2015 California Immigration Immersion Trip

Sangeet Brar, Reporter

At 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, February 15, five other girls and I embarked on a journey of a lifetime. We were headed to San Diego to begin the 2015 California Immigration Immersion Trip.

During our almost seven-hour drive, we talked, sang along to music, and played some roadtrip games with Mrs. Lemon and Ms. Swoboda.

When we reached San Diego, we stayed with Swoboda’s parents and got a little tour of her home town. The first night consisted of an amazing dinner and some crazy team bonding exercises. At night, we watched the movie documentary, De Nadie, about Central Americans who cross through Mexico in pursuit of job opportunities and new lives in the U.S. The movie reminded us all why we were there and what we were going to experience in the next few days.

The next two days consisted of going to the Mexico-United States border. We took a road trip into the desert in Jacumba, Ca. where we worked with an organization based in San Diego called Border Angels and put water in the desert for migrants who may be coming over from the other side. Going to the desert was the most life-changing part of the trip for me. It opened my eyes to the reality of the dangers that thousands of migrants face.

I remember staring out into the vast expanse and not being able to understand how anyone could make their way across. I could barely walk over one mountain with my nice shoes and hydrated body. Yet men, women and children come over to the U.S. through that very desert without anything but a wandering heart and thirst for a better life. When we saw the used bottles and torn up clothes that were left behind, I was struck by reality, and I was speechless.

While we were staying in San Diego, we met with Olga Diaz, the city councilwoman of Escondido, Ca. We learned about her experience as the first woman and Latina in office. What surprised me was the fact that Escondido has a strong majority of Latino people, yet Diaz was the first Mexican-American ever elected.

She also ran for mayor, but failed because of her support for an orphanage for displaced, undocumented children. The town was so hostile to migrants that they rejected the orphanage and Diaz. Diaz told us about how the residents claimed that the undocumented children would rape young girls and destroy the small city. How can people say that discrimination isn’t a prominent issue in the 21st Century?

For the second half of the trip, we stayed with the Sisters of Presentation in their house in Watts, Ca. We had the opportunity to teach Spanish speakers English at their school, the Presentation Learning Center. We danced along with the students during our Zumba classes and took shifts helping out in the English and Citizenship classes. This experience was incredibly rewarding as we got to talk to so many different people and learn about their family lives, as well as what they enjoyed doing.

We were also able to go to Los Angeles to visit Homeboy Industries and many other nonprofit organizations like Proyecto Pastoral. We even got to see Father Greg working with some of the homies! It was surreal to go around Homeboy and see everything in real life. Reading Tattoos on the Heart informed us about gang violence and how Homeboy has helped change that, but getting to see it in real life was truly amazing.

The trip was a life-changing experience overall. The girls and I had a wonderful time in Southern California. From staying up late, making ridiculous nicknames, and eating giant pizzas, our group became extremely close-knit. After a while, I even ended up enjoying sleeping on the floor cramped up next to all of them. I definitely formed relationships that are unbreakable and had an experience that is unforgettable.

This brings me back to why we went on the trip in the first place; I constantly ask myself, “Well, what can I do now?” But I realized, there is so much to do. Simply informing others of the hardships that Central Americans have to face to cross through Mexico and across the border is a way to start. They are escaping poverty, oppression and brutality in their own countries, and are seeking a better life.

These people are raped and beaten up by the corrupted gangs and police within Mexico, and men, women and children lose limbs riding on top of a train that travels through Mexico known as the “The Beast.”  And if they do get to America, many are faced with racism and poverty once again.

It doesn’t really matter if you are Democratic or Republican or whether you are Caucasian or African American or Asian or Latino, because you are a member of the human race. And from this trip, I learned that no human being can be treated with such little dignity. My experience didn’t just make me put faces on people that we have read about or heard about in the news; it made talk to them. Become friends with them. And most importantly, understand them as human beings rather than as foreigners.