El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico – two places most people wouldn’t think of when they think “Spring Break”. They’re not what I would consider hot travel destinations, and they certainly don’t have those warm and sunny beaches many of us like to run to for our brief week-long reprieve from school. However, it’s no anomaly that every year a number students from Catholic U choose to spend their Spring Breaks on mission, visiting El Paso and Las Cruces; and this year I decided to join a group of my fellow students in the venture to each of these cities and their surrounding towns. The point of it all? Learn about these communities – understand them, their people, and their culture – and see how immigration has shaped both.
View from plane (El Paso)
Both El Paso and Las Cruces sit just along the United States-Mexican border, and despite the fact that these cities are different from each other, they are very much the same. As one can imagine, these cities and surrounding towns prove to be places of where those immigrating to the United States flee – sometimes illegally, sometimes not. This mission trip was designed so that we students could hear the stories of those on both sides of the immigration conversation, and seek to understand how each are impacted by immigration. In our week on the border, we served breakfast and lunch to parishioners of an El Paso parish to meet and serve members of the local community; we went to Mass and had dinner with students of the University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) for fellowship and conversation; we met with Border Patrol to see the border and hear about what they do; we went to a Mass with migrant workers at a New Mexican onion field, and worked alongside them to demonstrate solidarity; we visited a detention center in Otero, New Mexico to hear from the warden and ICE about their jobs and the operations wtihin the detention center. These activities serve as just few examples of what we did while on mission, but they fail to account for the various meetings and conversations we had with members of each community about their experiences with immigration. I could spend several minutes telling you each of the different places we visited and people we met in our entire week in Texas and New Mexico, but I would probably bore you (if you aren’t already). While these various activities and moments were important in our time along the border, the impact this trip had on me – how it has shaped how I view the world, my fellow brothers and sisters, and how I am called to serve each – all proved to be most valuable.
United States-Mexico border (El Paso)
But if you simply ask me, as many have, “How was your Spring Break? How was El Paso/Las Cruces?”, I stumble and stutter. I am unable to articulate all that I saw, heard, and experienced. The week was an exhausting one, and I am still trying to reflect on the week. Trying to wrap it all up in a few words or sentences would not do it justice. But I can try to shed some light in order to hopefully give you a sense of my week.
Onion field (New Mexico)
In El Paso and Las Cruces, I witnessed closely-knit communities and compassionate people. I listened to heart-wrenching stories and difficult facts. I met resilient men and women working hard to provide for families and friends. I visited with people on opposite sides of the immigration debate, and heard why and how they believe what they believe. I participated in prayer and reflection each night with my fellow students on mission in order to take a step back from our busy days to reflect on how our faith could give more meaning to our experiences and our understanding of the world in a greater context. And in the midst of it all, I sought desperately to understand my call after seeing all that I saw and doing all that I did. This mission trip was a unique one, as we did not always directly serve communities in the traditional ways (giving them resources, food, etc.); instead, this mission trip was one centered around faith, education, solidarity, listening, asking, and learning. Try that for exhaustion. My brain hurt, but so did my heart.
I hope that these few paragraphs are able to provide at least a taste of what we did in our time in El Paso and Las Cruces, and I hope that I have answered some of the questions asking about my Spring Break. But know that this explanation is not full – it still does not account for everything I saw and did while there, but it is an attempt to begin to share and articulate how I spent one of the most incredible, educational, and enlightening weeks of my life.
Sunrise Mass at onion field (New Mexico)