This past March, over two dozen students, faculty and staff served in two Alternative Spring Break programs: one at the El Paso, USA/Juárez, Mexico border, working with and learning from community partners who offer direct support to immigrant communities; the other, working within the Boston community to address local issues of immigration.
Here, participants in ASB share their triumphs, challenges, and life-altering moments during this week of service.
Taylor McMahon, Student Leader on ASB Boston
When I joined the Alternative Spring Break team as a student leader for the Boston program, I had no idea what was in store for me. This sense of the unknown made me excited and nervous. I had the resources and support, but it was still a great deal of responsibility. I wanted to make this experience beneficial for the program partners, and influential for the participants as well. I channeled this feeling and worked extremely hard with my team to make sure the week was as organized as possible. However, once the week started, all of those worries left my mind.
That week, the City of Boston changed for me. I was able to be present and aware of the issues that Boston immigrants face every day. In opening my eyes and ears to all of the people that welcomed the Emerson community into their spaces, I was able to learn something very valuable: we all may come from different places, speak different languages, and have different aspirations, but we are all human.
This lesson resonated in one particular experience that I had on my last day of service. Individuals from Dorchester’s Gilbert Albert Community Center came to Emerson for mock interviews and professional development. As we were finishing, I made a connection with one of the students, Louisa, and my ASB experience ended with an impromptu dance party. She taught me a Haitian dance, kompa, and I taught her how to “wobble.” While this isn’t the most beautiful of dance moves, I saw from this interaction that the art of dance is a human language. Even though our conversation was limited because of our language differences, we were able to communicate with movement and smiles. It was an amazing experience!
I am fortunate to have started a new relationship with the city that I will call home for another year. Thank you to the Alternative Spring Break team, our program partners all across the Boston area, and the faculty, staff, and student participants from the Emerson community. It is through people like all of you that we are able to influence change. I am constantly reminded that there are beautiful people in this world who continue to inspire me. I encourage all of those who have not participated in ASB to do it. It will change you forever.
Cindy Rodriguez, Faculty Advisor on ASB El Paso
No amount of books, articles, films or lectures about immigration can replace the learning experience of one week at the border. It’s humbling for me to admit this, as someone who created a course called Covering Immigration, an elective for journalism majors.
While compelling texts and films may engross students, they aren’t immersive. So-called “interactive multimedia project” on immigration are a misnomer. You can’t interact in a meaningful way with information on a screen. It’s still passive.
During our week in El Paso, we met more than four dozen people directly tied to immigration issues. We met children fleeing violence in Central America at detention centers, undocumented mothers at shelters, border patrol agents, volunteers who save women from the sex-slave trade, and a list of others who offered varying perspectives–all of them personal.
It was a lot to cram into one week, but we were connecting the dots and, because there was an emotional investment, we were hungry to learn more. The questions were never-ending. The more we learned, the more we searched for answers. Our synapses were firing away. This is the pinnacle of pedagogy. It’s an educator’s dream to have students this eager to learn.
Maddie Rojas-Lynch, Student Leader on ASB El Paso
On March 7th, with the 8 a.m. sun just beginning to rise over Logan International airport, a group of eight Emerson students and two faculty advisors traded snow for sunshine, north for south, and the vast Boston harbor for miles of desert, chain-link fence, and the US/Mexico Border.
In El Paso, we had the opportunity to meet and work with incredible people and organizations. We cooked lunch for farm workers at Sin Fronteras, an organization that provides housing and meals for immigrants who are farmers and farm workers. We cleaned bathrooms and bedrooms at Nazareth Hall, a shelter for immigrant families experiencing homelessness. We spoke with lawyers, professors, and activists to learn more about the legal system and politics impacting immigration. And when we returned to Boston, we discussed these issues with the Emerson community. ASB is a three-fold program of learning, serving, and sharing stories to help make social change.
Perhaps the most jarring and mind-blowing part of our trip was being at the actual border. We visited a part of the border between Sunland Park, New Mexico and Anaphra, Mexico, the ten-foot-high chain link fence that separates two countries that are part of the same continent. It was absolutely surreal. On the US side, it was just desert, blue skies, and yellow sand, massive green and white border patrol vehicles patrolling the area, and a fence stretching into the desert as far as the eye can see. But on the Mexico side, there were houses, toys in front yards, and dogs wandering the streets. I imagined what it must be like for a child growing up on the Mexican side of the fence, every day looking up and seeing that constant reminder that you’re not wanted.
The US government spends billions of dollars a year on border security, a fence that’s a dehumanizing piece of metal that makes people feel like prisoners in their own country. But if we spent that money enforcing fair trade laws, investing in Latin American countries, and figuring out ways to help boost their economies, then we wouldn’t have people coming to the border in these large numbers to begin with because this kind of cooperation would lessen the pressing need to escape poverty and desperation.
Here is my call to action for the Emerson community: If you are a student, think about how immigration is presented in the media. Is it accurate? If not, use your art or craft to educate others on immigration issues to help inspire social change.
To the Emerson faculty and staff: Is immigration something that is covered in classes? Is it in our textbooks or our curricula? Are our policies and practices sensitive to the immigrant experience? Is it spoken about in a way that is accurate? If not, there are plenty of resources available to help our institution begin to make these changes.
We are the current and next generation of artists, activists and communicators; it’s up to us to be educated about the social justice issues of our time and to move toward more diverse and accepting communities.
Upon return from Spring Break, the Office of Service Learning and Community Action held a Lunch & Learn program so that ASB participants could share their experiences and newfound consciousness with the Emerson community. Read the article from Emerson Today here.