Mexico interterm reveals injustice along with human resilience
by Jennifer Scott
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Going on an interterm trip was my goal since I became a student at Bethel College.
I grew up on the campus and heard of so many people’s interterm experiences. I wanted to be able to experience some of the same things. Plus, I love to travel to new places.
Being a social work major, it only made sense I would take the peace and social justice trip to Mexico. Professors of Social Work Ada Schmidt-Tieszen and Hamilton Williams led 10 students, including me, on the three-week trip to south central Mexico.
When I told friends and family I was excited to go on this trip to learn about the injustices in the world, I was frequently told to be careful because “Mexico is dangerous.” Along with this warning came with skeptical looks and shaking heads. I looked right back at them with a smile and assured them I would be careful and, for good measure, that I wouldn’t drink the water.
I was not scared to take this class trip to Mexico, but I was excited. The people I met, listened to and talked with while going through the two week program at QUEST Mexico in Cuernavaca had much more to worry about than people at home could ever imagine.
These people had to deal with violence from the local police, the military who are fighting a war on drugs and what decision the corrupt government will make next. They faced not having enough money – living on $1 a day is miserably poor. They can’t afford to send their children to school, let alone know where their next meal is coming from or if they will have enough drinking water to last until the rainy season starts. They wondered if their family members were safe and when they would see them next, if they ever would.
I wish I could have told those at home that the people I met in Mexico can’t achieve safety, plenty of food and water and a safe place to live in three weeks. That is their reality for life. Three weeks in Mexico were not enough for me to grasp how impoverished and how unfair life in Mexico is.
Our group started in Cuernavaca at QUEST, where we heard speakers who have lived very different lives from us. We spent time in these people’s homes, listening, talking and laughing together.
The people we met are strong and courageous. They are hard-working and they just want their stories to be heard.
We listened to a domestic worker, a social worker, an El Salvadoran refugee, a pastor, a woman who migrated to the United States and came back to Mexico, two activists working for peace, a traditional healer and a professor who talked about the history of Mexico.
We visited the squatter settlement of La Estacion and the Al Abrigo de Dios orphanage, as well as Tlamacazapa, Taxco, Tepoztlan, Xochicalco and Amatlan. We experienced artisan markets, a sweat lodge, massage and serving beverages at a hospital.
We also had the opportunity to learn about the School of Americas, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Zapatistas and U.S.-Mexico border towns, and we got to play a global awareness game.
In Mexico City, we stayed at a Quaker guesthouse called Casa de los Amigos. While there, we got to talk to Mennonite Central Committee workers placed in Mexico City, staff at the Centro de Studios Ecumenicos (Center for Ecumenical Studies) and the men at Tochan, a migrants’ home.
We had free time to visit the basilica and some artisans, and spent a good deal of time at the monument to the revolution. There was a plaza and fountains and we enjoyed hanging out and people-watching.
The group as a whole got along really well. We reflected every day on what we had seen and heard.
Every day was hard. There were things we had seen that we did not understand – things that are unfair and so different from the United States.
The hardest day for me was at Tochan, the migrant home. The men’s faces were just so sad. They had experienced corruption in their home countries, so they migrated to Mexico by riding on top of trains.
They are alone – no family members came with them. They have next to nothing. The United States government will not help them get into the country and while Mexico allows them to seek refuge, going through that process is just as hard as trying to get into the United States.
I was upset and felt hopeless, but mostly I just wanted to give these men a hug. Nobody should have to go through the turmoil they experienced.
Despite these feelings of hopelessness and unfairness, I also experienced joy and happiness. I speak minimal Spanish, but most times, it didn't matter, because laughter and love are the same in all languages.
I learned more than I ever thought possible. Now that I am back, I am eager to tell others about what I saw and heard in Mexico.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
Jennifer Scott is a junior from Newton. Other members of the Bethel 2013 interterm class Social Development and Social Justice, with Ada Schmidt-Tieszen, professor of social work, and Hamilton Williams, associate professor of social work, were Jenna Bliss, Halstead, Rachel Evans, Bel Aire, Emily Harder, Newton, Kaitlyn Preheim, Peabody, Nicole Smith, Elkhart, Ind., Miranda Snyder, Moundridge, David Tedone, North Richland Hills, Texas, Kristin Unruh, Goessel, and Natalia Vanover, Newton.