Before I came to the border I thought of the US/Mexico border as a dangerous place filled with violence, drugs, kidnappings and cartels. This makes a lot of sense because our media and politicians portray the U.S./Mexico border in this way. However, in my time being on the border I have found that our media and politicians are ignoring the most important things that are on the Arizona/Mexico border: strong sense of community, friendly people and a place of cultural and language exchange between two countries.
The most surprising aspect of life on the border for me is that I have never seen two separate communities work together better than Douglas and Agua Prieta. I really value this because at my high school in Wenatchee, WA students would commonly fight other students from the rival high school in East Wenatchee. Unfortunately, these fights occurred because the students were simply from different schools. Many students saw other students from the other town not as people they could befriend, but as outsiders to their social structures and community. The only physical barrier that separates these towns is the beautiful Colombia River. In Agua Prieta and Douglas not only is there a large fence to separate these communities, but there are many people guarding that fence making sure that these communities are separate. But, despite those barriers the people of Agua Prieta and Douglas continue to work and get along better than most communities in the United States.
In the United States I feel we are divided by so many things like race, income, politics, culture and religion that are the result of many complex factors, histories and differences. However, with my work at Frontera de Cristo and living here on the border it seems that strong bridges are made between communities and organizations in two different countries that also have very complex histories and differences. In my time on the border and being an intern with Frontera de Cristo I have found two key components that allow bridges to be made across borders. The first one is a commitment build relationships and work together. Many people in Douglas and Agua Prieta including myself naturally feel a strong connection as I spend my time on both sides and have built relationships with good people and friends on both sides of the border. People also share the commonality in that both communities lack good job opportunities and many struggle to meet end meets. However, they see the border not as a place of danger and difference, but as an opportunity to work together to be a place of trade, exchange of culture and create solutions to the root causes of problems like drugs and poverty in a global economy.
Despite, the strong community on both sides of the border, I would not feel that bridges between the two communities would not be as strong without working for Frontera de Cristo and the faith community here on the border. I believe that I feel this way because people are not only building bridges made of friendship and economic ties, but of love. I think love is truly the most powerful thing we have to understand and care for our neighbors, and God’s love has the potential to bridge people and communities of great divide.
I first realized this power of God’s love only recently when I was listening to a talk from a pastor with the organization Evangelical Immigration Reform. The pastor speaking was holding an immigration meeting for people of faith and had invited church leaders, community activists and politicians in my own hometown of Wenatchee. The story was about a staff member of Dave Reichert who is a Republican that represents Washington’s 8th congressional district and the regional leader of United Farm Workers in Central Washington. I knew the speaker was going to tell a story about spiritual reconciliation, but I first doubted this thinking in my own head, “how can a community that is divided over such little things become a place of love and unity between two groups that are very different in their ideologies”. The preacher told that after a prayer and bible devotion the leader from United Farm Workers addressed the staff member of Dave Reichert and in tears said, “Today I realized that you are my brother in Jesus Christ, brother will you listen to me.” And the staff member said “Yes, sister I’m listening”. What resulted from this love between a brother and sister of Jesus Christ is that the staff member of Dave Reichert was very moved by what his sister had to say, and said he would do whatever he could to help his sister. And now Dave Reichert is one of the biggest Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
I wanted to tell that story because I think it is a great example of how God’s love can bring people from different backgrounds, cultures and ideals to work for a more just and loving world. I think it also exemplifies the work of Frontera de Cristo here on the border because people come together from two different countries, cultures, languages and value systems to work towards reducing poverty, violence, drug use and preventing deaths on the border. This collaboration also creates and strengthens relationships between people and churches in the U.S. and Mexico, which helps people including myself and churches learn how to be more like Jesus Christ.
I feel so thankful to play a small role in the work of Frontera de Cristo and its partners while being in the presence of so many amazing people. My biggest role has been in education where I have been teaching English as a second language to both kids and teenagers in two partner organizations of Frontera de Cristo. Most are my classes are at DouglaPrieta Works which works in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Agua Prieta through education, community gardens and permaculture. I also teach English at New Hope Community Center, which is an neighborhood recognized by the United Nations for having a very high percentages of alcoholism. Kids and teens in both neighborhoods face intense pressures like drugs, poverty and gangs, but like everywhere I have been on the border you find so many loving and kind people. What I like most about my work is helping both DouglaPrieta and the New Hope Community Center be a place of community and education where kids, teens and adults can have a place to meet and learn new skills. At the same time I have enjoyed utilizing my passions for education, cultivating relationships and community and living out God’s love in my life for me and others.