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“¿Estamos Listos?”

Starting out as a casual joke, “estamos listos” or “are we ready” came to have a much deeper meaning and served as a representation of the Venaver Otro Lado’s open heart and open mind policy. Upon our return everybody asked questions. What did you do? What was it like? What did you learn about immigration? […]

Starting out as a casual joke, “estamos listos” or “are we ready” came to have a much deeper meaning and served as a representation of the Venaver Otro Lado’s open heart and open mind policy.

Upon our return everybody asked questions.

What did you do? What was it like? What did you learn about immigration?

Although everybody asked as a formality, few were truly interested and their questions barely scratched the surface of the week-long Venaver experience.

What did you see? Smell? Hear? Touch? Taste?

How did it make you feel?

Although these were standard questions that greeted us after each long day out, every night yielded new responses and heightened emotions.

 

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The 2015 Venaver Otro Lado group at the airport at the beginning of the trip.

My journal responses look pretty standard on the surface, but the emotions that went along with them are impossible to fully describe.

I saw cacti, graves of identified and unidentified human beings, shrines, discarded items, an unbreachable iron gate, little children at a safe house, and a fellow CB student’s face crumble as an unspeakable item was shown from a desert clean up.

I smelled the unwashed bodies of 70 migrants ripped away from their dreams in the span of 90 minutes, hot desert air, faint hints of salsa, and freshly made tortillas.

I heard hand and ankle shackles continuously clanking in the courtroom, gravel crunching, journey stories, as well as a crushing silence.

I touched cactus spines, rocks, dirt, the soft hand of a deported man named Adrian, hand-made bracelets, and felt the hot sun on the back of my neck.

I tasted authentic Mexican food, Indian honey flat bread, but most memorably, the dust and dry air of desert hikes.

Although these are all just words listed on paper, they all play a part in the week that impacted the entire Venaver group’s perspective.

One word: Perspective.

The night we all arrived, every single one of us claimed to have signed up for this journey to gain our own perspectives, unaffected by the media. But each person formulated an opinion at different points of the journey, all according to what moments affected each person the most.

Raquel Cornejo (’16) found that “every day was a new sort of emotional journey for us, each day was so different and had a different meaning.”

“It was really interesting seeing all the different perspectives day to day, in the different situations that we encountered. Accordingly, along the way, each of our perspectives changed so much with every day having its own powerful moment(s).”

And each day was an entire journey on it’s own.

We started off Monday, freshly rested and excited to start.

We came back on Monday night, physically and mentally exhausted.

Border Patrol was the first stop where we talked to an officer. He started with a generic PowerPoint of statistics, then opened the floor up for questions. To his surprise, he did not have sufficient answers to most of our wonderings.

While he fumbled over explanations, we all became increasingly skeptical while he talked about how well all of the detainees were treated.

 

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Talking to a Border Patrol officer.

Already, our opinions were forming and our beliefs were being challenged. And this was only the first day.

We then headed over to check out Operation Streamline, a system that processes up to 70 immigrants who have attempted re-entry into the U.S., all the previous within 90 minutes

The sentences start with 30 days on a first time re-entry attempt, then 60 days, on and on with the maximum sentence of 180 days.

Nick Heller (’16) recalls that his first memory is still of watching what we all found to be a flawed system.

“[I remember] the small details, such as the smell walking by the migrants because they were not given the amenities in which to bathe themselves, and the constant sound of chains clanging together for a straight hour.”

“It just stuck with me,” he says.

He also recalls that the migrants were “chained like they were some kind of horrible criminals” from the hands, to a bar at their waist, right down to ankle shackles.

Every migrant pleaded guilty and every single one filed out right in front of us. The look of defeat in some eyes and defiance in others will never leave my memory.

 

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Walking up to the entrance of the court house.

To Mr. Danny Delgado (’79), the time spent in the courtroom is one of the most vivid memories.

“The smells, sights, and sounds that accompanied that experience have stayed with me,” he says. “While I did not get to meet these individuals personally, their faces and shuffles, their confusion and broken spirit totally caught me off guard.”

The rest of the week held even more challenges.

“Every day was harder and harder for all of us and for all of us to wrap our heads around the situations that were presenting themselves,” Raquel stated.

Another part of our adventure was a series of hikes through the desert to visit unmarked graves labeled “desconocido” or “unknown.”

The desert is not what we expected a desert to look like — no stereotypical Saharan landscape of dunes upon dunes of sand to be seen. It was more like a very dry forest at parts, and an arid gravel-sand mix with cacti everywhere in other parts.

The grave that hit us all particularly hard was that of an unidentified teenager.

Jack Noonan (’16) was deeply affected by the death of a human so close to our own age.

“Seeing the graves made me really hurt because no one knew who this person was or how they died,” he says. “They were just left there.”

“I think to be able to get the attention of the younger generation, our hearts must be broken. Going on this trip, I did not expect to see what I saw.”

On our various walks that day, we passed many items l left behind by migrants fleeing — a pink little girl’s backpack, shredded sandals, empty water containers, trash.

To Mr. Delgado, the desert is another vivid memory engrained in his memory.

“Seeing clothing, possessions, and knowing that real people were leaving these artifacts as they tried to cross the desert for reasons only know to them was just devastating.”

One of the main questions posed that day was “how are you going to respond to this situation”?

“[It’s] important to realize how much power just being in the U.S. gives us all. We need to use that power productively [to make a real change]” says Reagan Tweedy (’16).

Along the same lines, Jeremy Wackman (’16), discovered that “we’re really lucky to have what we have and that we’re not having to fight for our lives, like those people immigrating are.”

All of us may worry about trivial things in our lives, but none of these seemingly huge issues have a lasting impact on our lives.

“Going through this trip was a major reality check because a lot of times we get wrapped up in our own little world,” Amanda Sandoval (’16) commented. “Compared to the migrants’ struggles, ours are nothing.

The day finally arrived that we had all been waiting for, the trip into Mexico.

There we met a Jesuit priest named Thomas, who helped out at a women’s shelter which we would visit later on that day.

Thomas said that his mission was to bring the face of immigration to the U.S., and to do so, he had to be in the “business of trying to break hearts.”

Another priest we met, Fr. Neely, made a similar point that stuck with Tommy Payne (’16).

“What Fr. Neely said is what really affected me the most —  he said, to fully understand the pain of the situation, and be able to share it with other people, your heart must first be broken in order to make others more aware.”

All of our hearts were indeed broken at least one time during the week.

Raquel knows the importance of this trip because it “definitely opened our eyes and showed us how privileged we are to be in the U.S”

“While I’m blessed in a sense, the immigrants are also blessed because they are able to keep their faith and believe that God is by their sides each step of the journey.”

To Erika Bolen (’16), this trip was “a situation where you can only feel those kinds of emotions that you and the eleven other people with you felt. It’s not very explainable.”

We all still think about our experiences a lot, and Aidan Smith (’16) shares that “it’s weird to think back, because all the people we met are probably still in Mexico right now and struggling to make ends meet.”

“It definitely takes a lot to come to the realization that you have to leave your country, that you’re that desperate and literally have no better alternative,” Benjamin Brouwer (’16) added.

 

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The group gathers around a marker that separates the American border from the Mexican border.

It’s impossible to be able to convey every moment in the journey, yet every moment is crucial to the story that made up our week on the border.

With that logic, anybody who did not go on the trip will never be able to fully understand what went on.

“I can never give the same amount of detail, but I can try to bring it to people on an emotional level,” Nick says.

The main goal,now that we’re all back home is to try and share the stories and faces that we encountered and bring more attention to the atrocities of the immigration process.

Ashlynn Fresques (’16) summed up exactly what along with the rest of us went through.

“Once you’re in that environment, you’re really able to strip down to your raw emotions.”

 

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The group under the entrance sign to Mexico. Fr. Neely is the on the far right.

We learned that we need to use these raw emotions to convey what and who we saw on the trip to others who did not go.

The hard part now is how to convey all that happened.

The answer is that we don’t need to get every detail across, because that effort would be futile.

Ben says he tried, though.

“When we first got back to explain to my parents about what went on,” he recalls. “It took me four hours and I know I still didn’t even come close to covering everything.”

Raquel says she too has tried to explain, but “sometimes you stumble over your words because your feelings take hold. Your feelings definitely make you feel like you want to say more than you could ever be able to show.”

In the aftermath of the trip, Mr. Delgado says that he constantly carries his journal with him.

“I don’t want to forget. I can’t forget. I promised the people we met, both verbally and in my own mind to never forget them or their plight and to share their story as often as I could.”

“I think this is an experience you can never forget” Ms. Anna Fernandez reflects. “You can go on with your normal life routine, but it will always be in the back of your mind.”

After the entire experience, there is one quote that always stands out to me.

We met a man by chance on a random street corner of Mexico named Adrian.

He began to tell us his story of how he had lived for years in America. Yes, he was born in Mexico, but moved to the U.S. at a very young age and identified as an American.

He was discovered and deported, and had nothing left.

“Thinking that I could get back across [the Mexican-U.S. border], was like believing that leprechauns exist,” Adrian said.

So again, what did we do? What was it like? What did we learn about immigration?

The answer is so much more complicated than the surface-scratching answers we can give.

But the issue of immigration deserves so much more attention than it is given, because the media either tends to distort it or brush over it.

So what did we see? Smell? Hear? Touch? Taste? Feel?

A great number of things. Some explainable and others unexplainable.

But one thing is for sure. Each of us gained our own perspective and fulfilled the goal we set out to discover in the beginning of our journey.

So one last time, “Estamos Listos?”

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