Entering a Borderland: A Student’s Perspective on a Peacebuilding Mission

Monday, November 30, 2015TOPICS: US-Mexico Border

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Kaitlin Meyer is currently a senior at the University of San Diego. Majoring in Political Science with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies, Meyer has been an active member of the USD community through the Honors Program, Phi Beta Kappa, USD Habitat for Humanity, as well as interning with both the Women Peacemakers Program and the Trans-Border Institute. The following reflection is Meyer’s reaction to her November 6th-7th trip to Mexicali as a part of Dr. Everard Meade’s peacebuilding seminars in Mexico.

By the time we made it to the border, the sun was going down and dusk was setting in. We were surrounded by the open and flat landscape, yet off in the distance, I could see the steep mountainous rock formations.

We had traveled for two hours along the sand-covered road, with the landscape changing dramatically; nothing like the coastal city we had just left. I felt like I was days, not hours, from the city I call home.

Along the side of the road, tire tracks were visible in the sand, no doubt left by U.S. Border Patrol trucks, much like the one we had seen some thirty miles outside of Calexico, Calif. The vehicle had appeared out of nowhere, blending into the surrounding sand-covered landscape – an eerie and constant reminder that we were entering a borderland.

Crossing the Border

We left the University of San Diego around 1 p.m. and crossed into Mexico a little before 4 p.m. The purpose, to facilitate a peacebuilding seminar in Mexicali organized by Dr. Everard Meade, Director of USD’s Trans-Border Institute (TBI). As a research intern for Dr. Meade, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the seminar, and, as a political science major, I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of community activism within social movements, the creation of borderlands between two countries, and the spread of cultural identity across manufactured boundaries. Therefore, the act of crossing the border was very thought provoking.

As a seasoned traveler, I was prepared to present my passport and go through the usual procedures required when entering a different country. However, actually crossing the border was much simpler than I’d expected. After my luggage was screened, I passed through a set of revolving metal doors and was surprised to already see uniformed Mexican guards. It had taken less than five minutes to cross into a completely different country.

A Peacebuilding Mission

We arrived at the Instituto de la Judicatura, the training branch of the Baja judiciary, and began by preparing for the afternoon presentation and evening discussion. This seminar, as the second of three conducted in Mexicali, focused on how to conceptualize citizenship and build social movements to fight corruption.

Focused on assisting local activists and leaders, the interactive seminar was centered on two main ideas: the idea of citizenship and participation in the community and the importance of individual involvement in attaining sustainable peace and justice. To address the main ideas, conference attendees participated in a survey and discussion about citizenship and societal corruption by ranking over 20 social and government organizations. At the end of the seminar, each participant was tasked with bringing the survey to their community members in the hopes that the data will provide insight into their perception of corruption in Mexicali.

A Meaningful Seminar

For a USD senior, this experience was unique. I have taken advantage of the many classes, organizations, and internships on campus that promote social justice and the USD Changemaker spirit. However, this opportunity was completely different. I was inspired seeing the work that TBI is conducting and pushed outside my comfort zone, especially in terms of practicing my Spanish. I was able to be a part of something new and revolutionary and felt extremely proud of the work my university was doing in order to strengthen communities and individuals worldwide.

With the successful conclusion of the seminar, we began the trip back across the border. As we were driving to the border checkpoint, the sun was starting to set. The road we traveled on was bordered on one side by the fence. Made up of many metal layers, if we had been any closer to the fence, the layers would have distorted my view of the California desert, just a few yards away.

It was then that I began to reflect on the two days I had spent in Mexico and realized how impactful the experience had been. Still in awe of the opportunity I was given, I was amazed to think that I had crossed the border, clearly not knowing what to expect, and was now re-crossing it a day-and-a-half later.

I was physically exhausted, yet mentally and emotionally inspired. I had witnessed activism and peacebuilding firsthand. Realizing how tangible the border actually was, I found myself thinking about interconnectedness. The very fact that we had crossed the border and then re-crossed it later the next day showed me that peacebuilding has no defined edges. Peacebuilding breaks down the tangible barriers between communities, allowing for an interconnectedness that defies the confines of any physical construction. Peace knows no borders.

 

— Kaitlin Meyer '16

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