The Uprooted Journey

“This capitalist monster is slowly killing us.” “Because of this cooperative, we hope our children have a reason to stay.” “I lived in the United States for 23 years.  I was deported 5 years ago and haven’t seen my wife or 4 kids since.” “The women are finding their voice.”

Almost two years after participating in Uprooted, the voices of the people we met continue to be with me.  I remember grieving for separated families while also being humbled and inspired by generous hospitality.  We saw mountains and rivers ravaged by mining; we witnessed lifegiving food and flowers communities had planted.  We tangibly observed division and ‘us and them’ mentalities; we met so many brave people filled will compassion for all.  It was a trip filled with despair and brokenness, hope and beauty.

Our tagline for Uprooted, finding roots in new places, can be interpreted in many ways.  For me, it continues to be a reminder that migration is a part of all of our stories.  This trip is about hearing people’s journeys, and connecting to our own.

In this new age of Trump rhetoric, I’m grateful for having my Uprooted experience as a frame for viewing these issues.  As I hear talk of building a U.S/Mexico wall, I always think of the wall already at the border in many places, how it slows people down but doesn’t keep them out… no wall ever will.  I’ve been introduced to the increased militarization of the U.S/Guatemala border, and have heard people’s stories of why they risked all to migrate.  I hope these first-hand encounters enable me to engage in current discourse with greater compassion, context, and nuance.

I’ve been keeping these stories, images, and learnings in mind as we shape Uprooted 2018.  This year, Uprooted will look a little bit different than the past as it will be focused on Southern Mexico.  We are excited for this opportunity to delve more into the stories behind what you might hear on the news.  As much as we can lay out an itinerary full of great learning opportunities, what really makes the trip is participant’s willingness to show up, connect, witness migrant’s stories, and reflect on their own story.

Come join the journey!  

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A Month Later

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Maria with the Uprooted group on the Mexico side of the Mexico/U.S. border wall.

A month ago, I came home from one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I came home frustrated and angry. I was angry at the injustice, the oppression, the racism, the hate, and the corruption among many other things.

A month ago, I experienced how privileged I am, not that I didn’t know already, but I experienced it first hand and it wasn’t about the obvious things but more about the little things. The little things that we don’t usually think about. I realized that I am privileged because I hold a Canadian passport, because I live in a country where I feel safe walking down the streets, because I can get to work in 15 minutes, because I live within minutes of my immediate family. I am privileged because I don’t live in fear. I felt guilty that I was so privileged. But then I realized that I shouldn’t feel guilty. In fact, it is a blessing to have such things and such opportunities. Having privilege is the circumstance of my life that I should be grateful for. This however, does not mean that I should look the other way; instead I should embrace the uncomfortable reality of what it means to have privilege.

Coming home meant going back to living my day-to-day life, except now I’m constantly thinking of the stories we heard and the people we met.

I think of the people who have died crossing into the US and how they are remembered weekly in Douglas, Arizona through a prayer vigil. The prayer vigil was a beautiful thing to experience. After every name, we called out “PRESENTE” because they are present in the lives of their loved ones, in those who commemorate them, and now in me. To me, it is not a simple statistic anymore. These are people. People who risk their lives searching for a better one. People who leave everything behind. People who are hopeful. People. Human Beings. Beloved by God.

I also think of Carlos from Casa Tochan in Mexico City. I think about how afraid he was to go to the US but how he had an even bigger fear of returning to his country. I think about how his eyes got watery and how his voice would break every time he mentioned his family. But then I also think about how hopeful he was and how much faith he had that one day he would be safe and reunited with his family.

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A month later, I find myself thanking God for the experience and for the people and organizations that work hard to provide people with resources and opportunities to have a better life. Such as the Fray Matias Human Rights Centre in Tapachula, MCC and its people who work for relief, development and peace building in the name of Christ, Frontera de Cristo and so many more.

I am also thankful for Café Justo because it has given me a deeper understanding of the importance of fair trade products, and because of it I find myself actually looking at the things I use and where they come from. Orsola De Castro said, “demand quality, not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it” and keeping this in mind I hope to be more conscious of the products I use, the clothes I wear and the food I eat.

– Maria Alejandra

Nearing the End 

Well, we are nearing the end! It’s been three weeks since we finished debrief in Calgary and embarked on this journey. We left Douglas/Agua Prieta on Monday and are now in Tucson, Arizona at Shalom Mennonite Fellowship church. 

This past week in Douglas/Agua Prieta was facilitated by Frontera de Cristo, an MCC Mexico partner. We had the opportunity to visit many different organizations and hear many stories from people living on the border. We have experienced both hope and discomfort. 

Here are some photos from our week on the northern border: 

The Florence Project: an organization that helps detained migrants understand their legal rights.

After arriving in Phoenix, we spent the day with Joe and Selena who taught us about migrant detention centres.

Border beautification in Mexico.

The wall: Mexico on the left, the U.S. on the right.

Learning about the border wall and border communities with Jake from Frontera de Cristo.

Hiking in the desert. We traveled to the desert with CRREDA to leave water for people migrating on foot to the U.S.



Visiting Cafe Justo, a coffee cooperative that allows farmers to receive fair prices for their coffee.

Linda Knox took us for a walk to the border to pray and reflect in Douglas. She also showed us the graves of migrants who died in the desert but were unable to be identified. Many families will never know what happened to their loved ones.

We spent time at Dougla Prieta – a sustainable community development initiative. This project is located in a low-income part of Agua Prieta. We worked in the garden and planted corn.

Chiricahua National Monument (The Wonderland of Rocks) in Arizona.

Our last Mexico supper – tacos! This was our last meal before leaving Mexico and traveling to Tucson for debrief.

Happy birthday, Carol! Celebrating Carol’s birthday in Tucson with a DQ icecream cake.

Debriefing our experience with Saulo from MCC U.S.

Beloved by God

       “A daughter, perhaps a sister, perhaps a spouse, perhaps a mother, beloved by God. Antonia Rodriguez!” “Presente!” These are the words spoken as we laid down one of the final crosses in our prayer vigil. Antonia was 29 years old when she was found. She was a migrant whose body was found in the desert. Imagine your own child, sibling, spouse, or parent leaving to try and find a better life. Perhaps you are going hungry, and they want to help you. They leave, risking their life with the hopes of improving yours but you never hear from them again. Can you imagine losing one of the people you hold closest to your heart? Each of these migrants had someone who loved them like that. It is so easy to detach ourselves from these stories and these people. However, in Douglas Arizona, they remember these individuals on a weekly basis. Names of migrants that lost their lives trying to cross into the United States are written on white crosses. A group will gather for the prayer vigil and the walk to the wall begins and this week we got to join. Each name is shouted out with the group responding “Presente”. The cross was then held up by the road so anyone driving by could read the names. Once the line had passed, the cross would be laid down on the side of the road and the cycle would continue. Name after name was read of until we reached the end, a long line of crosses trailed behind us. With three crosses left, Mark led us in recognizing each of them. Jose Hernandez (59 years old), Antonia Rodriguez (29 years old) and No Identificado. Each of their names were read off, following with the reminder that they had been a child, perhaps a sibling, perhaps a spouse, and perhaps a parent, an individual who was beloved by God. Each of them were humanized. Its was heartbreaking to realize how comfortable I personally had become with distancing myself from these people, hearing only the names but protecting myself from allowing it to resonate more. With the last three individuals, I was forced to recognize each of them as someone who had been dearly loved. Their stories hold so much hope and so much pain.        



       The next day, I sat down for dinner a C.A.M.E., a migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, Mexico. At my table sat Jorge. He had lived without papers in the United States for 23 years. After a few years in the U.S., he had been pulled over when driving. He paid his ticket on the spot in order to avoid any trouble which may unveil that he was undocumented. Fifteen years later he was pulled over again. When the police saw him, they told him to get out of his car and they arrested him, saying that there was a warrant for his arrest. Apparently, they had made a mistake because 15 years earlier they had forgotten to record that he had paid his ticket. Jorge was taken to jail and eventually he went to court. He was able to prove that he had paid his ticket, but unfortunately, being in court led to the discovery that he was undocumented. Jorge was deported, separating him from his wife, 19 year old daughter, 17 year old son, 14 year old son and 8 year old daughter. He hasn’t seen them since, it’s been five years. Jorge told us “what breaks my heart the most was that I was our only source of income. I loved my job. I was a chef. I made Korean, Japanese and Chinese food.” When Jorge arrived back in his home stat in Mexico, he was horrified by the substantial increase in violence. “People would just start shooting each other in the streets. They would throw acid on each other. They would burn people alive. Sometimes a person would be stabbed with a poster pierced into their body. Their body would be left in the streets to send a message.” The posters would say “This is what will happen to you if you tell about what is going on here.” Jorge explained that these threats are why this was never seen on the news. Jorge also told us of how trucks had now been seen driving around, picking up people that were on the street. These people would never be seen or heard from again, “they just disappear.” Jorge proceeded to tell us the challenges that some face when migrating. Sometimes even between states, cartel’s charge a fee before an individual can cross. The fee would generally be between $300-$500 American. To cross the border into the United States, the fee is $5000-$8000 American, or the migrant has to risk carrying a backpack of drugs. If any of these charges are not met, they will be shot. If the migrant takes the backpack of drugs, their guide will abandon them if border patrol catches them. This gives them a criminal record. Many people are injured when they try to cross, returning to Mexico with broken bones. Many also go thirsty. According to Jorge, water can be found in the desert by squeezing out the inside of a cactus. However, not everyone is able to do this. About four months ago, Jorge had tried to cross with his brother. They were caught and sent back. The United States intentionally sent them to different places so they would have difficulty reconnecting. This is something that is very common. Spouses have been separated. Sent back to entirely different cities with no idea of how to contact and find each other. Someone at our table asked him if he was always afraid of being caught when he lived in the United States. Jorge nodded his head. He said that migration would hang around 7/11’s, selecting people who they would ask for documentation. He also said that he had noticed racism towards Latino’s. They would frequently be pulled over when driving since they are often suspected to be undocumented. Once Jorge had finished talking to us, he asked us to tell his story. He hopes that when people hear it, they will have a better understanding of migrants. 

 

 

      Earlier that morning, our group went on a border tour along the wall. We drove around,  stopping alongside the wall and hearing some of the stories that it held. The gravel road alongside the wall is worth billions. It is specially designed so that drivers can move at highway speed in order to catch anyone who crosses who does not cross through a legal port of entry. The border patrol also smoothes over the dust so that any new footprints are easily distinguishable, and the people who walked there can be tracked. They use cameras with 360 degree coverage that have both thermal and night vision capabilities. At our first stop on the tour, we heard about Carlos. He was an American citizen in his senior year of high school. In the town there was a tradition of running drugs to the border. The kids are told that since they are only minors, the worst thing that can happen to them is a slap on the wrist. Carlos was driving when the police and border patrol chased him. They T-boned his car so he got out, ran to the fence and began climbing. Mexican citizens on the other side saw the aggression towards the young man and began throwing rocks at his pursuers in hopes of stopping them. The border patrol then pulled out their weapons and shot Carlos three times in the back. Carlos fell to the ground, lifeless. Both the American and Mexican sides made shrines in rememberence of Carlos. Today, only the Mexican one remains because the American border had Carlos’ family remove it when they replaced the wall with one that would be bigger and better. The next story we heard was that of Jose Antonio. He had been on the Mexican side of the border, throwing rocks at the American border control. The border control shot and killed him claiming that he was a threat. The joke that follows this tragic story is that Jose must have been an MLB player in order to have the accuracy and strength to throw a rock heavy enough both through the fence and far enough to come close to even touching the border patrol.

       I hope that hearing these stories resonate in you and echo through your thoughts as they do with me. Each individual has their own unique story that cannot be erased. Each migrant that didn’t make it has their name permanently on a cross, and people who grieve their loss. Jorge has a wife and four children who were relying on him for income, haven’t seen him in five years and miss him dearly. Carlos is remembered by a shrine, cemented into the ground on the Mexican side and by a green ribbon tied around the fence. The fence where Jose breathed his last is marked with bullet holes. It is hard to accept that there will be no simple solution. For now, all I can to is sit with these stories. I will let them ring in my mind, as my heart goes out to these people. Sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends. Each of them a person, beloved by God.

– Jana Klassen

Some Mexico City Cultural Visits! 

Some photos of Ballet Folkloriko performed at the Palacio of Bellas Artes.

Inside Palacio Nacional. It is located in Mexico City’s main square, la Plaza de la Constitucion.

Murals inside the National Palace painted by Diego Rivera.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Also located in La Plaza de la Constitucion

Inside the Cathedral.

Ruins behind the Cathedral, also in La Plaza de la Constitucion. The Cathedral was built on top of the ruins.

View from inside the National Anthropologie Museum. (Museo Nacional de Antropologia)

Pyramids of Teotihuacan – The pyramids of the moon ad the sun. The pyramid of the sun is the largest pyramid in Mexico.

Group picture in front of the pyramid of the moon with MCC Salter Cynthia and her home stay sister, Nelly!


Basilica of Guadalupe

The original cloth in which she showed herself to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531.

Juan Diego was the Aztec converted to Catholicism that Our Lady of Guadalupe presented herself to.


PS. We do not have consistent access to wi-fi in Agua Prieta. We arrived in Phoenix on May 16th and are now in Agua Prieta/Douglas with Frontera de Cristo. We will post again when we can! 

Migrants are People

This past semester I learned about dehumanization. Simply put, dehumanization happens when a group of people is seen as “less than human” by another group. By giving a different name and attributing only a single story to this group, it becomes easier to justify their mistreatment. In my own experience, these kinds of dehumanizing tendencies are sometimes shown when it comes to migrants. Naturally, on this learning tour which focuses on migration and peacebuilding, we have had some important discussions about migration. These have continued here in Mexico City. We have learned that there are many different reasons for which a person might migrate. Someone might decide to leave their home because of economic opportunities elsewhere, or because of environmental dangers. Someone may migrate in order to be reunited with family members, or simply for a change in scenery. Some people leave their homes because they will be killed if they stay. There is no single migrant story.
Being on this trip has allowed me to broaden my understanding of what a migrant is. I have come to the realization that a migrant is someone who has left one place to move to another. I am a migrant if I leave my home country for fear of persecution. I am a migrant if I move to another province for a job. Migrants are not all victims. Migrants are not all criminals. Migrants are not all poor. There is no single migrant story.

During our time in Mexico City so far, we have been able to visit some of the spaces that shelter migrants along their journeys. Within these shelters are incredibly beautiful pieces of art painted by some of the people who have stayed there. I would like to share pictures of a few murals in CAFEMIN, a family migrant shelter that also provides workshops in areas such as baking, sewing, and computers for the people staying there:

This mural shows Jesus carrying his cross, and migrants after him carrying theirs.


This mural pictures an angel overseeing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus during their own migration.


The message of these murals is one of humanization. They bring humanity to the topic of migration in a powerful way; by countering the disassociation that sometimes occurs when migrants are concerned. It is important not to fall into the tendency of dehumanization. I know that the pain in the world is so great, and it is often easier to talk about people as though they are a little less than people. It makes life easier to bear. But if I take a step back, I remember that Jesus was a migrant, and that I myself am a descendent of migrants. Yet I also remember that migrants are people deserving of human rights and dignity not because I am related to migrants, or worship a God who was one, but simply because they are people.

– Alannah DeJong

Flowers and Farmers in the Mountains

By Allison Goerzen
I grew up on a grain and cattle farm west of Didsbury. The rural lifestyle is pretty familiar to me. I did though, somewhere around teenage-hood, decide it wasn’t for me. I went on to what I thought were bigger and better things. I liked my freedom and spending time with friends, all of which didn’t seem to fit the ‘work from dawn til dusk’ attitude. But it seems that recently something in me has started to shift. I find myself craving time in the countryside more. I seek out places that are quieter and spend more time on my own. I’ve also been getting into plants recently too, and I wonder if it is the natural calling to go back to my roots and be connected with the land. The instinct to learn more about caring for the land in the form of urban (and maybe eventually rural) gardening has been brewing in mind lately too. It seemed I was just waiting for inspiration to hit, and it came in the form of an organic flower farm in the Guatemalan highlands:

Our ride up the mountain

The winding road and cascading vegetation

On Saturday morning we jumped into the back of a pick-up truck in San Miguel to make our way up to Tonina, a village that is nestled along the northern border. It was a windy and bumpy journey through mountain villages and cascading vegetation. The clouds rolled around us and the air was clean and cool. We reached our final destination at 9000 ft. We were met with a big welcome and handed a sweet corn drink that was hot and comforting. Our purpose there was to learn about the farming cooperative (partnered with MCC) and how migration has affected their community. We also got to spend a night in their homes, meeting the farmer’s families and experiencing how they live.

Touring the Vegetable Garden

That morning we took a tour of Tonina which had us walking through a flower-filled wonderland, learning about each crop, and hearing about the benefits the community has experienced since they started the cooperative. Traditionally, they used to only grow mono-crops like corn or wheat and sell the harvest for a minimal amount. They then tried to live off their earnings and so tended to eat only what was cheapest. This was not sustainable because it meant that the community suffered from malnutrition and a lack of resources. They were also forced to rely solely on the success of one crop, no matter the conditions. Now, with the help of MCC, they have begun to learn about the importance of a healthy diet and the value of flowers and organic vegetables in the market. They now grow flowers, vegetables, and fruits as well as raise a variety of animals. They terraced the land and have been experimenting with which plants grow well in their climate, which plants compliment each other, and how to care for the land so they can continue to live there. They no longer rely on just one crop and are able to grow most of their food, freeing up their money for other essentials. They learned that chemicals in the earth does a lot of harm to the soil and caused sicknesses in their community. Instead, they now grow organically which produces larger and tastier vegetables and fruit, as well as ensuring they can continue to farm there for generations to come. Being a part of a cooperative has meant that they are able to share best practices and produce with each other, creating a strong sense of inter-connectedness and community. With the introduction of seed-saving, they are able to start each year without a large financial investment. They also have a variety of animals which each play their part in the whole process. Horses are used to help carry heavy loads, the chickens provide meat and eggs, cattle provide milk, beef, and fertilizer, and the rabbit’s urine is used as a natural bug repellent for the gardens. The village has also used tourism as a source for income because many people walk through on their way to the Tacana Volcano during the December holidays. (The rabbits are sold to tourists too) Workshops are held so other farmers can learn about small-scale, organic farming and Tonina is often toured as an example. Because of the cooperative, this village is thriving and able to support itself.

Verli is one of the many young children who are growing up learning how to care for a garden and farm. She was busy weeding while we toured

In the afternoon, we had a chat with the farmers about migration. We have become increasingly aware of the mass exodus of people out of Latin America and begun to see the hardships migrants face in the cities and borders. In the case of the Marlin Mine, people are leaving because their homes and livelihoods are disappearing. Up in the mountains though, young people leave in search of more money. Stories are still circulated from the civil war in the 80’s when people could cross into the States a lot easier, find great jobs, buy a house, and make a lot of money. It seems that it is still the hope for many that reaching the States is the answer to their problems and prosperity will await them. If you have listened to any speeches from Trump and his take on migrants, you will know that the U.S. is not waiting with open arms. Unfortunately, many who leave home never come back and so it is assumed they are dead. (More on what happens to migrants as they travel will be posted when we get closer to the Northern Mexico border) The farmers sounded hopeful though, that with the introduction of sustainable farming, their children will have more reason to stay and be on the land of their ancestors. They don’t want to lose their children, so it is important to have something worth staying for. The exciting thing is, when new members to the community arrive or children return home, the whole village welcomes them by helping to build their house and giving them seeds to start their crops.

Verli, Bryan, and Emily playing in a tree.

I am incredibly inspired by the hard-working people of Tonina and so grateful I got to see first-hand the importance of small-scale, organic farming. I think it has now given me a voice to what I already knew to be true. Caring for, living off of, and being thankful for the land we occupy is what is needed to heal the world. For me, I will start by planting my mini urban garden on my patio. Who knows where this will take me!