I think the hardest part of any immersion trip is remembering what you learned and incorporating that wisdom into your daily life. Too often, I would return from an influential experience in Mexico, Cambodia or another region, only storing the knowledge obtained from these trips into the attic of my brain. I find the challenge of developing memories into real initiatives to be an obstacle, yet also a test notable and worthy of addressing. Accordingly, I have came to realize that Bellarmine has been preparing us to confront this challenge all these years.
My recent immersion into Kino was one of the most provocative trips that I had ever taken during my time at Bellarmine. A combined immersion with Presentation may have posed a significant “distraction” for me and the boys, but in all seriousness, we entered the border town of Nogales with a tremendous amount of fear. This fear derived from the knowledge that the election of President Trump, increase in Border Patrol spending, dominance of Mexican drug cartels and recent arrival of U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions contributed to the tensions in the city. It was a heated place and time both literally and figuratively for a high school group to set foot in.
I think this period of uncertainty in April allowed the issues surrounding immigration to become magnified and thus more compelling for me and the others. I remember arriving in Nogales after a three-hour drive down Interstate 19, surveying the town. The town seemed normal in comparison, but such a veil of normalcy disappeared when we neared our housing complex. There was a single great wall with red fence linings splitting the city in half. I remember pointing out the cameras elevated by and strapped onto tall poles. Civilians milled below the wall, completing various tasks without hindrance. I noticed none were staring at the structure or even acknowledging its presence; I guess the wall simply became a part of their normal day – an unchangeable fact in the people’s lives of Nogales.
I had no idea how the wall can symbolize so much. I look at my fence, clustered with ivy branches, between my neighbors and my house as understable and perhaps a necessary function. In no way could I compare the border wall I saw in Nogales to be an analogy of my property’s fence. The wall separating the United States and Mexico represents a symbol of conflict, a prime location for murder, and a host to crime. When I saw the monument marking Jose Antonio’s death spot, I was alarmed and even distressed. The area was adorned with flowers. There stood a gigantic mural of his face – his eyes fiercely gazing at the horizon – next to the wall. Behind me, I scanned the building where there were bullet marks that scarred the stucco. Graffiti was everywhere, but they were not of rude remarks except for one phrase, “Chinga La Migra.” The border wall was also decorated with artistic elements: statues, small prints of encouragement, angry splatters of paint and a row of drawn candle lights. We learned that the Border Patrol purposely put jagged rocks on the ground below the wall on the U.S side to injure or break a leg of an individual dropping down. There was so much irony in the contrast of the two sides.
In reflection, I share only my encounter with the wall in an attempt to simplify an extremely complex issue. The wall serves as one piece of the jigsaw of the immigrant issue. I came to Nogales expecting the story portrayed by the media to hold true: that the U.S Border Patrol officers were the oppressive against treating desperate migrants inhumanely. A majority of these patrolmen did not resemble that image. After meeting with a few patrolmen at their regional headquarters, I realized that some do have a genuine sense of patriotism – the type that influenced their decision to join the force. Others had been attracted by the compensation and the benefits of the U.S Border Patrol, but were never worked to harm another human being. In any case, these law enforcement officers do their job so they can spend time with their family, and put food on the table for their kids – a similar aspiration that every migrant carries when crossing the border.
In hindsight, I can envision the wall still in front of me. I see the fence dividing me from another human being as a catalyst for serious discussion. Can we blame both parties (Border Patrol and illegal immigrants) in this crisis? No. Can we rectify the humanitarian issues present at the border? Most definitely. My time in Kino was short, but I spent the immersion with the best group of Presentation colleagues and Bellarmine brothers I could ask for. After surrounding myself with such companions who actively searched for the truth at Nogales, I have been inspired to carry the immersion’s weight on my shoulders. I have decided not to drop these memories like how I had been doing beforehand. I think writing this reflection brings me one step closer to walking this talk.