This November, more than 25 students and staff from PLNU, along with 20 students and staff from Azusa Pacific University (APU), met with border patrol agents, immigrants rights activists, pastors, and immigrants themselves on PLNU’s Border Tour. Affectionately called a “border pilgrimage,” the trip focuses on looking at the barriers to border reconciliation from multiple perspectives and discussing how to overcome them.
The Border Tour is co-sponsored by PLNU’s International Ministries, Mexico Ministries and the Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR). Jamie Gates, PLNU professor of cultural anthropology and the director of the CJR, has led a similar border trip every semester since 2003.
Jennifer Guerra, senior social work major and CJR’s Welcome the Stranger intern, has participated in Border Tours several times before and reflects on this latest tour in her own words and photos:
Our tour began at PLNU, where students from PLNU and APU gathered on Friday night to get to know each other and begin the journey together. During that first night together, an overview of the weekend was explained and a traditional Mexican meal was shared.
Early morning on Saturday, breakfast was served and the first speaker, Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee, presented a history of the border including the building of the second wall and Friendship Park.
The next stop was a presentation by the Deputy Chief of Border Patrol Rodney Scott where he offered the perspective of Border Patrol and time was available for questions and answers.
We then headed to Border Field State Park to see the U.S. side of the wall and to see one part of the “friendship circle,” a circle pavement that lays one half on each side of the border. After a time of reflection, we walked across the new entrance to Mexico and headed to have lunch at a local taco shop.
We walked down the streets of Tijuana to board public transportation and head to the “Las Playas” area of Tijuana. We then stood on the Mexican side of the border, feet away from where we had gathered hours before. On the Mexico side of the border, we met Dan Watman of the Border Encuentro Organization and he presented the story of the Bi-national Friendship Garden that has allowed for the unique flora of that region to be preserved.
We then headed to Casa del Imigrante, a non-profit organization that provides shelter, food and resources to recently deported immigrants for up to 12 days. We all shared a meal together and engaged in conversations that led to storytelling and laughter to fill the room. After dinner, Gilberto Martinez discussed the history of the home and shared the issues that immigrants face once they have been deported.
After spending the night there, on Sunday we attended a church service at La Mesa Nazarene Church in Tijuana where pastor Alejandro Torres spoke to the group about the complexities his congregation faces.
After sharing one last meal together, we headed to the border once again, stood in line, waited, shared stories and crossed back to the USA.
The most memorable part of the trip for me was Saturday night. It had been a long day of being exposed to so many different points of view and we broke off in small groups to have a chance to start wrestling with all we had been exposed to. Our group really focused on the cognitive dissonance we had been feeling and started to figure out how all these stories have something in common – every voice and every opinion had facts and emotion, yet they crashed against each others’ realities. Being able to be in a circle and acknowledge the complexities and the lack of answers and easy solutions was one the most beautiful moments of this tour. This tour is such an eye-opening experience; there is a diverse array of voices that speak on behalf of social movements and the historical patterns and daily life in this region. As a social work major it is imperative for me to meet people where they are at and not assign judgment on life decisions and lifestyles, so Border Tour is a practical way to practice this. One cannot encounter the recently deported migrants in the Casa del Imigrante without looking at the systems that have pushed them to make such bold and risky choices while also acknowledging the concern for the safety of our country. To be able to stop and wrestle with the complexities of the border is such a stretching but formative experience.
The Center for Justice and Reconciliation strives to create conversation and be a venue for students to find tangible ways to act upon the injustices we live around. Border Tour offers a way to encounter the injustice but also allow students to connect to active advocates in the community. It also poses the availability for students to partner for events, rallies and conversations that are happening around the immigration topic. As a student, Border Tour has pushed us to reflect on how and if our campus is truly welcoming the stranger or building our own borders within diverse and minority students on campus. The beauty of this experience is that it is rich in diverse voices; it is not a one sided conversation. There is no hidden agenda or intent. It is filled with knowledgeable experts on the topic but also allows for every day stories to crash into our stereotypes and perceptions. It also allows for students from two universities in two different counties in California to enter into dialogue and wrestle with the complexities of this topic.