There are many written reflections the students shared below. They are all wonderful reflection on an amazing experience. For all the pictures and videos of our experience please visit this Google Folder or the Flickr Album.
Today was incredible. My peers and I started the morning by parting ways with our host families in the cozy, indigenous enclave of Tecuanipan. The community is nestled at the foothills of the Popocatepetl Volcano which had just started subtly fuming the night before. Under the volcano’s haze, we spoke in both Spanish and English to express our gratitude for the food, shelter, and friendship that our host families generously shared with us. After a tearful ceremony, we left in our makeshift caravan with one 16 seater van, two small cars, and a thirty-year-old aqua blue Volkswagen bug. We saw the inside of the indigenous church, Santa Maria Tonantzintla which juxtaposed its influence against the European dominated basilicas we’ve seen thus far. Then we were whisked away to the main pyramid of Cholula, Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for “made-by-hand mountain”), where we continued our cultural exploration. After this, we bought souvenirs and delicious Al Pastor tacos in the small village of Cholula. Despite the sensory overload by day, our nighttime activity was the most enlightening during a presentation focused on Mexican Demography, Culture, and Society. What an eventful day to cap off our educational, service-oriented visit to Mexico.
At first, it was pretty nerve-racking for most of us, but exhilarating at the same time because we were flying internationally together on a school trip. We were all going to a new country without the guarantee of clean water, a bed to sleep in, and the appliances in our homes back in California. It would not be an understatement to say that we were a bit nervous or even scared, but after the first two days, we were all pretty surprised about how well we adjusted and integrated into the lifestyle of Mexico. It’s only two days but we have learned about the authentic dishes, the post-modern colonialist architecture, the bloody and revolutionary history between Tenochtitlán and the Europeans, and how easy it actually is for us to communicate with people who live there.
This trip has been really inspiring for me because it has shown me how over 3/4 of the world lives. I think it makes all of us grateful for what we have and even though they might be pourer in some areas, they are still very rich with love and acceptance. I was the only freshman guy on this trip and the upperclassman made me feel like one of them because they could have just ignored me but they took the time to hang out with me and welcome me. My favorite thing we visited in Mexico City was the first church we went to because for me it was sacred and I felt a connection with god there. My favorite part about Cholula was playing basketball with everybody and being welcomed into a home because in America this doesn’t happen a lot but in Mexico, they were more than welcoming. This has been one of my favorite trips that I’ve been on because it really showed me the real way people live their lives.
I really enjoyed Arturo’s presentation on poverty today. We learned so much about poverty in Mexico– how for example the poorest states in Mexico are also states with the highest indigenous population. Arturo’s story is both frustrating and inspiring. He dedicated his life to the battle against poverty when he was just a teenager. His experience of a devastating earthquake at the time and the way people came to each other’s aid gave him hope for a just Mexico in the future. Now 53, he has seen more decades of corruption and the perpetuation, even intensification, of violence in his country. However, he has also just witnessed the first president that he voted for win by popular vote. He has seen the strengthening of the local government in Tecuanipan and has overseen the life-changing work of Enlaces Comunitarios Internacionales. Arturo showed me that change takes a long time, but it will come if you keep your goal in mind, never settling for injustice.
Flying into Mexico City, I was not exactly sure what my subconscious expectations went as far as picturing living conditions and the culture other than minimalistic living. I could not imagine a life without certain “needs” that I thought made my life interesting. When we landed and started to drive through the highways and roads of the city, I realized how not exactly happy, but content everyone seemed. As we progressed throughout the week, simple living as a definition became an experience for me, especially living with the host families, who put us in perspective of what we really have. Alongside providing us with multiple experiences, I learned that this trip was not meant to make us aware, but rather call for change in our daily routines and lifestyle. One experience that stood out to me is after returning from the main center, the host family had us make an animal feed from corn, which is by far one of the most intense experiences I have had. One sudden moment, Trip, Chase, and I are loading and moving corn, and the next moment a huge, the extremely loud machine starts vibrating and churning corn. The experience consisted of churning the corn, and after stashing the corn in large knapsack bags, and eventually feeding them to the various animals in our house. Seeing a simplistic lifestyle reinforced by others around us and the surrounding environment is an experience that I hope to somehow live in the city as I progress throughout my life.
I am very sad to be leaving Mexico tomorrow, but I know that I have shared wonderful experiences with my peers and have been able to make new relationships with people who I thought I would never meet. In Mexico City, my favorite experience was seeing the original La Virgen de Guadalupe at the famous Basilica as I felt a deeper connection to the history of my Catholic faith and the impact one symbol has had on the entire nation of Mexico. The two days working in the smaller community outside of Cholula were some of the most profound and memorable experiences of the trip. I was stunned to feel so welcomed into a family that had very little, but so much to give through love and hospitality. My host family was very connected to their animals and I loved walking their bulls in the evening back to their home (until one took off and nearly beheaded Andrew Dolan). At night I loved playing basketball with the children in the town. Overall, my experience has changed my perspective on an entire nation while also learning how loving people can be.
The Mexico Service Immersion trip has shown me the endless love of a community from Mexico City to Cholula and the basic human rights people should have access to, but do not. There was a family we visited to plant seedlings of cauliflower and unfortunately, we were unable to because of the toxic layers of waste and trash buried beneath the weed overrun surface of the soil. We shoveled out over thirty pounds of trash: a satellite dish, computer monitor, plastic bags, glass bottles, etc. Having the experience of seeing families not even being able to have self-sustaining food sources affected me deeply. Food is a primary factor for living, without it, there is no foundation to build and grow from as a people and as a society. We also had the incredible opportunity to stay with a host family in Tecuanipan. I had the chance to be a big sister-like figure to my host family’s daughter, Lorena. She and her mother, Caty, were so welcoming and openly shared their home and meals with Grace Stermer and I. I saw the beauty they were able to make off of the bare minimum they could afford. Observing the generosity of the family and having the chance to play soccer and basketball with the children in El Centro showed me the richness of connection they have with each other. It is not technology that is rooted in their interconnectedness with one another, but the empathy and understanding of knowing that each individual is a part of their life. I give my entire heart out to the Mexican community and their never-ending devotion to carrying out their moral values.
Now, as we leave Cholula I’m thinking back on how I felt on the plane flying into Mexico City. The fear of being in a country I’d never been before, and not having very many good friends going on the trip was overwhelming, however, within minutes of being in the group, I had several people I felt comfortable talking to. Our time in Mexico City was a wonderful start to an amazing week, we visited many monuments and had several incredibly delicious meals. Aside from visiting our Sagrado Corazón sister school, my favorite part in the city was the Frida Kahlo Museum. Even though we were all exhausted from our first whole day in Mexico, we were all able to enjoy it and be awakened by the life that was in the colors and artwork. The next day, getting to meet the girls from our sister school here in Mexico was a great addition to the trip. They were so welcoming and excited to have us visit. Watching everyone bonding by playing soccer and building together in their astonishing Makers’ Lab was an excellent example of the community we have by being part of the sacred heart education. Although our time in Mexico City was a great time, the most valuable experience came from our time in Cholula and Tecuanipan. Working in The Center in Tecuanipan showed us so many things about what we can do when we work together and how much we don’t actually need in our own homes. We also started around five little gardens for different families backyards, some of which were in our host families’ houses. Staying with my host family was by far my favorite part of the entire trip. My family especially was so loving and welcomed us into the community they had in their town and home. The daughter played her favorite games with us at every opportunity and showed us all her artwork. The mother treated us as her own making sure we were well fed and gave us a thousand blankets at night so we would never get cold. I will forever cherish my time on this trip and I hope that it is continued for many more grades to get to experience the love in these communities.