Students' perspectives on immigration impacted by learning tour
By Krystal Klaassen for West Coast MCC
Angel De Leon and Madylyn Snyder are two of 14 Fresno Pacific Univeristy (FPU) students that participated in a three-day learning tour along the United States and Mexico border that was co-hosted by West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The experience dramatically impacted these two students’ perspectives on immigration.
De Leon, a social work major, has experienced first-hand the hardships migrant families face when immigrating across the border. Snyder is studying psychology and wanted to learn more about border issues and the struggles that many families face with immigration. In an interview, the duo share their thoughts about the tour and the impact it had on them.
MCC: Why did you decide to participate in the Mexico border trip?
De Leon: I was born and raised in a small town in Mexico. Growing up I experienced many families like mine getting separated due to financial demands. Two of my five sisters immigrated illegally to the U.S. in search of the “American Dream.” Because of the border, it took 10 years for me to meet them in person.
I decided to go to the Mexico border trip because I wanted to get a better understanding of the struggle my sisters, along with thousands of other immigrants, have experienced during their journey to a better life. As a social worker I know that I will have close contact with migrant families, which is another reason I wanted to get a closer glimpse at the immigration issues and challenges happening at the border.
Snyder: I decided to go on this trip to learn more about the conflict surrounding the border and immigration. Immigration and border issues are especially relevant here in the Central Valley in California. After spending a semester in Costa Rica, I learned a lot about the immigration conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. These issues are similar to the conflict between the USA and Mexico.
God put a desire in my heart to learn more about the borders and barriers we have created and the implications of these borders. This trip provided me with the unique opportunity to experience the first-hand narrative that so many people we interact with everyday have lived.
MCC: What impacted you the most about this experience?
De Leon: What impacted me the most were the personal stories I heard from those affected by the border. It was also impacting to hear border patrol agents’ perspective of the border. Overall, I would say that hearing different perspectives of the border made the trip worthwhile.
Snyder: The personal and heartfelt stories we heard are what had the biggest influence. I truly believe that personal stories are what humanize the issue of immigration. Hearing these stories led me to accept a different perspective on immigration and border issues.
MCC: What was your biggest challenge?
De Leon: Putting myself in the shoes of those who have crossed the border or have been deported with no idea of what their future holds.
Snyder: The biggest challenge was wrestling feelings of guilt. There were feelings of guilt as we crossed the border with ease. It was hard to reconcile the fact that we were able to cross the border so easily, while others risk their lives or wait years to be granted access.
MCC: What brought you the most joy?
De Leon: Seeing the work God is doing in Agua Prieta (the Mexican border town the group visited.) From Frontera de Cristo to the Immigrant Center, I know that God will continue to provide.
Snyder: What brought me the most joy were the one-on-one conversations I shared with the people we encountered. We had the unique opportunity to laugh, share stories and eat dinner with the men at the shelter in Agua Prieta. As we sat and laughed with Horacio and Luis, I felt a surge of inexplicable joy. I looked around the room at people who looked much different than I and who had very different experiences, and yet we were able to connect on a deeper, more meaningful level.
MCC: I will never forget…
De Leon: The personal stories that touched my heart.
Snyder: The moment I realized that each and every one of us who is a U.S. citizen already has something valuable that others have died trying to obtain. We don’t choose where we are born or the privileges we are born with. However, we do get to choose how we will use the tools we are provided with.
MCC: What did you learn about faith from this experience?
De Leon: I learned that faith is not lost even through times of despair and desperation. Immigrants have faith that God will continue to guide them through their difficult journey for a better life. We also have faith that our Lord will continue to provide for those searching (for) a better tomorrow. I have faith that God will use me to make a difference in our world, specifically in the immigration issue.
Snyder: I learned that certain experiences challenge our perspectives, and these experiences are often the experiences we grow the most from. I learned that God reveals himself to us, in hopes that we would pursue him with even more passion. God showed me that his love transcends culture, languages and barriers. His love is limitless and without borders.
MCC: What would you say to someone considering going on a border learning tour?
De Leon: I encourage you to go. My perspective was changed, and I have surely been affected greatly by the things I experienced there. We need more people like you to help us share the stories of those risking their lives in the desert. We need your voice to share the truth and the suffering that is currently affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
Snyder: Go with an open heart, willing to learn. Go with open hands, ready to serve. Go with open ears, eager to listen. This trip is an incredible opportunity to go with humility and learn about issues that are best understood through personal stories. Go in solidarity and meet people who may seem very different than you, and you may discover striking similarities.
More about the learning tour
The tour was organized by FPU and West Coast MCC to help students increase their understanding and knowledge of the social, economic, political and theological significance of migration in border communities, including advocacy tools and capacity building to engage others on borderlands and migration issues.
On the learning tour students visited a variety of locations and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner organizations. Tour participants:
• visited the U.S/Mexican border wall along the town of Douglas, Ariz., and Agua Prieta, Mexico.
• learned about grassroots and sustainable solutions to immigration as they toured the coffee roasting facility at Café Justo and drank delicious coffee of this “more than fair trade” initiative.
• visited a women’s organization in Agua Prieta that focuses on helping women find a job outside of being stay-at-home wives.
• had dinner with David Bonilla and Marina Forero, administrative assistants for Programs with Migrants and Community Development for MCC in Mexico.
• were given a brief tour of CRREDA (Center for Rehabilitation on Alcohol and Drugs Abuse) and traveled out to the desert. Participants learned about local members of this group who put fresh water in the desert for migrants who are crossing the border.
• visited La Casa del Imigrante (House of the Immigrant), a safe house that hosts immigrants who are trying to cross the border. They try to discourage people crossing illegally.
Photo: Students walk the same path that thousands of immigrants have walked on a trail in the dessert to the border. (Photo courtesy of Angel De Leon)
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