A normal field trip brought out strong reactions from our group in our visit to CAM, Centro Atención al Migrante. Our host, Carlos gave us information about their immigrant halfway house and why it is needed. Then this led him to directly state how the U.S. has played a role in causing migration. I have been aware and am still learning just how much the U.S. has interfered in the development of Central America, but it was still a depressing lecture for me. No one really likes to hear how inconsiderate his or her country is. Carlos also abruptly began to ask us questions on how we can make such contradictions like claim to be the freedom light of the world and go fight a war in Iraq or refuse to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Because of the setting, set up for a speech and spread out, none of us were sure if these were rhetorical questions or not. As comments did spurt out, I noticed how people seemed to have reached a point of not being able to be silent longer. Afterwards students were buzzing with anger. One said it was the first time she felt discriminated for being an American; another was angry that Carlos thought he could just keep accusing us like that. Personally, I came away more depressed than angry, like a beaten dog with its tail between the legs.
As our week focused on immigration ended, I was reminded of how glad I am to have taken a Spanish class at EMU last spring; I hadn’t even known what the class was about when I signed up, but I came out of that class with the beginnings (or more) of understanding of the complexity of immigration, especially in the U.S. Now that I’m in Guatemala, this background helps me see multiple sides when reading the case studies and visiting the U.S. Embassy. I see neither undocumented or legal immigrants, nor the Mexican government or U.S. border patrols as the “evil” ones. I do not, then, have a proposed solution; in fact, the more I know, the more impossible it seems to find a happy, just situation for everyone. But I see places that demand improvement regardless.
It is amazing how people can touch the lives of others. Today I went walking hoping to find a Mennonite church, Casa Horeb. Andrew’s host mom had told me where the church was as we were driving down the Periferico but I conveniently forgot which avenue she told me. I ended up walking six blocks too far because I thought I was supposed to go to 13th Avenue rather than 19th Avenue. But I am glad that I did. On 13th Ave. I asked a woman if she knew the Mennonite church. Of course she did not even know what a Mennonite is. She told me there were two churches on 13th Ave, but if I wanted to, I could go with them to an Evangelical church. It meant a lot that they invited me to their church, so I went and I really enjoyed my time with them. Their Evangelical style of worship is certainly not my style of Mennonite, but I enjoyed the energy. The lady’s daughter was a huge help during the service and she tried to help me understand what was happening by whispering things in my ear… in Spanish. She is about five but I think she really understood my situation. Later in the service her mom bought some gum to share.
After the loud and disorganized service my new friends and I walked back to the corner where we met. It was nice to have the walking time to chit-chat and the five year old held my hand on the way back. I have not been around children much, since my host parents here in Guatemala are older and do not have children in the house. On our walk I found out that the lady is twenty-five years old, divorced, has two children, and her job is part time. I think she lives with two other ladies and their two children. The gist of this lady’s current situation really put into aspect how much wealth and security is in my life. I saw God through this lady and her family. This put a completely new face on poor people in my life. They are no longer the aggravating beggar, nor the drug addict, of possible thief, but rather my friend and my family. I never want to forget how my life has been touched this week.