Not Just Numbers
September 1, 2014
Everyday Peacemaking, Exposure Phase, Immigration, Learning Lab, Participant Reflections, Uncategorized
Oh man. I’ve been looking for an adjective to describe our mission trip, and I honestly don’t think there is one word to capture everything that happened. So I might as well launch into the stories, and you tell me if I did it justice. Before I begin, I would like to say thanks to the folks from The Global Immersion Project, to Shaun and Maria, to Alejandra, Priscilla and Melissa, to Oscar, Uriel, Gilberto, Enrique, Agent Smoak, our hosts at YWAM and St. David’s Episcopal, and lastly to all the migrants we had the opportunity to meet. Ok, here we go.
Our first full day was Sunday, and we met up with The Global Immersion Project team (abbreviated as TGIP from here on out). The team consisted of Jon and Jer, the leaders, and also including Todd, David, Bec, and Christiana. Their core principles are to See, Immerse, Contend and Restore. I remember a common pre-trip question our group had was “What is a peacemaker?” These four principles answered the question by outlining tangible ways to achieve peace. And we got a tangible experience of “Seeing” soon after meeting the TGIP team. We first headed across the bridge to Coronado Beach and an adjacent park, enjoying one of the nicest settings in the city. But then we crossed back across the bridge and to a park located underneath the beginning of the bridge. This place is called Chicano Park, and it is filled with murals on the underside of the bridge depicting various parts of the Hispanic culture of the surrounding neighborhood. It was beautiful, and yet we had driven over the top of it a mere hours before without knowing of its existence. From this point on, it became a habit to notice the broken things in the world around us.
We barely had had time to try and wrap our heads around the introduction when Monday came around, and it was time to go to Mexico. It was time to Immerse. Instead of driving across the border, we got out of the comfort of the vans and walked across the border. Although it was jarring walking past a couple gun-toting soldiers, all we had to do was walk through a room and we were in Mexico. No passport check or questions asked. As you exit the room, you immediately see, and then walk through an enormous line of people trying to cross to the United States. Continuing on, you walk up onto a bridge that crosses a concrete channel into downtown Tijuana. We met up with Alejandra, Melissa and Priscilla, three women from Tijuana who introduced us to what we were seeing. Looking down into the channel, you can see at least 20 or 30 people inside. As the women informed us, they are living there, having been recently deported. It is easy to look right past something like this, but becoming informed about the situation and actively looking for the problems is the first step towards peacemaking.
Our group had the opportunity to meet a bunch of incredible people on our trip. Their stories all stay with me, but the one that influenced me the most was that of Oscar. His mission began with trying to “put the C in YMCA,” much to the chagrin of the higher-ups. In 1991, the YMCA of Mexico sent him to Tijuana so that he would be as far away as possible. Unable to originally start his own branch, Oscar set up his home as a refuge for migrant children. Over the past 23 years, Casas de YMCA – which Oscar helped start – has provided for over 50,000 kids, and yet, the story of the first one is the most inspirational to me. Soon after he arrived in Tijuana, Oscar heard about a boy named Martín, who was living and working in the red light district. Before even finding the boy, Oscar set up ramps in his home to accommodate him, because Martín was-and still is-in a wheelchair. How he ended up in a chair is a sobering story.
In border towns like Tijuana, getting across the wall is extremely difficult. Obviously, having the guards distracted makes the task a lot easier. So, the coyotes seek out boys like Martín and offer them 50 bucks to distract the guards. And this method worked. Then US government decided that they weren’t going to tolerate this anymore, and set up snipers on the wall. So 16 year old Martín ran out to distract the guards and was shot in the back. He was left paralyzed from the waist down, and all that the US government did was treat him at a hospital, and then drop him off in his chair in downtown Tijuana.
In my mind before I left on the trip, immigrants were just numbers to me, barely in the back of mind. I was hardly concerned about their plight, but now I am irrevocably hyper-aware of migrants. I say migrant because that is what they are, people trying to reach another placer in search of a better life. No matter what your opinion is, you cannot deny that Martín is in a wheelchair because of our government. His story has taken up a permanent place in my mind, so that I will never again be oblivious to reality.
I realize that not everyone can help migrants, and that is okay. Simply having more people understand the reality is already a huge step. People are already helping them, and if even one person who reads this or talks to anyone who went on the trip decides to help, then that is awesome. But remember this lesson: the best help one can give may not look like anything at all, and it might not seem like help to the “helper.” Simple human actions like having a conversation or playing a little pickup soccer may seem like nothing, but this trip has taught me that they are everything. There are plenty of marginalized people in every corner of this country and in this world. Learn to look for them and try to walk with them, and you will be helping. Peace.