Borderlinks Blog!

April 5, 2009

Hi. My name is Noelle Francois – I’m a junior at the college double majoring in Sociology and Literary and Cultural Studies. This semester I’m in Professor Bickham-Mendez’s Sociology class “Latino/a Migration and Latino/a Studies,” studying the discourse surrounding issues of immigration and the border. As part of our class, as well as the sister class taught by Professor Tandeciarez in the Hispanic Studies department, eight students and two professors travelled to the Arizona/Mexico border over Spring Break to take part in a Borderlinks delegation.

Borderlinks is an educational organization based in Tucson, Arizona with an additional office in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Borderlinks offers educational immersion trips focused on issues of immigration and the border. By immersion program I mean that delegations spend their entire day, every day, immersed in issues of immigration. Time is spent talking with US Customs agents, immigration lawyers, border artists, community activists, and migrants themselves, hiking desert trails and eating at migrant shelters, visiting a day laborer’s center and watching Operation Streamline. Cell phones are discouraged, as are computers and iPods. Free time is spent in reflection sessions and in our case, working in research groups. Borderlinks’ intention is to provide education for transformation and social change, and the organization sees immersion programs as the best way to achieve this goal. Their motto is “see, think, act” and the idea is that through seeing what life on the border is like and thinking on our own and in formal reflection sessions, we will feel compelled to act when we return home, getting involved with local immigration issues or simply educating friends and family on what we saw as a way of raising awareness.

So why did I go on this trip? What does immigration mean to me? In all honesty, in typical college student fashion, when Professor Bickham-Mendez first told me about the trip I thought it would be a great experience to add to my resume. Before going on our delegation, I didn’t really have an interest in border and immigration issues. We’d done readings in class that were interesting and somewhat surprising, but never did I feel really connected with or passionate about immigration issues.

Going on the trip really was transformative. Obviously it’s hard to explain – Borderlinks’ whole premise is that you have to go there and see it for yourself in order to understand. Trying to explain the trip to friends has been really difficult; all I can do is start rambling anecdotes and the personal stories of the people we met. I try to convey what a dire situation it is down there and the weight of all the human rights abuses, the humiliation, and the death, but I never feel like I’m doing them any justice. How do I share this experience in a meaningful way? What do I do with the information I received and the stories told to me? We all talked about this, but I feel a kind of responsibility to share the stories of the people I met, like I’ll be dishonoring the time they took out of their day to tell me and the (albeit tiny) relationship we built if I don’t. One woman was picked up while walking her daughter to school and deported two days later. Her children were left behind in the United States. Another man spent five years of his life in prison for re-entry, and upon his release was deported with no money to Nogales, where he knows no one. How can I just let this person’s story fall by the wayside?

On the last day of reflection we all said that one of our greatest fears was that we would come back to William and Mary and get so caught up in our own lives that we run out of time to do anything, to engage in the “act” part of our mission. How do I “rank” the activist organizations that are going to get the most amount of my time? Going back to class after returning from Spring Break was really difficult at first because I kind of felt like it was a waste of my time. People are dying! So a big question for me is: How do I reconcile scholarship with activism; how do I “act”? One way is just to tell and retell to anyone who will listen the stories I heard and the things I learned, in the hopes that it will influence them in some way so that the next time they hear about workplace raids or deaths in the desert they will stop and think about why people are coming here, why people are risking everything for a chance at a better life. I think one of Borderlinks’ goals is that over time they will be able to create a web of people all over the country who will branch out and tell people what they saw, and those people will tell more people, and maybe change some people’s minds. When we left they told us we were now a part of the Borderlinks family. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I feel like I’m giving a voice to migrants through my work, or sharing their stories by speaking for them. Rather, I think I’m helping to create a receptive and educated audience, one that won’t immidiately see these people as “other,” a “them” apart from us. One of Borderlinks’ greatest undertakings is that it strives to humanize “those people” by allowing us access to their stories. Maybe – for all those people out in blogerland – I can take part in that.

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