As I signed up for the service immersion trip to Tijuana, I didn’t really know what to expect. I don’t think that you really know until you are there. Our group of 32 people left USD on Friday, the first day of spring break. We were headed to La Morita, a community in Tijuana that is marked by poverty but an even stronger faith and fraternity. Entering TJ you are immediately struck by the stark differences between it and San Diego. It’s as if the border is a vortex that takes you into another world but really it is less than 20 miles away. The people follow a different pace of life, the cars dance to a different rhythm, and even the sky looks a different shade of blue.
As we arrived at the site that we would call home for the next six days we were all excited to start living by the four principles of the Tijuana Spring Breakthrough (TJSB): simplicity, spirituality, social justice, and solidarity. We had one job for our spring break and that was to be present. To listen to the stories that people shared with us and share in their joy, sadness, and hope. Who knew that we would gain a lot more than we had expected.
Throughout the six days we saw a lot. The hardest day for me was Monday, the third day of our trip. That day we started off with a trip to a maquiladora. We went to Sanyo, a factory that makes televisions for Wal-Mart. They gave us a tour of the assembly line where workers make more than a thousand televisions a day. To assemble one television takes just seconds. The young men and women did the same task over and over again the whole day. Although the working conditions were not as bad as they could be, it was still hard to see that they were forced to do menial work. It was frustrating because I wanted to do something to help them but I couldn’t.
Afterwards we went to Friendship Park to talk about what we had seen and how we were feeling. We had been presented with a lot in those few hours that we were there and it was nice to let my feelings of frustration, confusion, and helplessness out. It was comforting to know that others shared these feelings as well.
The next part of our day was going to the border fence. It was the first one that was built separating Tijuana from the U.S. As I walked along the fence it was hard to grasp that something man made could separate families, cause so much suffering, and be a marker of division between two countries. On the wall there were crosses in remembrance of migrants who had attempted to cross the desert to get to the U.S. but had died along the way. As I read their name, age, and hometown I thought these aren’t illegal aliens. They are human beings, our brothers and sisters. They were willing to risk their lives to get across to the U.S, the land of opportunity and freedom. Why though? Why did Almacen Catalan Nava, 21 years old from Guanajuato, want to cross the desert to reach the U.S.?
These thoughts were running through my mind as we arrived at Casa del Migrante. Casa del Migrante offers food and shelter for 12 days to migrants who have been recently deported or are planning to cross the border illegally. As we had dinner with the migrants, the most delicious besides my mom’s cooking, I talked to Gerardo and Onofre. I asked them why they had wanted to go to the United States. Gerardo’s answer was money. He was an educated man, he had gone to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and received a degree in psychology. But the pay was still better in the U.S, even if it was just as a fry cook in a restaurant.
Onofre’s answer was his sons. He had three sons in Mexico City, the oldest being 16. He talked very highly of his son, telling me that he was very intelligent and hard working. He wanted to go to the university and become a translator. The only problem was money. If he stayed in Mexico, he wouldn’t be able to pay for his son’s education. So, he migrated back and forth from the U.S. to Mexico. He would work for most of the year in Carlsbad, Calif., as a gardener, living in a canyon with only the bare necessities. All of his money was sent back home to his sons and his wife in Mexico. He is a great dad, putting his life on the line every time he crosses illegally so that he can give his son a chance to live his dream. Gerardo and Onofre aren’t criminals, they are just looking for a better life. What stands between them and this is a wall.
While in Tijuana we talked to a lot of people. We went to Casa las Memorias, a home for people with HIV/AIDS, and played soccer, Jenga, and had fun with the residents. All of them were very outgoing and willing to welcome us into their home. I learned that language is not a barrier. There were some students who couldn’t speak Spanish, but they still forged strong bonds with our friends through smiles, hand gestures, and broken Spanish. I think that we all gained more from our friends in Tijuana than we gave to them. I developed a stronger faith, a deeper appreciation for relationships, my family, and friends. In Tijuana I saw God everywhere regardless of the poverty, the challenges, and injustices. I felt real compassion for the first time as well as solidarity. I had to realize that service didn’t mean to fix. Service is being with. Listening and being in solidarity is enough.
I also gained a new community. I now consider those 31 people that joined me on this journey my friends. We will always share TJSB. The memories of playing countless games of mafia, trekking up that steep hill that seemed impossible to climb and even more to get down from, sleeping in the same room, waking up to Shakira’s song “Estoy aqui” at 7 a.m., eating tacos, painting the exterior of Casa del Migrante, and living in simplicity with each other.
– Denise Ambriz ‘14