Final journal entry
By Andrew Bell
It has taken me many weeks to be able to express my final emotions on my trip to Borderlinks. I guess the trauma of the trip has left me speechless, unable to express the dark and frightening emotions the journey has stirred up inside of me. I consider myself a person who expresses himself lucidly and passionately in my writings. Never have I gone weeks unable to express my feelings in writing. However, the gravity of a week spent on the border has rendered me in such a debilitating state.
The situation on the United States Border is nothing less than heart wrenching. Stories of families unable to find employment to feed their children and children like Josseline Quinteros who died trying to achieve the American dream seem more the norm than the exception, and the crisis continues. What shocks me most is the ignorance in the United States of the struggle there, and the adverse reaction they have had to my journey. Since returning home, I have been asked everything from whether I brought my gun along to help minute men solve the problem, to how we can help fund the fence. After the look in the eyes of migrants at the aid station, to those chained at the confines of border patrol, it is hard for me to not act violently towards such pathetic ignorance. But I try. People it appears at times can be persuaded. I show them a picture of Josseline. I talk about my story on my weekly radio show and lash out at the snickers of white racists I hear around my city discussing the issue.
Illness attacked me once I arrived home. More surprising though was the doctor’s inability to access and identify it. I like to think it was given to me by God as a reminder not to forget the stories I have heard and not to readjust and blindly enjoy my privileged life. During the summer, I have been tempted many times, to sit beach side, hang with friends, and enjoy time off school. But at night, I’m kept up worrying about the amount of deaths that new border patrol methods have led to in smoldering hot Arizonan deserts. No matter what happens in this election, much of the anti-immigrant sentiment will continue. People of privilege will worry about their livelihood, and will blame immigrants for their loss in standing. And meanwhile I can do almost nothing to influence them. Like the immigrant who’s begging for his story to be heard, I too want the world to hear my tale. But what I’ve realized is that the entire world can’t. And that depresses me. I wish I could talk to the blue collar worker in America who blames immigrants for his lost job, or the second generation Mexican who is disgraced by his background or for that matter Lou Dobbs. But I can’t. This helplessness is what frightens me, and what has until now limited my resolve.
But now I realize, as time goes on, that I can do something. I can not be that privileged college kid who forgets those who are unfortunate. I can not be another converted racist, and I can stand up whenever I get the chance for what I believe in. More than the crisis on the border, and the stories of the oppressed, this trip taught me that no matter how little your standing is in society, your ability to say no, and be different is more powerful than any legislation or law that could ever be passed. And for that I gratefully thank Borderlinks and hope to always pass on the experiences of my trip, to anyone who’s willing to listen.
1st Journal Entry: In Mexico
I think the word that best describes our journey in Mexico is confusion. Confusion as to where I was, who were my friends and most importantly who supported the mission of the migrants. No matter where we went, what I found most shocking was the inability for us as outsiders to tell enemies from friends. Whether it was at sanctuaries, local plazas, churches or migrant aid stations, we were never able to identify who were coyotes and who were migrants. One night at dinner, I had a passionate conversation with a man who turned out to be a coyote, snatching up any migrant he could. Although he was evil by trade, I was clueless, until notified later, that the man was different from any of the other people who shared dinner with our group, and would have sworn that he was an honest and trustworthy man. Later that day, we visited a so-called “safe resting place” for migrants, which turned out to be a dangerous, and coyote controlled hot spot. Again I was duped. Later still, our group was lied to by maquila management, who presented a distorted image of factory life. All of a sudden, I too was a migrant, with no grasp of who I could turn to.
Although this experience proved an interesting exercise in walking in the shoes of migrants, it also limited my ability to appreciate the journey. From then on in Mexico, I was unable to really empathize with the migrants, because I never knew who they were. Whether it was when I spoke with my family’s son, or with a priest in the plaza, I never knew if it was someone I could trust. Sure we saw a lot of poverty, and frightening spectacles, but I must confess in Mexico, I was so confused, that my ability to appreciate was extremely restricted. The wall that separated the United States and Mexico, and the art that adorned it, was powerful, but still was unable to capture the “desired” emotions that I expected on the journey. Poverty and crime were clearly rampant, but this wasn’t my home, and these weren’t yet my people. I still was unaware and confused.
2nd Journal Entry: In America
It wasn’t until we returned to America, that the emotions began to pour out and consume me. I was thrilled to return home to the world of McDonald’s, Home Depot, English, and fair and just democracy. Upon crossing to the other side and returning home, I was content in seeing less dire circumstances and witnessing less prevalent poverty. In fact I was beginning to settle back into blind American contentment, until three absolutely spine tingling things happened; we were pulled over by ICE, we witnessed the injustice of the American legal system and we traveled the path of migrants.
On our way back to the camp in Tucson, our van was pulled over by ICE. We were told that our van was very similar to that of migrant vans, and we risked gang warfare. We were warned of the dangers that Mexicans pose to Americans, and were corrected in our use of migrant to describe what the ICE officer classified as illegals.
I was terrified by the whole ordeal. Sure I’ve been pulled over by police before and given a ticket. But this time, I had no rights. I was just a scared American, watching as an ICE officer had been granted more say in my own government than I had. I was helpless and timid. And I immediately exited the car, when he asked to search it. Unlike the other students on the trip who were brave and spoke up, I wasn’t, and if given the chance would have run. I don’t know why, but something about an ICE officer having such unlimited power intimidated me. What would have happened if I hadn’t had my passport? What would he have done to me? Who knows?
On our journey we made a detour and followed the path of migrants. On our short hike we looked at the debris of the many journeys to America. Everything from decrepit backpacks to Gatorade bottles lay littered all over the beaten path. The memories of those who attempted to find a better life, left there to commemorate their journey. I thought of the mess that was left after September 11 in my city. Of the backpacks and clothes that would never again be worn. It reminded me that these “border crossers” were also victims of God’s will, and that all I could do was follow its path and pick up the debris. The hike was mountainous and slippery and most likely traveled by migrants at night. Imagining crossing such dangerous terrain at night enlightened me on the dire straits that must demand such migration.
Later in our journey we witnessed the prosecution and in turn deportation of 60+ undocumented workers. This infuriated me. It wasn’t so much the deportation but the manner in which it was executed that angered me. These migrants wore chains on both their hands and feet, and were all prosecuted at once. Some of them were younger than I was, and seeing the roots of their journey and following it with our group allowed me to in some small way feel the emotion that they must have experienced in such a dismissive deportation. Some of the names were Latino names of friends that I have in New York. I thought of these kids parents who crossed and imagined if they too had been held back. I thought of my great grandparents who crossed the Atlantic and imagined the situation if they too had been prosecuted and sent back in such a manner. One of the interesting facts I learned, was that only 17% of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island were legal. How do the ancestors of those “border crossers” explain the treatment that they are inflicting on these present day immigrants? In that moment I began to shudder with rage. I wanted to break the necks of the judge, lawyers and cops who belittled them and free those people. But I couldn’t. I imagined the naïve citizens who favored enforcement and wondered how they would respond to the mistreatment of these angels. But I couldn’t. When I returned back to Borderlinks, for the first time in a long time, I cried. The experience in Mexico began to dawn on me much more, and the desecration of the nation I loved became apparent. The country I was patriotic about was hurting those responsible for its glory. This sickened me. I continued to cry. Since this experience, the stories continue to appear from time to time in my dreams and my thoughts, and my disgrace at the situation there continues to haunt me.