Category Archives: Guatemala, US/Mexico Border 2011

CASAS and homestays in Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 3As we were ending our stay in Mexico, we had some time to reflect on our experiences, and lots more on our ride back to Tucson. The time in Douglas/Agua Prieta really put things into perspective for all of us. Seeing all that was going on was both eye-opening and grounding for us. From meeting Border Patrol to talking with deported immigrants about their situations, we gained an immense amount of knowledge in only one week of travel, and it took a long time for a lot of us to process. This made the weekend of free time in Tucson all the more enjoyable. Having a full two days to relax and catch up on sleep felt amazing, especially the hotel’s hot tub.

After catching flights from Tucson to Dallas and Dallas to Guatemala City, we took a bus ride that showed us a little bit of the craziness of Guatemalan traffic and finally arrived at CASAS. Arriving at CASAS, we got a pinch of the beauty of Guatemala. CASAS has an incredible garden-courtyard area. The next day we got slapped in the face when we went to la clase de espanol where our teachers speak only in Spanish. On Thursday evening, we got to meet our host families. We got lined up like we were getting given away to people we didn’t know, and this is exactly what happened. I hope you don’t get the wrong impression though, the host families are awesome. In every host family, there is a unique aspect that opened us up to the culture of Guatemalans, Guatemalteca.

My family is very, very nice, like many of the families that are with the program. They are really good at correcting my Spanish when I mess up or there is a saying that relates specifically to Guatemala. They also have begun to slow down when talking to me, which makes it easier to understand what they are trying to tell me. My Guatemalan mom is a very religious person and is all about making me as happy as I can be, and making sure I don’t do things I don’t want to. She is always asking me what I want to do. I have found it easy to relate to my family, especially my brothers, who are into soccer and work with technology. The food here is different and delicious, and Pollo Campero is a big deal. Coca-cola is drunk more often than water and beans and eggs are at almost every meal. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish what they are saying because it is so fast and together. Looking at it, it is not too much different in English. I was fortunate enough to have another group member’s host family close to me. In fact, Lucas and I are neighbors. Our families are incredibly close and do a lot of things together.

Austin Showalter and his host siblings We have begun to get immersed in the culture apart from our host families as well, which has been nice. Guatemalans tend to dress very nicely, eat late, have little care of the time, and have different styles of greeting, including handshakes, hugs, and kisses. Along with getting immersed in the culture we visited the FEGUA museum on Friday and went on a “plunge activity” on Saturday. The FEGUA museum was all about the history of Guatemala and their struggles throughout the years, especially with the civil war dating from 1960 to 1996. The plunge activity was all about being able to get around Guatemala City without a guide or translator. We were given a map and places to go in the city, and we had to navigate our way to find the answers to the questions we had been given. Most everyone we encountered was very helpful with showing us where we needed to go or answering our questions, although there was one group that got yelled at by an old man for being American.

The majority of us are beginning to fit in and assimilate into the Guatemalan culture. Our limits are being tested, whether it is our level of Spanish, nerves, or sleep needed.

-Ben Nyce a.k.a. “Mincho

Report on border issues from Mexico

Mexico/Guatemala 2We are spending the weekend in Tuscon before we head to Guatemala for the bulk of our cross-cultural.  This past week we were living in Agua Prieta, Mexico studying more about the border under the direction of Frontera de Cristo.  Events to highlight are:  walking immigrant trails in the Sonoran Desert, speaking first hand with deportees, touring a maquiladora and interacting with the U.S. Border Patrol.  For this update I will share about our desert experience.

We’ve been learning a lot about immigration issues and laws, but this week we were able to see it in action.  On Tuesday we visited Centro de Rehabilitacion y Recuperacion de Enfermos De Alcoholismo (C.R.R.E.D.A. or The Center for Rehabilitation and Recuperation from Drug and Alcohol Addictions).  CRREDA works with recovering drug and alcohol addicts giving them a place to live while they recover from their addictions.  One of the things they do is maintain multiple water stations in the desert for immigrants to refill their water bottles before they cross into the U.S. and make the trek through the Arizona part of the Sonoran Desert.

We went with them as they drove a truck out and topped off each of the 50 gallon drums.  We ate lunch under a shade tree which kept the water nice and cool under its branches.  As we got out our lunches, two heavily armed Mexican police seemingly popped out of nowhere.  They were looking for drug dealers.  The people we were with showed their credentials and we were left alone.  After lunch in the cool shade, our local friends led us along trails that migrants walk.  It was humbling to walk along trails that were possibly going to be traveled that very night by immigrants eager for a better life.  As we reached the plain just before the fence our group spread out.  I found myself weaving in and out, back and forth, trying to walk in open patches where the thorn bushes could not get at my legs.  I had to think about the migrants traversing the same ground at night.  They are not able to look around, scan the area ahead for the clearest path.  They just have to follow their coyote (a guide) with no time to choose a safe route.

A border patrol truck through a hole in the wall The first time I saw the wall I thought to myself “I wonder how hard it would actually be to climb it.”  I got my chance out there in the desert; some of us climbed up the wall, I wanted to know how hard it would be.  I got up without a terrible amount of difficulty, I just sat there, didn’t cross to the other side because that could be accompanied with criminal charges.  After a while I heard shouts of “mira, la migra!!” (look, the border patrol).  There as a quick scramble and everyone got down, it really wasn’t a big deal, the agent chatted with us for a bit and then drove away.  I had to think about that for a bit.  I was able to just climb that wall and not have much problem, but my Mexican friends weren’t able to just play around so freely.

As we were heading back to the vans our friends pointed out, with some binoculars, a small group of migrants hiding out on the side of one of the mountains.  It was this, walking the trails, and climbing the wall that brought the reality of migrants crossing the border into perspective for me.  I had read about it but it always seemed so distant, like it was happening in a different time and place.  Now it was happening right where I was and at the time that I was there.

So why do people cross illegally into the United States?  We’ve studied this a lot, and it’s not because they want to take our jobs, be a bother, or in any way get in the way.  They come because it’s their last resort.  Their economy is struggling and there is little to be found to support a family in Mexico.  When there are offers of cutting grass or working construction for ten dollars an hour, it’s hardly a question of whether or not to go.  For many it is the only foreseeable way that they can support a family, so they make the life threatening trip to work here in the states and send the money back to their loved ones.

I work for a lawn care company during the summers and I work with immigrants, “amigos” as my employer calls them.  They are “amigos,” and that’s it.  Not given any high ranking jobs, and rarely allowed to drive the trucks or do the nicer jobs.  I have also been influenced by our society and have made racial judgments due to lack of understanding.  Through the desert experience and others this past week I feel like I am able to humanize the immigrants.  I know, for the most part, why they are coming, how they come, and where their hearts are.  From my observation the main driving factor in jumping the wall is love.  Love for loved ones and family.

I will take this with me when I come back to the states, and with the Spanish that I pick up in Guatemala, I hope to connect on a personal level with immigrants.

-Austin Showalter

Arizona, Immigration, and the Sonora Desert Museum

Mexico/Guatemala 1I think I speak for everyone in the group when I say that the past few days have just been a whirlwind of stories, facts, beauty, hard truths, and more.  The main events have been making our way through air travel, touring a US Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center (in Florence, AZ), hearing from Kara Hartzler, legal director of the Florence Project (helping with legal representation for detained persons), speaking with members of Shalom Mennonite Congregation in Tucson, and touring the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Yeah, it’s been busy.

Our tour of the detention center was thorough… but also one-sided.  We were shown what the process was supposed to look like when things ran smoothly.  We had been primed with some pretty awful stories of when things went wrong, so hearing how things are supposed to go was a pleasant surprise in a couple ways.  One thing to note is that we often associate ICE detention centers with individuals who have entered the country without proper documentation.  However, the majority of the detainees at this facility were individuals who did have some legal status (permanent residence, green card, etc.) but had committed some crime (such as possession of drug paraphernalia) for which they could be punished by deportation.  Here is a brief summary of people’s reactions to the ICE detention center tour:

  • Surprised at the physical proximity to the detainees (we were in the same room as detainees at a couple points)
  • Surprised we actually got to see much of the facility
  • Surprised by how nice it was (except the beds)
  • Surprised by the good quality of the medical facilities
  • Surprised by the quick turnover rate (they have 300-some beds, but over the course of last year 45,959 detainees passed through center)
  • Surprised by the difference between illegal entrants whose only crime was illegal entry and legal residents who had committed a crime

Kara Hartzler told a different story.  She told us about many cases that were the exceptions when the process didn’t go smoothly, mistakes were made, individuals rights were trampled, and justice was not served.  These stories, though rare, can deeply impact individual’s and families’ lives.  In my opinion, Kara’s presentation was just as one-sided as the ICE officials’.  These sides were so complementary, though, that they both made perfect sense.

We rounded out our day with some ice cream and then an evening with some members of Shalom Mennonite Church back in Tucson.  These individuals told us many stories of the ways they encounter immigrants, their views on the Mennonite Church USA’s convention being held in Arizona, and outcomes of the new AZ immigration legislation (SB 1070).  It was interesting to see how on each of these issues there was disagreement and conversation within the church.  Not everyone was of one mind, but they were still working together and continuing to search for what it means to be church in this area of the world.

One thing that stood out to at least a couple students was the fact that racial profiling inherent in immigration law scares all immigrants whether they are citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants.  Latino people are pulled over more and basically have to carry documentation with them.  Even with documentation, though, they can still be accused of stealing that documentation… so there’s no way to really feel safe if you’re of Latino heritage.  This particularly strikes me because as a Caucasian person I have immense privilege and can never really understand the fear or frustration that these Latinos are feeling.

This encounter with people trying to do church here in Tucson really brought home for me the strength that our Christian faith can be.  We have something incredible to bring to this situation and I hope that through this trip I can remember that faith grounding and listen to what that faith has to say about the situation.

Overall, the various presentations yesterday helped educate us about immigration.  The different presenters helped show us the real complexity of the situation and the humanity and truth on all sides.  We did a lot of sifting through personal bias (both the presenters and our own), but through it all we began to really enter in to this border area.

Joel Dewald, Rachel Hershey, Peter Labosh, Cody Walker, Austin Showalter at the Desert Museum posing as cacti One last thing to note is just the landscape here in southern AZ.  We are in a desert.  This place is unlike anything I have ever seen and I am just amazed by it.  I’m sure the rest of the group is getting tired of me saying so, but it’s just amazing!  You can see for miles with no large trees to block your view and it seems like every way you look you can see mountains in the distance.  The sharp, scrubby plants in the foreground blend into a carpet until rocks seem to erupt through this carpet and form mountains in the distance.  The sun is blinding and warms you right up, but the wind gets chilly when you’re in the shade.  Everyone looks extra beautiful with the wind in their hair and the sun on their faces.  This is not a sand dune sort of desert… it’s just something else.  Also, there are cacti everywhere.

We are leaving tomorrow to stop by Nogales and walk across the border and back and then continue on to Douglas/Agua Prieta where we will be staying for the next week.  Agua Prieta is at a higher elevation than Tucson and they’ve been well under freezing the past few nights, so we’ll all be pulling out the under armor.

We appreciate your prayers as we continue to enter into this place and experience the complexities and frustrations as well as the beauty.

-Rose Byler

Guatemala, U.S. and Mexico Border

Students will explore two contemporary global issues: increasing human mobility across national borders, and the urgency for learning intercultural skills in a global context.

One of the most heated issues in the U.S. – and the Shenandoah Valley – is the debate surrounding policies and attitudes towards immigrants, undocumented workers, and the crossing of national borders. Many of these immigrants come from Mexico and Central America. We will begin with an introduction to some of the tensions and realities of immigrants here in the Harrisonburg area, then spend several days at the Mexico/U.S. border witnessing this movement of persons and the many policy, human rights and economic implications that result, before continuing on to Central America.

In Guatemala, students will spend significant time with CASAS, a Spanish & cross-cultural study program. The first two months participants will live with families in Guatemala City while studying Spanish, along with culture, history and religious faith of Guatemalan society. In the final three weeks of the CASAS program, students will be placed with organizations throughout Guatemala for a service learning assignment. Options include working in settings that are tied directly to human migration issues as well as health clinics, women’s cooperatives, exporting businesses, appropriate technology centers, orphanages, or home construction.

In the final weeks the group will explore once again the issues of crossing borders, human mobility and will be asked to examine the changes in one’s worldview about immigration, human rights and economic implications of immigration after experiencing the realities of Central America.