I was recently given the opportunity to go on a Roots and Realities of Migration delegation to Oaxaca, Mexico with two organizations called Witness for Peace and Student Action with Farmworkers. The focus of this trip was, as the name implies, to learn about the causes of migration and the harsh realities of the issue. Although this trip started out as more of an educational experience, for many of us delegates, it was much more than that.
Being a Mexican-American student at Duke has obviously had it’s rough spots. Jumping from a community that was so inundated with Hispanics, where it was a necessity to speak Spanish, to a community like Duke, where as a Hispanic you are part of the clear minority, was more of a culture shock than I could have ever imagined. Finishing up my first year I was definitely left questioning my identity and the role I played outside of my community bubble. Along with wanting to be more educated about the impacts of immigration reform, I wanted to find a way to connect with a culture that I felt was so overshadowed (if that’s the right word) at Duke and I hoped that going to Mexico would help me do that.
Logistically speaking, my ten day visit to Oaxaca included trips to different towns, a homestay visit and various speakers. We got to eat authentic Mexican food, spend our afternoons roaming the city and soak up as much of the culture as we possibly could. A few days into our trip we visited a town up in the mountains called Capulalpam de Méndez. Capulalpam is known for its amazing self-dependence and continuous fight against mining companies. It uses its beautiful scenery to lure tourists and educate them of the highly unwanted mega project presence in their small town while providing an interesting experience and benefiting from needed economic gain.
We also visited Nochixtlan, a town on the other end of the spectrum who was struggling from a lack of water, bad climate and difficulty getting their youth to contribute to the needed farm labor. They utilized a method of farming called milpas, which involved growing beans, squash and corn together. From what I understood, the planting these seeds together allows for more efficient farming. The three crops assist each other in the growing process, which also describes an ideal community of people helping each other grow. Honestly, the work in this community was the hardest for me to understand.
Up next was our homestay visit in Teotitlan del Valle. We spoke to the women of Vida Nueva, a women’s weaving cooperative that honored on fair prices for their labor. During our visit, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in our family’s daily life. We cooked with our host families, took the children to school and visited the local mercado early in the morning.
Personally, these two days were the highlight of the trip. This small town with its simple homes and few paved roads made me think of what my grandmother’s childhood must have been like. It was not only an extremely educational experience but an emotional one as well. From using the same laundry soap (Zote) to the invariable presence of Coca Cola, it was like my grandma was right there with me. Being able to experience this environment was welI… I can’t really describe what this was like, it just felt right. Like I finally understood something that I hadn’t understood for so long. I understood why my grandmother and her children (including my mother) had made the treacherous journey to the US. I understood why all the women in my family were such hard workers and why they focused so much on getting ahead and improving their family’s futures. I understood where my grandma’s little habits and sayings came from and everything just felt right. This was what I had come for. This feeling of just being right.
Leaving Teotitlán was probably the hardest part of this trip. I don’t know why. Going in, I knew that my host family had to go on with their life and I had to go on with mine. I just didn’t expect to get so attached and gain such a high level of respect for a family in the span of two days.
Upon leaving Teotitlán, we visited COMI, a migrant homeless shelter that provided food and shelter to migrants traveling North. Here we spoke to a member of the organization and to 8-10 migrants coming from different South American countries. The most touching of these people were the two children making the journey. An 11 year old boy and 8 year old girl were on Day 15 of their journey from El Salvador to America. I’ve grown up around first generation migrants all my life but I’d never encountered children so young who had made the journey. The other migrant’s stories were, of course, horrible and difficult to hear but watching these children sit there during our discussion without fully understanding the difficulties they would face was heartbreaking.
What future lay ahead for them? First off, their future could take two separate roads. They would either make it to the border or…well, not. If they did successfully cross into the United States, they would face a huge culture shock and a rough transition into school on top of the certain racism and discrimination that would somehow come their way. As they got older, they wouldn’t be able to get driver’s licenses, apply for financial aid or just generally have the other opportunities other kids had. Why should they be affected by a future they didn’t choose? Why should they be bear the consequences? They’re just kids.
I don’t know.
I’m sure that I’ve left out a lot of things from my time in Oaxaca and I know that once I submit this I’ll regret not including so-and-so, but overall this was my experience. People have asked me what my time in Oaxaca was like but it’s not exactly easy to but so much into a few sentences. I’m sure that this whole piece has been choppy and not the greatest thing ever but I hope that it has at least provided some insight into what I learned and I hope it inspires others to learn more about the causes and effects of migration.
My time in Oaxaca gave me some of the most memorable and educational experiences of my life (so far) and I am eternally grateful to all the people that made this trip possible. On a last note:
I hope that my host family is doing well and that they continue to be as happy as they were then I met them.
I hope that the two Salvadoran children have made it to the US safely. I hope they can still experience some of the joys all children should be able to experience. I hope the little girl thinks of me on May 12, our shared birthday, as I’ll certainly be thinking of her. And I hope that they prosper and don’t grow up to be bitter about their standing as immigrants in the US. I hope they don’t blame their mother.
I hope close-minded Americans can stop being so ignorant and actually educate themselves about the migrant experience.
And I hope that this has sparked some thought into every reader’s personal migration story and realization that, whether ten years ago or a hundred, we all came from somewhere and that somewhere is not here.
By Jessica Del Villar. Jessica is a delegate from the 3013 Roots of Migration Delegation in Oaxaca, Mexico.