by Sarah Aldridge
At the beginning of my summer vacation, from May 12th – 21st, I traveled with a delegation from Appalachian State University to Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico, to study U.S. and Mexican immigration policies, and the effects that these policies have on the lives of ordinary people. I went into this experience having no clue of what to expect, and knowing very little of the issue of current immigration policies, and left with yet another country and people I have fallen in love with, and knowing much about a handful of related topics, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, indigenous Mexican farming techniques, and women’s weaving collectives. Above all, however, I made a connection with a place, a people, and an issue that I was not previously as passionate about.
This trip will be engrained in my memory forever, from my free afternoon trip to the local modern art museum and the realization that I can speak Spanish better than I believed, or the pan dulce that I loved so much at breakfast every day. One of the most amazing things about the itinerary that Witness for Peace put together for us for the ten days we were there was the human connection with a very human topic. So often, the people affected by immigration policies and reform, the D.R.E.A.M Act, and the increased border patrol are erased by mass media and a lack of knowledge to simply being a mass of people, nameless immigrants.
Throughout our delegation, Witness for Peace made sure that we were meeting with and making connections with people staying at migrant shelters, with returned immigrants to America, and with the indigenous women and families who worked to decrease the migration out of their community. I know that as long as I live, I will never forget some of the people I met, from Jesus Leon Santos, the passionate and internationally acknowledged farmer in charge of CEDICAM, an organization that reintroduces indigenous farming techniques and local trade to an area ruined by the policies of NAFTA, to the university student that we joined for lunch, who had returned to Mexico after, despite excelling in American schools and making incredible grades, was unable to attend college because she was in “illegal” immigrant, and to my host mom in Teotitlan del Valle and her precious niece and nephew, whom I spent many enjoyable hours with pushing on swings, or watching Beauty and the Beast with in Spanish, while helping their mother cook dinner or discussing their father’s experiences growing up in the U.S.
Not only has my time with Witness for Peace enriched my knowledge of immigration facts and figures, the stereotypes forced upon immigrants, and the true personal faces of immigration, but it has enriched the values that I find the most important in my life, which I believe any unbelievable experience should. The night before I returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, I wrote in my journal, reflecting for eleven pages. On the last two pages, I listed the values that were strengthened in me after all the meetings and dinners and day trips and shopping at indie bookstores, including the openness of my host family and all the speakers, the social awareness of everyone we met with on the trip, the adventurous spirit of all the friends I made at our hostel, the passion of our wonderful leader Maggie, and the beauty and tranquility and beautifully bustling city of Oaxaca.
In addition to strengthening my life personally, my time in Oaxaca has enabled me to speak up more on behalf of immigrants who have been rendered faceless and nameless by our society, and educate future generations on the injustices of current immigration policies and the dangers and hardships that immigrants face, both in their home country and in the U.S., whether they arrive “legally” or “illegally.” At the summer enrichment program where I’ve taught this summer, we’ve read several books on immigration or with characters with hispanic heritage, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with not only my class, but other classes as well about immigration policies and the things I learned through my time in Oaxaca. All in all, travelling with Witness for Peace changed my life, and definitely for the better. I’ll never forget the things I learned there, the experiences I had, and the person that I was during my ten days in Mexico.