Final Thoughts: Helen

I chose to participate in Las Fronteras with the purpose of broadening my way of thinking about the world. I desired to see beyond the cushioned, privileged bubble that is my life. I certainly went out of my comfort zone to achieve this ambition. Throughout this pilgrimage, my fellow travelers and I received firsthand accounts and experiences demonstrating the truths behind the border crisis.

One of the most powerful moments of this trip was our visit to the migrant shelter in Mexico. Going to the shelter was such an incredible experience because we heard stories from asylum seekers about their respective situations. The conditions from which these migrants are fleeing from in their home countries are extremely perilous and life-threatening. I met a man named Miguel Angelo and he told me his story. He was fleeing from southern Mexico to escape the drug cartel because he could no longer afford to pay the cartel, and he feared for his family and his own life. Miguel, his two young daughters and his wife came to the border to apply for asylum status in the United States. This story illuminates the fact that these people are not coming to the United States simply because they want to. Very few of these immigrant wish to leave behind their homes, relatives, lives and everything they know. On the contrary, they are fleeing with their families as refugees, begging for asylum to save their lives.

The second day that we went to the shelter, we brought toys, puzzles and books to the children. I was selected to carry the toys from the van into the shelter and I was mesmerized by the reaction we received. The children ran up to me, grinning ear to ear. The parents were equally grateful for the toys we brought for their children. I sat on the pavement with the kids and spoke with them in Spanish, while playing Candy Land and doing puzzles. I enjoyed a chance to practice my Spanish, and their appreciation of me speaking their native language was heartwarming. My experience with these children truly humbled me; I learned so much more from these migrant children than I ever thought I could. The excitement of these people gave me insight not only into their lives and stories, but also myself. The sheer joy that I saw of what we may find insignificant, such as puzzles and cards creating such immense joy made me ponder the beliefs of my culture. We often are so focused on our first world problems that we don’t appreciate the smaller things which truly matter. We focus on things which, in the grand scheme, really don’t matter. Seeing the happiness even in the worst conditions gave me incredible insight into my own life and beliefs.

A second incident which shook me to my core was our experience watching the streamlined court trials. As we were sitting in the courtroom, the first migrant tried walked out and what I saw will haunt me forever. All of the migrants in the courtroom were chained at their feet, and they were in handcuffs attached to a chain around their waists. The sight of this made my heart drop. These people come to our country seeking asylum and are treated horrifically. I am baffled by our system’s  absence of compassion for these people.

Sharing these stories and experiences is vital because it brings an element of humanity into the news we hear from the press. We are all too often indifferent to others’ pain and suffering, especially when they are not close to us. It is difficult to see the truth without seeing what is going on firsthand, and being so distant from the site of the crisis and the people whom it affects. It is my hope that every person I share these stories with can at least have more insight into the truths of the dangerous conditions that are causing these migrants to leave their homes, and that we may have compassion for these people. Each and every one of them needs our help; there is no easy solution for this crisis. The most powerful thing I can do to help is to share the stories and experiences I collected and keep them raw. No modifying, no sugar coating. These sacred narratives must remain how they were told by the people who lived them.

-Helen, St. John’s, Hingham