From Migrants to Persons

We have been in Mexico City for a few days now. The climate agrees with us (it is much less humid than Tapachula and just the right temperature!). We’ve also been enjoying some thunder storms!
Our week in Mexico City began by discussing migration with Arturo, Casa de Los Amigos’ Program Coordinator. He challenged us to consider what migration is and why migration is happening in Mexico and Central America. After this discussion, we journeyed to a long-term migrant shelter and resource centre called Casa Tochan. We toured the facility and learned about the different resources Casa Tochan tries to provide for migrants. We listened to stories and thoughts from migrants staying at the shelter and shared lunch together.
I’ve been thinking about the question: “What is a migrant?” Arturo explained that the term “migrant” is often imposed on those who leave their home-countries to improve their families lives. They do not necessarily embrace this label or the connotations it carries. Migrants are often generalized as impoverished, job stealers, and illegals. They are often treated without dignity. Their previous identities no longer matter; they are considered “nobodies” by many. Whether they were well-educated, respected professionals, talented artists, or loved family members, they are now “migrants.” Strangers in the lands they are crossing or settling into. It is easy to enter a migrant shelter and see migrants. Strangers are strangers until we share time, meals, stories, experiences: then they become acquaintances or friends. As I reflect on our journey, I think this is part of the richness of this experience. As we spend time learning about migration and visiting with migrants, we begin to see “persons.” They are no longer simply statistics or ignorant misconceptions. These are people who have fled their homes due to violence, instability, and lack of opportunity. They have families and loved ones. They have hopes and dreams. We share the commonalities of humanity. 
As we continue throughout this journey and beyond, I hope that we will be challenged to love our neighbours better; both those at home and those abroad. 
Please continue to pray for the team as we continue to learn,

Thomas

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Guatemala Photos

  

  

This river marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Many migrants cross the river at these unofficial border crossings. Many people have family on both sides of the border and cross frequently for commerce. We crossed the official border into Guatemala on May 5th and returned to Tapachula on May 8th.

 

We have been using many different modes of transportation. One of our favourites was the “tricycles” in Guatemala!

  

The beautiful highlands of Guatemala.

  

We visited San Miguel to learn about the resistance towards mining in this area. The machines below are “remaking” this mountain with chemical waste from the mining process. This Canadian open pit mining has removed the resource-filled mountain and has created environmental, health, and social problems for the surrounding communities.

  

After our night in San Marcos, we travelled to the community of Tonina located at the base of the Tacana volcano. The road was under construction so we hiked the rest of the way up the mountain. It was quite the workout in the high altitude, but the view at the top was well worth it!

  

Exploring Tonina.

   

We learned about MCC’s support for Tonina’s vegetable and flower gardens. Selling these products helps community members  stay in Tonina instead of migrating to the cities. The flowers were beautiful!

  

   

                  

   
    

Photos! (Tapachula, Chiapas/ Mexico City)

   

    

 Our first destination: Tapachula! We arrived after a tiring travel day on May 4th.

  

Delicious ice cream break in the very hot Tapachula, Chiapas. This was our last day in Tapachula after our time in the Guatemala Highlands. We later flew to Mexico City (on May 9th).

  

Exploring Mexico City.

 

Learning about migration in Mexico with Arturo. We discussed the big picture of migration (political and economic reasons) and learned about different push/pull factors for people’s on the move.

    

Some of the team at Casa Tochan.

The group visited Casa Tochan in Mexico City. Casa Tochan is a long-term shelter and resource centre for peoples the move. We heard some stories and shared a meal with the migrants.

        

     

  

  

       

 

Sunday May 10, 2015

Our Sunday started off with us going to church at The Church Seguidores de Cristo. To get there we had to take the Metro. A very scary thought for someone who has never really been on public transportation. Since May 10th was Mother’s Day, that is what the service was based on. Though it was all in Spanish and it was a new experience to be in a different church that you don’t know the language of. After church we had lunch with the congregation. There was chicken, beef, and salad along with cactus and onions. Eating cactus was a new experience but it wasn’t bad.
After lunch we went exploring a part of Mexico City that wasn’t originally part of the city along with Alex and Katie (who are on Yamen and Salt) It was a very beautiful part of the city. Some of us went to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum while the rest of us were wandering around the area. I went along with the group that was walking around and it was a blast. We got to see the market that was around there and see the many dogs that were around. The scenery of that part of the city is great. It was great to see the culture of Mexico through wandering around. We stopped to play hacky sack at one point and had Churros! I had never had Churros before and they are really good. I recommend that you try them!
After our wanderings and museum sightings, we came back to the Casa de los Amigos and had a potluck with the Quakers of the house. It was a really fun day where we got to see some of the great things of Mexico City and there is still more to come. 
We will keep you posted with more adventures!!
Tonja 

Paradise.

Yesterday we woke up in Sibinal, (home of our new friend Aldo). There was a market (that only happens on Thursdays) on the street outside our hotel. Trying to make our way though to our restaurant was confusing and a little crazy. (Imagine getting lost traveling only to the other side of the block.) But it was interesting to see what an average market was like. After that, we climbed into the back of a pickup truck and drove to the base of a community called Tonina. The road leading up to the village itself was closed for construction, so unfortunately we had to walk the last half hour up a mountain carrying our bags. Which after the fact felt very good, but during, we all had wished for something different. It was well worth it though. 

The top of the mountain was amazing. Unlike the crazy busy streets below, above the clouds felt like a whole other world. Quiet, calm, and cool, it was paradise after the Tapachula heat. We first went to the house of the director of the community, which is called the Flower House. His wife grows so many kinds of plants, all in little pots nailed to the side of the house. Then, when they’re ready they’re sold to people in Sibinal, San Miguel, San Marcos, and even in Tapachula. Also, people hiking up the mountain to the volcano will frequently stop to buy flowers. This was very common in the community. Most of the women grew different kinds of plants to sell. The tour was breath taking. Literally, we were so high up it felt like we had no air. 
After touring around and meeting various people, we were lucky enough to hear some stories of people migrating back and forth across the border for work when they were younger. Now people cross the border and usually don’t come back, looking for jobs in different trades rather than at plantations or coffee farms. After hearing various stories and being fed, we took to team bonding via music! We sat at one house and learned a song to sing before meals (in Spanish). And then moved back to the Flower House to find a guitar and some chairs, where we continued to master Prince of Peace and teach it to Aldo. 
After lots of singing and a little salsa dancing, or stick dancing if you’re Erin (she’s stiff as a board), we broke into groups of two and went to various homes in the community to stay overnight. It was great to spend time with some people and get to hear their story. They also asked lots of questions about Canada. Two separate worlds. After a good nights sleep (for some at least) we said goodbye to our families early and traveled back down the mountain, into the pick up truck, through Guatemala and into the Tapachula heat. 
It will probably be my favourite memory from this trip. To see that beautiful mountain top that seemed so untouched with clouds that you could walk out onto, and to learn about how regular and normal crossing the border is for most people. It truly is a different life. If anyone wanted to learn about a different culture so close to home this would be it. There is so much more to discover! 
More to share soon, 
Katrina 

Wednesday, May 6th

Today was a day filled with some hard truths about Canadian Mining. Our group travelled to the community of San Miguel, located near the Marlin Mine which is run by a Canadian company. We met with two Sisters there who were more than willing to share with us the way the mine has impacted their community. We had to use a translator to communicate with the Sisters, but is was clear to us on how the Sisters thought of the mine; they despised it. Both sisters were apart of the resistance group that was protesting against the mine and want it out of their community. The mine is not only affecting the land but the company has also lied to the people since the beginning.
  Back when the mine first showed interest in mining the gold there, the company came to all of the surrounding communities and invited everyone to a big meal where the company would pitch its plan. The people listened and took into account what was said and some became excited with the idea of all the new jobs that would come with the mine and also what the mine could bring to their communities. After the meal took place, papers were passed around to collect signatures of all who was there; this was a common practice in these communities to see how much was spent on the meal. The mine had other ideas for the papers and used them to indicate that the communities were in favour of bringing the mine in. That fast tracked the process and soon the mine was purchasing land and employing people. The mine was almost set but it still needed to buy the last bit of land from a woman who did not want to sell. To get the woman to sell the company offered her ten times the amount everyone else received. That was the moment the first deception came out. The people were enraged and began protesting. The Marlin Mine then offered the rest of the people the same amount of money but as soon as the protesting stopped, they took back their word and refused to pay. After the second deception, more came pouring out and the community felt that something needed to be done. The final straw was when the children and the elderly began to have spots on their skin. The spots did not go away and when it was brought to the doctor the doctor said it was due to uncleanliness, but it is believed that the mine paid the doctor to lie. The communities all know that the Mine has contaminated the water which has caused the skin conditions and in severe cases left children without the ability to walk. Desperate for change, the community of San Miguel and surrounding communities started up the resistance.
 The resistance began speaking out and encouraging others who were affected by the Mine to join and spread the word. Marlin Mine wanted to shut down the group and has done everything that they can to shut it down. They have used bribery to prevent others from joining the resistance and to deal with people in the resistance, they have used threats. The mine also has control of the authorities, doctors, and teachers so that is often how they get people to not join or quiet down in the resistance. The leaders of the resistance have been frustrated with this and continue to seek different ways to stop the mining. After the Sisters finished sharing, our group asked if there is anything we can do to help and the response was to spread the word and raise awareness. On that note, we left the Sisters and headed to the Marilyn Mine itself. We were not allowed in, but a man who has entered the mine on two separate occasions drove us to three different locations overlooking the mine. It was sad to see how much destruction the mine had done to this beautiful land and how close it was to civilization. After taking a few pictures, our group left and headed to Sibinal for night. 
   I cannot speak on behalf of the whole group but I know that I felt sad and frustrated with this mine and how it treated the communities. I also felt a sense of shame knowing that it is a Canadian company that is causing all of this heartbreak and disease throughout Guatemala. I no longer wonder why Canadians are hated so much in Guatemala because we have caused so much grief and division in the land. I think the worst part of it all is realizing how oblivious the average Canadian citizen is when it comes to the Canadian mines that are dispersed throughout different countries. I know that before I went on the trip I knew nothing about what the Canadian mines did and how they treated the people. It was a huge eye opener for me and I know that I would like to know more and no longer be oblivious to this issue that we have with the way Canada mines. 
   To end on a lighter note, the highlands of Guatemala are so incredibly beautiful. The best way that I can think of describing it is that it is a more tropical version of the hilly country side in BC. I think maybe that is why I adored it so much, because it reminded me of some of the good in my home country. Another highlight of the day and also the whole trip so far would have to be the food, it is amazing! I would highly recommend if anyone plans to travel to Guatemala in the near future to try the traditional food, it is so satisfying and also it is not spicy, which is a bonus. I cannot handle spicy food so we’ll see how I handle Mexico. On that note I will end the blog here today and I hope that you can take this information to heart like I did.
    Hope to talk to you all soon, 
                                     Josie

First Impressions…

Hey everyone! Sorry for the delay, we have not had Internet for the past few days, so this is from Tuesday May 5th.  More to come!

Hola from Guatemala!  
Yesterday was a longer day than we expected.  We awoke at 3:15 am to begin our travels and arrived in Mexico City at 4:00 pm.  We were supposed to fly out at 8:00, but our flight was delayed and we ended up arriving in Tapachula at our hotel at 2:00 am, so it was a very long day for us, and we were exhausted.  We were very thankful for Clementine, who is from MCC Mexico City who was able to fly with us to Tapachula and translate for us.  It was a bit of a challenge for us to navigate the airport in Mexico City with no translator.   When we arrived in Tapachula, we also met up with Miriam, who works with MCC in Chiapas (Southern Mexico), and have been traveling with her as well.  
Tapachula is the hottest place most of us have experienced.  As soon as we landed, the plane windows fogged up.  When we got off the plane, it was like walking into a sauna, and it was only 1:00am.   We slept fairly well despite the heat because we were so tired.  This morning was a bit rushed.  We went for breakfast and visited an organization called Fray Matias in Tapachula, which is the only organization there that helps migrants.  It was so unbelievably hot, we were all sweating and our clothes were sticking to us, we were all pretty exhausted from the heat. 
We then took a taxi to the Guatemalan border.  We walked along the river that divides Mexico and Guatemala.  The illegal border crossing is right next to the legal border crossing.  We stood along the river and watched people go across on inner tubes right beside the bridge, which is the legal border crossing. Border crossing is so fluid here, and the crossing is vital to the communities on either side of the border.  Some people have families on both sides or go shopping on both sides of the border.  We then walked across the bridge, which is the legal border crossing, and got to experience public transportation in Guatemala.  We were able to take bike taxis, taxis, a mini bus, and a school bus to come up into the highlands to the city of San Marcos, where we are now.  Driving and transport is so different here from what we are used to, and it was really neat to have that experience.  It was approximately a three hour trip up into the highlands, and it was so interesting to feel the air cool down as we climbed the hills.  I went from being so hot in Tapachula that my clothes were sticking to my body, to actually feeling the need to put on a sweater because I was getting goosebumps.  It has been a very nice change to be cooler and be able to even wear pants!
This evening, we went for supper in San Marcos and and experienced some Guatemalan cuisine.  It was delicious!  We were also able to have some down time as a group and laugh a lot together.  The cooler weather has given us all a lot more energy!
I’m off to bed now, but you will hopefully hear more from us when we have internet again!
Buenas Noches,
Erin