to make it a safe, just city for young women. On the up side, I am meeting so many incredible women working for gender equality in my human rights class. We have had guest lecturers on topics of feminism, and just yesterday we heard from a female lawyer who has been working on cases relating to gender violence and international human rights violations in cases of forced disappearance. The important part right now for us as a community is to educate and spread information about the severity of this issue, and provide support within our networks to improve our security and the security of the women we work with directly.

From the Inside Out, and Staying for a Long Time

I’ll have to rely on just words this time, because you’re being invited to experience the world of my introspection. If you need a visual, it’s hills are questions of identity, rivers, the future, and the sky, what it means to me to be living in Mexico City, especially through my current pair of cultural/social/ideological binoculars. Here I’m bringing to light new awareness about time, adaptation, cultural insecurities and transition.

In the last few weeks, I’ve jumped head/heart-first out of my comfort zone. Without the Casa as an international, bilingual safety net, I’m finding myself having to negotiate new social dynamics and figure out how to fit in, how to poise myself in this monstrous city where I am reminded daily that the only person I can rely upon is myself. It sounds crazy–haven’t I been in Mexico this whole time? Haven’t I been surviving, more than surviving, and even undermining this D.F. logic by forming part of a community? By thinking in terms of solidarity and networks and international understanding? And though it’s true, there have also been many occasions up until now in which I’ve felt like an outsider. Where the city is cruel, shouting to me as I pass by that I don’t belong. And this reflection extends into the collective spaces I have formed part of–though they are intentional and self-aware. These spaces think differently and they ask more of each individual. They are more vulnerable spaces–they demand that I share more of myself.  In these spaces the focus is the group–what do we offer to one another–to the group as a whole, is a vital process of our learning together. And still, there are struggles for each one of us to find our place among the group dynamic.

In this struggle, I’m referring to both the Human Rights Escuelita, the Mártires del ’68 Art School, and–behind these experiences– reflecting on a general moment in Mexico City where, when the time comes, I’ll be living on my own (have I mentioned that I’ve decided to tack on a few months to my time in Mexico post-Casa?) There’s no doubt these schools are radical spaces. The structure, ideology, and goals of each is completely different from previous spaces where I have been a student. At the same time, they are spaces where I’m being made hyper-aware of my identity…which has made me conscious of the way I present myself and engage with my classmates. (My psyche screams, “Who Am I??”) [Hold up, not trying to get existential here, but at the same time, isn't it a very valid question that each person is likely to ask oneself on any given day? By this question I refer mostly to two things: how do these experiences have a bearing on my life in the future (are they changing me, deeply?), and what does it mean that my identity right now is so integrally being shaped by spaces where– geographically, socially, linguistically–my knowledge is shaped from outside experiences...]

We had a meta-discussion the first session of the Escuelita about the difference between the individual and individuality (individuo versus individualidad). There emphasis being that individualidad can be used to create commonality, consensus, unity–without focusing on the individual being who is “different.” It’s the difference between focusing on “I” as a person, and the plurality of voices, experiences, values which constitute a group. This made me think about what it means to be an outsider in a group like that. Namely, that by looking at it in in those terms, I am no more an outsider than anyone else. No more so than I have more individuality than anyone else (not the case). This creates an internal conflict with the moments where I doubt my ability to really form a life here as a result of feeling like an outsider–sensing the difficulty of making lasting friendships, relationships, etc. Then I think about where that sense of difference comes from, and a lot of the difference is often imagined. Yes it’s in the language, ways of relating and also being perceived. But negotiating this is all about being able to discern ephemeral differences–language, cultural references, etc.– and those that are fixed, impermeable. In that way, there’s little that we can’t have in common, if we don’t already. While in the moment it might not always be easy, working on shrinking, changing, bending these “differences” brings me closer each time to thinking I’m building something here. And that gives me hope.

Part of this process requires discerning internal versus external modes of self-exclusion. It’s the difference between feeling like I stick out, and being told that I do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for thinking I could fit in here. And it’s funny, because when people call me out on being foreign I wish they wouldn’t, but when they don’t recognize the ways I am it can be frustrating, even uncomfortable. It’s a Catch 22. And ultimately, it’s pretty awesome being able to float back and forth across that perceived border. Many of us have decided (and this decision is a place of privilege) to camp out on it permanently, right?

Such are the challenges of living, working, studying, playing, learning, surviving, “fitting in” in places where I often feel evaluated, dismissed or objectified on the basis of my foreignness. I’m forever (or at least for a long time) doomed to be a language deadbeat. To embody otherness, as an object of envy or indifference or dislike. There’s weird fetishism, unwarranted judgment. Excessive trust, brutal distrust. Insecurities among all parties. Some nights I go to sleep thinking about what it would be like to feel I belong here. Other nights I think about how unimportant it is (even absurd) to feel like I do. And still others, lately on Saturday after school, I close my eyes with all the pieces of a mind-blowing day spinning in my head. A peace of mind settling over me that each day that I am taught to know the world from a new point of view, I leave behind a little bit of my pre-Mexico self and gain new attachments, affinities and reflections on what it means to have lived, for however short or long a time, in the belly of “the beast” that is Mexico City.

 

30 Weeks into My Post-Bac Year: A Photo Essay

One of the hardest questions to answer while I was back home in February was, “What is a typical day like for you?” This last week is a great example of how dynamic, unpredictable and formative each day really is while working at the Casa. Rotating between shifts in reception and long bike rides, cultural excursions, art classes and committee projects, long breakfast conversations with guests, volunteer dinners and team reflections. These photos don’t begin to capture all of what happened, but they capture, in one way or another, the transcendence of my experience working in the Casa. I’m on a high right now, working on new projects daily and pushing myself hard, trying to find time to do everything .. (Have I mentioned how BIG Mexico City is? How many people there are? How many things to do?)

So here are some photos to represent a new-found balance and independence in my last few weeks in Mexico City.

Jacaranda trees in full bloom.

Here, in the Condesa neighborhood, in a park very close to where I have been researching at Casa Refugio, the jacaranda trees are in full bloom.

Bertha's Brithday Celebration!

After the Quaker Meeting for Workship, we gather around to sing Las Mañanitas (Happy Birthday) to Bertha, one of the full-time volunteers. (Can you tell how very excited she was?)

Film screening at the Casita last Sunday.

An event at the Casita in Parque Ramón López Velarde. Migrantes LGBT screened “The Bubble,” an Israeli film about two men–one Israeli and the other Palestinian–who fall in love.

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I worked on some writing, research, and as per usual, making some Casa posters for upcoming events. Our next two Cinemoneda film screenings will focus on migration through the lens of economic justice.

Cruisin' in the Nico-mobile: Helping out old friends.

Nico and I hauled some mattresses and futons over to the house of an Irani family. Four years ago they were guests through the Casa’s Solidarity Lodging program, and still they face hardship each day and are unsure about their future in Mexico. When they recently had to move to a new apartment without any furniture, they found themselves having to sleep on the floor. With three kids, it was been extremely difficult to survive, but regardless they have still managed to make it their duty to supply numerous other Irani refugees with support in finding housing, jobs and social networks.

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At my printmaking class I tested my latest linoleum print. It’s of Antonia Mondragón of the Flor de Mazahua women’s cooperative.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Shifting Gears: Syrian Poetry and the Escuelita

The moment to spread my academic wings and soar into the dawn of CPGC-sponsored research in Mexico has finally arrived. With an academic project thrown into the mix of reception and committee work, extracurriculars and events, I’ve been searching for new strategies to balance my time, allot my energy, and sustain the inspiration that comes with taking on new, exciting projects.

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, my research will be focused on literature of exiled writers in Mexico. The base of my materials and operations: Casa Refugio. It’s an organization that was founded by Salmon Rushdie to house and publish exiled writers. It publishes a quarterly magazine called Líneas de Fuga,  as well as various works of writers housed through its year-long artist-in-residency program. The writer I became interested in working with is a Syrian poet by the name of Mohamad Alaedin Moula, who edited the latest edition of Líneas de fuga featuring Modern Syrian Poetry, and has published several collections of poetry in Mexico.

The main research question I will seek to answer by studying Moula’s work and other contemporary exiled writers in Mexico is, what is it like to be exiled in Mexico? What realities, freedoms are made possible to these writers here? I’m also interested in what these writers have to say about the reality of cultural and social integration in Mexico, as well as how Mexico is perceived as a place conducive to literary freedom, and as a place of refuge for exiled writers and asylum seekers alike. So far in what I’ve read of Mohamad Moula, his focus has been external, inviting readers to gaze outward at Syria with a profound sense of nostalgia and loss for his home country. Little mention is made of Mexico, though that perspective is what most interests me. Given that Mexican society and economy can be an extremely inhospitable and closed place, what does the outward gaze of the exiled writer have to say about Mexico and home.

Mohamad Moula has also been active in the work of Casa Refugiados, teaching Arabic classes and becoming active in cultural events of the community. I hope to interview him in the next couple of weeks in order to understand his poetry better and have more direct answers to the questions I’m interested in.

And tomorrow the Escuela de Derechos Humanos starts! This group of 45 students, activists, and workers in other social-justice related fields will come together every Saturday to learn about human rights topics in Mexico. Some of the sessions of the school include rights related to natural resources, non-discrimination, gender, sexual and reproductive issues, indigenous and migrant communities, among many others.

The eight-month course will culminate in a project related to a human rights issue of our choosing. The reality is that this space will offer so many possibilities for new collectives, projects, and human-rights related groups to form. I found out just last week that a group we collaborate with, COAMI (Colectivo de Apoyo para Personas Migrantes), is a collective formed from students of the 10th generation of the Escuela DH.

It’s a beautiful Spring day outside (and my computer is dying), so I need to get out of the dim Volunteer Office and enjoy a day off!

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Check out the beautiful flowers blossoming in our patio! (Not to make all you all still knee-deep in winter envious.)

Testimonies and Teamwork

The last two weeks has been defined by collaboration on all levels. Strengthening relationships with our partner organizations, finding ways to support each other to put on successful events and put our mission for peace and social action into practice. Examples of this transcendent work come in many sizes, colors, and sometimes even tastes. During the field studies, the Casa began to develop a relationship with two former guests from the migrant shelter Tochan to provide meals for students and Tochan guests to have time to spend together not under the premise of learning about migration, but of convivencia and nothing more. This has been a tremendous experience for us as the dimension of purpose and Quaker testimonies are put into practice twofold: supporting the catering business of migrants in need of work and setting the stage for genuine relationships and interactions focusing on equality instead of inequality, sameness instead of difference. We have tried to open even more spaces to support this type of business, such as the annual Casa de los Amigos asamblea, where important decisions about budgeting and programming for the year are made by the Casa’s board. As small as it may seem, having Marvin and his team provide the lunch was a moment of very intentional solidarity. They showed they national pride too by wearing aprons designed from the Guatemalan and Honduran flags.

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More collaboration has also been going on between Casa de los Amigos and Casa Refugiados, mostly in preparation for International Women’s Day. Together myself and Mara helped plan for two events, one a panel discussion where migrant and refugee women shared their testimonies of life in Mexico City. They touched on difficult topics of family separation and reunification, institutional and workplace discrimination, and general ignorance on the part of Mexican society about refugees and migrants. Of the three women, one was from El Salvador and had fled the Civil War in the 80s, already well adjusted to life in Mexico, the second to give her testimony was a Venezuelan refugee who had come to Mexico City roughly a year ago. The third, with her 15 month old in her arms, shared her story of reunification from Honduras to Mexico to be with her husband (a Colombian refugee). If anything is for certain, their stories are complex, bound up in personal traumas and an uncertain futures. Still, to give that space to their testimonies was powerful, especially in recognition of so many women whose stories go unheard. Many of the migrant and refugee women in our network have lost children, or are single mothers, or have been separated from their partners or families. The event was a huge success, with progressive press such as Subversiones and Proceso present, and was an example of the types of resources that our network can provide. Casa de los Amigos put coffee service and offered its space (and I designed the poster), Casa Refugiados provided logistic support and press releases, Tochan’s coordinator Gabriela Hernandez, financial support by Sin Fronteras and attendance by organizations such as COAMI, ACNUR, and others.

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Día de la mujer

And that’s just the beginning! There’s another event on March 8th (actually International Women’s Day), for which we planned a day of workshops, activities and convivencia at Cafemín. We look forward to inviting both men and women to participate in the events of the day, which will celebrate and contribute to dialogue about the importance of International Women’s Day, and using the space as an opportunity to focus on the meaning of female identity to the women in the refugee and migrant community. Men will be invited to participate in a separate workshop, focused on masculinity in its relationship to the gender binary. We hope to see a lot of people there!

Another exciting piece of news is that I have been accepted into a program at UNAM’s University Culture Center’s “Youth Promotors of Human Rights School” through their Center for Human Rights Studies. I have two friends that will be in the school with me, which will take place at UNAM every Saturday from March 15th until the end of October. Couldn’t be more excited for the doors and windows and ceilings this opportunity is going to open for me!

In between all of this activity I’ve re-initiated a series of linoleum prints, chosen to focus my Haverford research topic on poetry written by Syrian writers in Mexico City on the topic of exile using publications of Casa Refugio’s magazine Lineas de Fuga, attended a paper maché workshop, established a relationship with a local bike shop interested in employing migrant youth, made a big supper of beet/black bean vegetarian burgers and dog-sat a half pitbull half rhoadesian ridgeback pup of MCC friends.

 

More of Everything

As the pace around the Casa slowed down in February it sped up too. Not exactly sure how we’re already entering into March this week. There are a several on-going projects collaboration and commitments in the Casa, along with unique challenges in the guest-house and as always a search for finding balance as all of the outward flow of my work finds its way flowing back.

Every day is sunny and almost the same. I think it’s the best February I’ve ever had. A couple of weeks ago the Casa had a Fun Day to take advantage and relax–we got old Casa volunteers/friends to cover the reception and spent the day basking in nature at Parque los Dinamos. It was a short but necessary respite from all that has been going on in the house.

Of course the next day everything ramped back into gear, with a lot of time being dedicated to planning for programs, projects, budgeting, etc. going into the next year at the Casa. It’s awesome being part of an organization that is so horizontal because even the volunteers have a say in evaluating and directing the future of its work and focus. I’ve also been working on the February edition of Lo Que Pasa (scheduled to be sent out tomorrow), been exploring new corners and facets of this never-ending city, and continuing to expand upon the base of community and family that I’ve been building for the last six months.

As for other upcoming events and activities, we have Cinemoneda this week, our monthly film series with economic justice-related themes, we are planning a workshop and celebration for International Women’s Day with Casa Refugiados, Cafemín and other partnering organizations. I was in charge of making posters for all of these events, which was a positive creative outlet for me to invest in while also contributing something tangibly valuable to the work we are doing.

I have also just initiated my academic research aspect of the Fellowship. I found a non-profit called Casa Refugio which houses and publishes international writers being persecuted in their home countries. I am going to start acquiring and reading the literary works of these writers and thinking about how Mexico is represented through the eyes of those seeking asylum. Can’t wait to see where this project leads!

January in Retrospect

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.)

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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.

All You Have to Do is Ask

One of my assignments this week for the Casa’s Migration Committee was to make a poster advertising about the need for a truck to transport furniture donated to migrants.

The text that accompanied the poster on Facebook went like this:

“Ironía: Dos amigos migrantes recibieron un colchón cada uno y algunos otros muebles, pero… ¡No tienen cómo llevarlos a sus casas!

¿Tienes una camioneta o conoces alguien con una? ¡Colabora con nosotr*s! ¡Llámanos! 5705-0521.

Irony: Two migrant friends each received a donated mattress and other furniture, but.. they don’t have any way to get them to their homes!

Do you have a truck or do you know anyone with one? Collaborate with us! Reach us at 5707-0521. ”

Not five minutes later, reception gets a call from a friend of the Casa has a truck they’d be willing to use to help us, as long as the Casa could reimburse the use of gas.

Incredible! This is huge! All you have to do is ask. (And social media once again proves to be a significant tool for our organization.)