During the days of November 6-10, 2016, a group of students and faculty from Justin-Siena High School in Napa, California and Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas, completed the most recent edition of the border immersion program, “El Otro Lado – El Paso”.
The two schools participated in the four-day experience, which took place at locations in both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Lasallians Without Borders project manager and El Otro Lado founder Alma Mejia-Garcia, Cathedral High School Lasallian Volunteer Rebecca Hulick, and Cathedral High School El Otro Lado Coordinator Andres Lopez also took part in the immersion. The group was also joined by Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute, a faith-based grassroots organization working to advance justice and end poverty on the Mexico – U.S. border. Corbett presented on Catholic social teaching and helped the students process the week’s experiences.
“El Otro Lado – El Paso” began with a welcome dinner at the Cathedral High School library, followed by an orientation on the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez borderlands. As with every evening of the immersion, time was set aside for prayer, reflection, and recreation.
On day two, the students attended a presentation by the U.S Border Patrol, followed by lunch with the community of Café Mayapan, an El Paso eatery that is an initiative of La Mujer Obrera, a local organization focused on community development and empowering women. Its members gave a powerful presentation on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
On day three, students and moderators took part in a solidarity walk up Mount Cristo Rey in New Mexico, with students and moderators participating in the Stations of the Cross during the trek. Later that day, the group traveled to St. Pius Catholic Church in El Paso to meet with Rico Ministry, a group that serves unaccompanied minors. Rebecca Hulick observed, “The time spent with the children of Rico Ministries was eye-opening. These children were considered unaccompanied minors, which means they traveled to the United States alone or with someone who was not an adult in order to escape the horrors of their country. We so often forget about the children when we talk about immigration and what they have experienced at such a young age.”
The participants then returned to St. Ignatius Parish where they were staying (and sharing the building with refugees from Latin America) and helped clean, prepare beds, arrange clothes, and serve dinner for newly arrived immigrants. They were also able to sit down and have dinner with them and play games with the immigrants’ children.
On the final day of the immersion, students and the moderators were dropped off at the International Bridge and crossed to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. There, they were transported by bus to Centro Santa Catalina, a learning center for impoverished women and their children. Participants learned about the educational system in Mexico, and how many children who do not have enough money to go to school can go to the Center and receive some type of education or tutoring. They also received a presentation by the women who work in the Center’s co-op, eating lunch with them and purchasing some of their handmade goods.
The group then went to La Promesa, an urban art school that promotes social justice through art, where they were able to participate in the creation of a mural, a side walk, and other art projects. After, students and moderators were able to walk for a short time in downtown Juarez and have dinner at a local restaurant before heading back to St. Ignatius to conclude the immersion.
The following morning, everyone had some time to explore El Paso and enjoy lunch together before packing up and making their trips back home, doubtless changed and challenged by their border experience. Reflecting on the week, Hulick said, “El Otro Lado not only opens up the discussion of immigration, but reminds us of the walls we put up to block out what we don’t want to see.”
Story contributed by Rebecca Hulick and Andres Lopez.