Rafael, College Connection Class of 2016 and a graduate of Esperanza Academy Charter School, is a first-year Computer Science and Economics major at Haverford College who is driven by his commitment to social justice. Over the recent winter break, Rafael participated in a study trip to Mexico sponsored by Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. Over the course of the trip, students studied the migration of Latin Americans to the U.S., a process that is often dangerous and misunderstood by those of us on this side of the border. Below, Rafael shares the lessons he took away from the experience, and his thoughts about the value of breaking down cultural barriers.
What parts of Mexico did you visit?
“We stayed at Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker-run nonprofit peace organization located in Mexico City. It’s located very close to the remarkable monuments and palaces of the city. We also went to the state of Puebla, where we visited Teotihuacán and Puebla City. We visited Teotihuacán because this is one of the many towns in Mexico whose economy is completely based on remittances from Mexican relatives living in the United States. From afar, one can see many empty houses which have been built by undocumented Mexicans living in the U.S., in case they ever need to come back to their native towns. We got to meet some incredible and amiable people there who showed us some of the things they do for a living. Many of the people living in Teotihuacán are of indigenous descent.”
How did you find out about this opportunity?
“The Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford sponsors this trip every year. Usually, the trip consists of a trip to Arizona to meet with local migration advocates and nonprofit organizations before heading to Mexico. The trip had also included a visit to the US-Mexico border for students to gain a more in-depth understanding of the socio-cultural conflict. However, because of readjustment in the administration, the trip I was on only visited Southern Mexico. As soon as I saw this opportunity posted I reached out to the people in charge to discuss the application process.”
What drew you to this particular study trip?
“Even though I did not have to pass through the border to come into the United States, I am also a migrant. I have heard multiple stories about the risks people underwent to obtain the opportunities that this country offers; stories of hard-working individuals who really wanted the opportunity to earn a living through their effort and tenacity. Because of these stories, I felt compelled to learn more. I felt like it was my duty to immerse myself in this subject and become more knowledgeable not only about the phenomenon of migration, but also about ways to make an impact on the lives of people who are still seeking refuge in the U.S., often due to violence and corruption in their home countries.”
Do you have a favorite moment from your experience in Mexico?
“Yes, I do. A few days before heading back, I had the opportunity to walk around Mexico City with a friend of mine before sunset. I was seated in the Monument of the Angel of Independence, and the view was one of the most beautiful I had ever witnessed. Seeing the juxtaposition of the modern with the antiquity of the city was a moving experience. That same night we went to a Ballet Folklórico performance in the Chapultepec Castle, which is an architectural masterpiece. The show highlighted the wealth of the Mexican culture and the vibrancy of Hispanic heritage. I will never forget seeing the city from above and contemplating the lights of the skyscrapers along with the shine of the stars.”
What do you think is the most valuable thing you learned from your participation in this program?
“I think that the most valuable lesson I took away from this experience was the understanding that it is very unrealistic to think that an entire system could change overnight. As one of our guest speakers said, “you cannot change the world, but you can definitely change one person’s world.” Fighting for the rights of others should not make you feel discouraged, but courageous. Big changes always start with little steps, and I know that one day our world, and especially our country, will be more tolerant, accepting, and receptive of diverse cultures.”
What advice would you give to a PF Collegian who is thinking about studying abroad?
“I think that studying abroad can be one of the scariest things one can do. However, I found it to be a very edifying experience. Experiencing a new culture can enrich you in boundless ways. It is transforming to interact with people from other places and cultures because it allows you to dismantle harmful stereotypes about another culture. Going abroad is an opportunity to break down barriers and become a better citizen of the world, because you come away with an even greater respect for the dignity of all human life, regardless of race, gender, religious affinity, sexual orientation, or place of origin.”
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