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!

Marlin Mine: On land, destruction, and hope

Meeting with community organizers in San MIguel

I still have a vivid memory from 3 years ago during Planting Peace (another MCC Alberta young adult program) when our friend Maggie wept as she asked us whether we knew what Canadian mines were doing to her country of Guatemala. I was shocked as she described how a Canadian mine has caused incredible devastation – both environmental and social – to her community. 
Maggie’s face was in my mind all day as we travelled through the Guatemala highlands to San Miguel, where Marlin mine operates, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Goldcorp. We first met with a number of community organizers in San Miguel at a Catholic Church where they are resisting the mine.  They took the time to tell us how the mine has affected their community, a tale of destruction consistent with what Maggie had told us in Canada. It was an honor to hear the stories of these strong women and men willing to speak out against the mine. They spoke of the visible environmental signs of destruction caused by the mine: their river is now polluted, animals and humans are becoming sick, and they have to buy water from other municipalities because the mine used up their natural spring (it was said that the water the mine uses in 1 hour is equivalent to what 1 family in the community would use for 25 years).  Apparently a couple of boys in the community now have a skin condition and difficulty walking, all because they played in the river by their school, which also happens to be where the toxic chemicals used to separate out the gold get dumped. They also spoke of the social implications for the community: almost all of the people who lived by the mine have been forced to move elsewhere, bars and prostitution have sprung up, and there is great division in the community between those who support the mine and those who speak out against it.  

We heard how the mine promotes all the positive ‘development’ they are bringing to the community and how people originally allowed the mine to enter under coerision and promises of many good things that haven’t been followed through on. We heard how the mine employs some community members (for lower wages than originally promised) while deemploying many more people through pollution. The advocates spoke of the difficulties of speaking out against the mine including being resisted by mine workers, receiving threats, and powerful people striving to silence them. They voiced the deep complexity that the environmental damage has already been done and if they succeed in getting the mine to leave, what next?…  for they will simply move on to a new community to destroy.  

A spot where houses once stood. They have spent years now filling the hole in.

Naturally it was hard to sit and hear the incredible hardship that the mine, the ‘capitalist monster’, has inflicted on the community. Yet there was also incredible resilience and beauty in the community organizer’s words. Again and again they came back to the concept of returning to the earth and the importance of reconnecting to the sacredness of the mountains, the earth, and the water. They voiced a deep recognition of the value for the earth, their need for healthy land, and the importance of stewarding what we have been given for the next generation.  This was a hope founded in a weaving together of spiritually, Indigenous values, and the teachings of the church. We also heard beautiful stories about how women are finding their voice and are central to the resistance. It was incredible to hear about the group’s perseverance in raising consciousness, striving to hold the mine accountable, and seeking to build peace in their community despite differences of opinions. 

When I asked what stories they would like us to share with our communities back home in Canada, we were asked to share the story of how the mine has ended our livelihoods and caused so many problems – ‘is it just that they can just come and do this to our land?’. They spoke of how the mine is slowly killing their community, especially due to the deeply polluted water. They asked us to raise awareness, for this is happening in many other countries and will continue to happen else where.  

After lunch we drove to a couple spots overlooking the mine while Elsa and Edwin explained more about what was happening there.  We saw a place that used to be filled with houses, but now is a deep open pit mine.  It was startling to see a huge ‘pond’ filled with toxic sludge, which is slowly being turned to cement while excess is piped into the river. We heard of the efforts being made to refill the open pit and plant trees, efforts which our local guides were highly skeptical of, knowing it would be used to make the mine look good but the amount of chemicals in the land will make it impossible to use the land any time soon.

Edwin shows us the toxic lake

As we stood overlooking the mine, the message we had heard earlier in the day from Father Eric rang in my ears: how can we have peace in the world without stopping the desire for more? He had spoke of how the North’s consumerism drives demand and leads to this destruction. How we need to learn to live with less and stop living in excess so that we can all continue to live. Standing in rural Guatemala,  I find myself implicated in this story… how do I stand there knowing my own consumerism and greed plays a part in destroying this once beautiful mountain?  
At this point I have no good ideas of what to do next and no idea of how this experience of seeing the mine might change how I live.  For now, I think that is okay – it is a complex problem I am only beginning to understand, so I won’t grasp for solutions quite yet. I will sit and lament for this deeply broken world, this grieving community of San Miguel, these mountains and rivers destroyed. I will sit in the beauty and discomfort of knowing that we are all deeply connected – in the best and worst ways – and my story is interwoven with the story of these people we have met in Guatemala. I will also sit in hope, having glimpsed the strength of these people.  I gratefully accept the reminder that we all need to find ways to return to the earth, honor the sacredness of the mountains, and recognize how deeply connected we are to the land.  

-Carol McNaughton