By Student Intern, Maxine Chou '21
This past summer, I went on the El Paso trip. What was originally a ploy to get my service hours turned into a life-changing adventure. Not only did I learn about the current immigration issues in our country, I learned about myself, the people around me, and how one person’s actions can affect an entire community. On the morning of the trip, I felt sick to my stomach. To be completely honest, I was nervous to be away from my phone for a week, but more than that, I was nervous to be with a new group of people, to be halfway across the country, and that wouldn’t I be able to make an impact in a community so different than my own.
On the first day of the trip, we were immediately welcomed into Pastor Rosemary’s church, Cristo Rey. They had two tables of food ready for us to dig into after our long day of travel. After that, we walked back to a different church where we would all sleep. Besides the crew from WFS, we were accompanied by two members of the World Leadership School, Michelle and Vicky. They led a few group bonding activities and shared stories of times when they had life-changing experiences. By the end of the first night, I felt more bonded and connected to the entire group than I had ever expected.
Day two was probably the hardest day of the entire trip. We visited three different El Paso communities that varied in levels of poverty. The first was a small community center that had a dance room, a small medical exam room, and a classroom where they taught English. The next place we visited was the home of an undocumented immigrant named Soledad. She lived in a one-room house and made her living by selling crafts. We helped clean up her yard after hearing her story. The final house we went to was in the most impoverished area. There was no running water or electricity. The woman told the story of how her husband had been deported, leaving her without work and needing to support two children. He made multiple attempts to come back into the country to see his family, and in the end, he returned with much effort and danger. Although he still had issues with finding work, he was reunited with his family. This woman and her husband’s story brought almost everyone to tears. We were all amazed that she was able to be so open about her life to complete strangers. We also talked to her daughter, a high school student just like us. Questions like “Where do you want to go to college?” and “What do you want to do in the future?” were asked. Her answers were, simply put, normal; she could have been a WFS student herself. This gave me the realization that although we come from very different communities, we are all so similar. People should not and cannot be divided based on income, immigration status, or anything else of that matter.
We returned to the church for some free time spent playing card or just relaxing. I have to say, it was nice that no one had any electronics. It made us actually spend time together-- imagine that! After eating dinner at Pastor Rosemary’s church, we drove to a high point that looked over all of El Paso and watched the sunset. We had, in the usual manner of Quakerism, a short Meeting for Worship to let our experiences of the day sink in. The next few days of the trip were packed full of awesome experiences. I wish I could write about all of them, but that would probably end up being ten pages. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I've included a few here.
Over the course of seven days, I faced all of my fears (including my fear of heights when we visited the high point that overlooks El Paso!). I faced my fear of being surrounded by a new group of people, of being in a new community, and of missing a flight! I learned that one person can make a huge difference in multiple communities. Pastor Rosemary, for instance, was the reason we were able to go to three different areas of El Paso on the second day of the trip. She knew the manager of the community center, and often recommended it to people who went to her church. She knew Soledad who sold her crafts and invited her to make work at the summer camp. She connected her with groups like us who wanted to hear her story and could help take care of her home. Pastor Rosemary also connected us with the woman who lived in a home with no electricity and running water. When the woman’s husband finally returned, he went straight to Pastor Rosemary’s church because he knew that she would be able to help. Pastor Rosemary also organized the summer camp so that parents with children could work during the day. She brought together two seemingly opposite groups: Us, who grew up in a privileged part of the US, and immigrants who went through tremendous struggles to find a hopeful future in America. On paper, we sound like opposites, but in reality, they are just like us. We all have dreams of prosperity for our families and future generations, as well as the hopes and goals of receiving a higher education. But, most importantly, we are all connected by our need to make a lasting change in the world.