One of my favorite parts of my DukeEngage experience was going to Chiapas, Mexico. Some of the things we experienced that made this portion of the trip so interesting and eye opening were visiting the Zapatistas who are an autonomous indigenous government , hearing human rights groups talk about their work, staying with a family for 2 days who grew and sold coffee beans, and meeting migrants at a migrant shelter. When I first arrived to Chiapas, I knew about some aspects of migration and why people were fleeing their respective countries. Listening and talking with the different groups and people we met along the way brought to my attention just how many human rights violations has occurred in Mexico. For example, some of these human rights violations include families being kicked off their land, state sanctioned violence, the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who went missing and were never found, gang violence destroying lives, and drugs killing people. What made things worse was knowing that the US had a lot to do with some of these human rights violations, especially with the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement screwing up local Mexican families and their way of living. Mexican communities were physically destroyed with companies trying to extract certain fossil fuels, and these people had to leave. Hearing these groups tell us these horrible things that happened to them saddened me because I knew I couldn’t directly change what happened to them in the past.
Despite all this grief and violence that the people we talked to experienced, they all still had hope. I saw this hope and happiness the most when we stayed with coffee farmers near the Guatemalan border. Although the family did not have a lot of material possessions, they made me feel at home. They allowed me, someone who lived thousands of miles away from them, to stay with them those two days. They fed me and made me feel like a part of their family. Staying with the family is an experience I’ll always remember. As we left Chiapas and arrived in Tucson, I kept an open mind to learn more about what I personally can do to help the tragedies happening in these communities. What I most wanted to bring back to the US was the hope, happiness, and optimism I saw in Mexico.
The most impactful experience in Tucson was staying with my host family. I stayed with a family of 5 for three weeks and I had an amazing time with them. It was my first time being part of a host family. I was really anxious and nervous when I first met and moved in with my host family. There were two brothers, one was 14 and one was 17, who were near my age, so it made it easier for me to talk with them and with the family. After a few days, I grew extremely comfortable in talking with the my host parents and with my new host brothers. What made the transition of being comfortable around my new host family was that we shared so much in common: our families are Mexican, my host mom cooked the same food I ate back home, and my brothers and I shared a lot of the same hobbies and interests.
My host dad was someone I talked to a lot while I was with the family. We talked about his indigenous heritage, his journey of traveling to the United States, and his time growing up in Mexico. Even though he had to work two jobs, wake up before the sun had risen, and come back after the sun had set, he was always smiling and cracking jokes. Despite always being tired from working, his positive attitude was a quality that I admired. If I had been in my host dad’s shoes, I’d be too physically exhausted to be so positive, especially since one of his jobs is landscaping in the scorching Tucson heat. Because of this, I respected and appreciated the time he spent talking with me.
The last night with my host family, I was sad that I was leaving them. I had that feeling when you know you’re about to leave a place for a really long time and you don’t know when or if you’re coming back, but you can’t stop it. Even though I had to get up early the next day and my host brothers had school, we stayed up late and talked about random stuff. We laughed so much together about the things we talked about and the laughter that we shared erased the sadness I was feeling. The small experience of just hanging out with my brothers and laughing with them for forever sticks with me because now every time I think of my experience with my host family, it brings up even greater memories of happiness and joy.
Throughout my DukeEngage experience, I learned so much about how broken the immigration system is in the US and the human right violations that have occurred in Mexico. As I go back to my own communities, I hope that I’m able to spread the knowledge that I’ve learned on this trip. The majority of people don’t truly understand what’s happening in respect to immigration between the US and Mexico, and it’s important that people are more aware of these issues. Despite all the gut wrenching facts and stories I’ve heard about immigration during the trip, the moments of hope, happiness, and optimism amidst the heart breaking stories is what I want to bring back.