What this experience has meant. By Julia Corcoran

29th March 2016 - by Julia Corcoran

As the group leave the USA/ Mexico border, Julia Corcoran, the Columban Faith in Action Volunteer reflects on the experience as a whole.

As we come to the end of our time in El Paso and most of the group flies back to the UK today, it is time to reflect on our whole mission exposure here at the border.

We have heard and seen a lot of different experiences over our 10 days here in El Paso and Juarez, which have left us feeling an array of emotions including happy, confused, scared, unsure, sad, shocked. All our experiences have left us feeling challenged and at times feeling uncomfortable about our thoughts, words and actions.

From the first moment of arriving in El Paso we were felt welcomed by the Columbans that live and work here especially Fr Bob and now leaving 10 days later we feel like we are leaving our second home behind. It has been brilliant to share this experience with him and we can’t wait to invite him to the UK in July on a similar mission exposure.

For me the greatest challenge of this exposure has been thinking about my attitude and how that affects those around the world. I wrote in my bog on the third day about the uncomfortable reality that the refugee crisis is the fault of the actions I make everyday. And having read the groups blogs I think the rest of the group’s thoughts and feelings have been changed in a similar way. At the beginning of this trip, none of us really knew what to expect but we all had some preconceptions of the issue around migration. For Rosie, she was challenged when we met with border control by the attitudes of those we met.

“Before this talk I had a very negative impression of the words ‘Border control’ but this talk made me feel humbled by the sheer passion they have for both sides of the fence, and the concern these officers have for the humanity they were trying to sustain on a daily basis.”

The border at the same point. The top is Mexico and the bottom is the USA.

The border at the same point. The top is Mexico and the bottom is the USA.

One of the great opportunities was to be able to visit the same part of the border but on the different sides of the fence. We got to really feel how oppressive the fence is. And the real difference it makes to be on either side of the border. We’ve all considered at some point why people might want to migrate and I’m sure the whole group would agree that after this experience we’re going to try to be more open minded back in the UK.

“How often do we make accusations about immigrants that are totally without foundation? We know so little about these people and their suffering and yet we are quick to condemn them with our hearsay and prejudice.” Mark wrote in the way of the cross blog on Good Friday.

There have been times in the last ten days when we have been left shocked and upset by the legal system in the US for asylum seekers and other migrants. In our first few days we had a variety of talks about the issues and I think the one thing we all noticed was the lack of dignity that is given to each human being involved. On the first day, Ellie, in her blog shared some of this information “All women and children, including babies and toddlers, having to wear orange jumpsuits in these detention centres, which are, to all intents and purposes, prisons, to deep sadness that detention comes before application processes.” It appears that someone who is in the USA without the right papers is treated as though they aren’t human. The name they are given is ‘Alien’. And every time I get annoyed with the USA system I have to remember that the immigration system in the UK isn’t much better.

One of the real realities we have had to face this last week or so is how messy the issues around immigration are. It isn’t a clear cut issue no matter how people try to make it. It isn’t a case of you live on this side of a fence and you live on that side and that’s the way it is. By the way we live our lives, we really are a global community. If we look at the clothes we wear, the food we eat, then we can see how far each of our responsibilities to our fellow man goes. We have spent time here a few weeks after Pope Francis has visited Mexico and therefore we can see how he has inspired so many here. There is no doubt that he has inspired each of us. Venus in her blog on Wednesday mentioned how at one of the projects we met Carlos who ran the farm workers centre. He had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis. “Carlos challenged us when he spoke of Pope Francis’ message of being in solidarity with the poor. Solidarity he said is not something we do as one good deed every day but something we do 24 hrs every day.”

We have been challenged in a variety of ways. The most obvious way is by the language. We’ve been lucky to have Nathalie and Bob translating for us and we’ve even picked up a few sentences. “Hola Amigos” is my personal favourite greeting. While we’ve been lucky to have translators, there have been times when it has been difficult and there has been our own barrier but in a way this has given us a smaller understanding of what migrants face. Wonu wrote in her blog on Thursday “Although at some points we may have felt a little disorientated by the language barrier, it forced us to all consider the challenges some migrants may experiencing when trying to connect with fellow believers in a country where services are in a language they do not understand.”

While our time here has been challenging, it has been filled with joy. Most of the time here we have spent it laughing and now as we are leaving we feel like a family. But not only has the time we spent together be filled with joy, the people we have met have filled us with joy. As Nathalie wrote on Saturday “I feel that in both, the Way of the Cross and the Easter vigil here in Mexico today, mercy and joy have met. The mercy of so many in and out of the church communities which we have found accompaniment, encouragement and love to those struggling in the margins of society.” The mercy we have seen has definitely been accompanied by joy.

As we focus on sharing the stories we have heard here, we have to remember everything we have learnt. Fiona shared the following in her blog “ I was lucky to have the name Fiona Murphy implying my Irish descent which has so far generally served me well as the Irish generally are welcomed well in most countries, however if my name was something different I may have had very different welcome.” This statement was the quote from someone else’s blog that struck me the most. Also having Irish descent I can understand what Fiona means and it reminds me how fortunate we all are, both in our upbringing but also having this experience. As we reflect forward I’m sure we will all have many thoughts and stories to share.

While I say goodbye to everyone today as they head off to the UK, I will be heading to Dallas for a few days rest and then I’m off to Washington DC for 16 days to see the work of the Columbans there. I will continue to be blogging on my personal blog so if you’re interested in following it, you can at https://juliastepintothegap.wordpress.com. But for now I know each of us is grateful for the experiences we have had here so I would like to end this blog saying a big thank you to all those involved with the Columbans especially those who have organised this experience.