The border itself has a power that manifests itself differently for all who view it. It was the parting thought Alex left us with as we said our goodbyes drenched in the San Diego sunset. For him, the border will always be magical realism before his eyes, a piece ripped out of Gabriel García Marquez’s mind. For Maria, the border causes her to leave a little of herself on the San Diego side when she crosses into Mexico and to leave a little bit of herself on the Mexico side when she crosses over into San Diego. By being something that divides, it leaves her incomplete.
These reflections proved powerful for our students as they’re powerful testaments to the fact that even people who see the issues we have studied first-hand have not acclimated to them. These issues remain open questions, they remain vulnerable to the issue, and those factors push them to develop different facets of leadership. For people like Maria and Alex, all of this has pushed them to connect a variety of people across countries. In fact, their mastery of systems allows them to be effective in shaping the world into what they believe it ought to be. Their vision and integrity lights the way for the people they inspire, including those of us in this course.
However, as I snaked through the winding highway on the way back from seeing the desert border wall, I thought of the compassion that each person we met had and how it allows them to connect to each other and the people around them. Hugo Castro, a border activist that Alex asked to accompany us to the border in the desert, explained to us how he sees the suffering that happens as migrants make their way through Mexico and explained how he cannot sit by idly as it happens, sometimes putting himself in the way of serious harm as he does it. Today, he guided us through the placement of water containers in the desert to avert severe dehydration for migrants passing through. However, just as importantly, he guided us through writing messages of encouragement on the sides of them. The process pushed students to feel a connection with and compassion for the people who would find the jugs. This compassion, through formal teaching or simply modeled, is something that has floored me about every person we have met, and it’s what opens the doors for each of these activists to be connected to us and to each other.
And so despite the fact that the border continues to divide, for now, it has also galvanized a group of caring people around those who are suffering as a result of it. People are drawn to it and stick to it. The border is, in this way and others, a sponge. It’s absorbing, and certainly over the course of my three visits out here leading this Shoulder-to-Shoulder program, it has absorbed me. I don’t know where it will lead, but I hope that I can continue to go there alongside the leaders this program has included from the NGO leaders to the students themselves. “The journey is the destination,” the students have come to say, and I agree: my goal is to continue this journey. I look forward to more journeying with them, and, perhaps, the possibility we can help each other feel a little more complete along the way.