Friday, August 7, 2009

Musings from Mexico by CFIR member Kathy Bougher

I´m writing from Juchitan in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. I spent the past two days in a migrant shelter in Ixtepec, about half a hour from here. It´s a place where Central American migrants change trains in their journey north. Monday night Father Alejandro, the priest who is the heart and soul of the shelter, was expecting a train to arrive from Arriaga, the town south of here from which trains depart, around 10 pm. About 7 pm he received a phone call from one of his contacts down the line reporting that the train would be in around 8 or 8:30 and that there were at least 200 people riding. The half dozen people in the shelter--a cluster of cement block building still under construction--immediately organized to prepare dinner. They started the wood fire, put on water to boil for rice and chicken, chopped vegetables, and squeezed lemons for lemonade. We bemoaned the fact that there was only one knife in the entire kitchen. Knives seem to walk away. A while later I went with the Padre to the tracks where he welcomes every train as it slows down coming into the station saying, ¨"welcome" and "There´s food at the shelter." "This is your home." There were indeed about 200 people who had made the 12 hour trip that day in the blazing sun. Back at the shelter people were lined up to get lemonade while the food finished cooking. We had to serve in shifts because there were not enough plates for everyone to eat at once. The food ran out and we started cooking more. Eventually everyone ate. I went around and tried to talk with each of the women, perhaps 10 or 15 percent of the group. So many women are assaulted either during the train ride or on the long trip from the Guatemala border to Arriaga, where there are no trains. Most of the women seemed to be ok, or at least that´s what they said. Most were almost too exhausted to talk. One young woman told me she was fifteen and then said, well, she would be fifteen in a few months. She missed the first round of food and I had to convince her to get up and put her shoes back on her aching feet to come eat during the second round. There are a few mattresses, but most people slept on cardboard, on the cement floors, or outside under the trees. Fortunately it did not rain. The majority of the people left on another train early the next morning.

So, this is my context for thinking about why our work as educators is important The increasingly heated and often hostile national and international debates on immigration impact our students and their families so much. I´ve seen young children as well as teenagers cringe with shame when they hear the word “immigrant” at school. Then they explain that what they have heard is that the definition of immigrant is “illegal.” That´s not acceptable. As educators we need to make our school s safe places for students, as well as places where all students learn to apply critical thinking skills to questions such as immigration. We need to be talking about immigration in our schools in informed ways and we need to be able to support students as they speak for themselves.

written by Kathy Bougher, CFIR member, Aug. 5, 2009

1 comment:

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