Meet Kevin: When I first saw Kevin, he was standing outside the comedor (soup kitchen), curls sticking out from his baseball hat and head bobbing in rhythm with the music pumping from his headphones, while he waited for the morning meal to be served. Kevin had just been deported to Nogales, Mexico after illegally trying to enter the United States.
Kevin, age 17, amicably shared his story with me. He left his parents and seven brothers and sisters behind in Honduras in the hope of finding work in the U.S. with plans to send money back to his family. Nearly 65% of Honduras’ population lives in poverty and the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Like many other Central American migrants, Kevin hopped La Bestia, the notorious trans-Mexican freight train, in order to avoid getting caught by Mexican border agents. He spent five nights on top of the train, with little food, and alternately freezing in the rain and baking in the sun. And then, he got caught trying to cross into the U.S. Almost 4,000 miles from home, with no money left; Kevin had no idea what his next steps might be.
Kevin’s was just one of a multitude of stories I heard while participating in the Kino Border Initiative, an experiential education program aiming to provide a holistic view of border and immigration issues along Arizona-Mexico border. I had heard about such programs and always wanted to learn more about them with the goal of providing the opportunity for Hun students to participate. So, when I was invited to join a group of students from St. Ignatius Prep in Cleveland, OH on their journey, I jumped at the chance.
HAC: HAC stands for Humanize, Accompany, and Confuse: the goals of The Kino Border Initiative program. Participants spend time with migrants, asylum seekers, and ranchers living on the border, listening to their stories and learning about the complexities of immigration and border issues. They do this through visits to the comedor in Mexico, which serves recently deported migrants, talking with folks at a women’s shelter, and sharing a potluck lunch with ranchers who live on the frontlines of these issues. Other activities include walking on migrant trails in the desert, observing criminal prosecution proceedings in a Tucson court, and lots of time for reflection.
According to organizers at Kino, “The trip is intended to humanize the immigration issue and to recognize its complexity, while emphasizing accompaniment of people on their journey.” And, if you walk away from the experience with more questions than answers, they feel they have done their job!
Red dots and gallons of water: While waiting to serve dinner at the comedor, I found myself staring at a map of southern Arizona that was covered in red dots. As I translated the Spanish, I realized that the dots represented human remains. During the past sixteen years, over 3,000 migrants have died in the deserts of southern Arizona. The map was created by the organization, Humane Borders, which maintains a system of water stations in the desert on routes used by migrants in the hopes of saving people from death by dehydration and exposure. They believe, “Border crossing may be illegal... but it shouldn’t be a death sentence.” The map at the comedor included the warnings, “Don’t go. There isn’t enough water. It’s not worth it!”
Meet Yessenia: The next day I sat with Yessenia as she shared her story. Threatened, persecuted, and assaulted in El Salvador for being gay, Yessenia rode atop La Bestia through Mexico, crossed into the U.S., and was separated from her group in the desert. Having consumed the last of her water days prior, she was in mortal danger when she stumbled upon one of these lifesaving water stations. While there is much more to Yessenia’s journey, when we met her, she was one step closer to being granted asylum in the U.S.
There’s so much more to my experience on the border, like finding items left behind by migrants as we walked in their footsteps in the desert, and the ubiquitous border patrol helicopters and vehicles, and the rancher who had a crate of marijuana dropped at the end of her driveway from an Ultralight plane. And, I will happily share with anyone who has the time and interest to listen. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my time on the border and the people I met there. The Kino Border Experience is educational, confusing, and powerful. I’m excited that next fall The Hun School will offer a student trip! We will share information on that opportunity once we have the details in place.