By Annika Barnett, ’18
When Eduardo – the volunteer coordinator for Fundacion Esperanza(Esperanza - Hope - International) in Tijuana – asked each of us why we were there, I told him it was because I was frustrated. I was frustrated by the way our country chose to vote, I was frustrated by the way people voiced hurtful words without care, and most of all, I was frustrated that I often did not have the courage to respond.
I had strong opinions backed only by news and dinnertime conversation. Frustration and the desire to learn more brought me to Justice in January, but what I came back with differed from expected. Yes, I felt frustration on our trip when I heard about migrant deaths and saw the prototypes of new options for “The Wall.” But it was more than just this emotion that made my mouth twist and my stomach flip.
What I gained most from this experience were the faces and the stories. Faces and stories that will impact me everyday because they remind me that this is not a political issue but a humanitarian crisis.
- I will remember Yolanda, the founder of Deported Moms, as she bent her head and said she thought she was “the only one” before finding others in her situation.
- I will remember the face of the border agent who stated without a stutter that there is a criminal in every group crossing the border.
- I will remember the face of 3-year old Manuel, who played contentedly in the dirt and hugged our legs without recognition of our differences.
These faces will continue to remind me the importance of voting, speaking out and advocating for immigrant rights and policy changes.
The stories of the two men at Casa de Migrante will also stand out to me. One of them, only 19 with a dream of reaching New York, and the other, 45, who had picked apples for five years here in Washington state. The openness with which these men shared their stories with an outsider like myself was humbling and inspiring. I believe that if everyone in this country were able to see these faces with open eyes and truly hear such stories, more positive change would occur.
Until then, I will continue sharing my stories from this experience and entering into conversations with others who may disagree so that they can see the face of someone filled with passion for change.