FSU Global Scholars: My Summer Just Steps Away from The United States Border

Last Fall, on a whim, I decided to apply to the Global Scholars program at FSU. It seemed like a far-fetched idea, but I applied anyway. Over winter break, I received an email accepting me into the Global Scholars program with a link to the available internships on Omprakash, the curriculum and internship provider for Global Scholars. The first one that caught my eye was Madres Deportadas. Madres Deportadas is a non-profit humanitarian organization in Tijuana, MX. It focuses on providing legal aid, resources, and a place of refuge for those who are freshly deported or have just arrived from their home countries. The office is located directly in front of the border and the pedestrian walkway to California. Due to its location, it is often the first landing spot for those who have been deported just steps away.

Once I got there, the thing that most jumped out at me while driving into Tijuana was the mass security. I have never seen a place more heavily guarded than the San Ysidro border. It's as high tech as Silicon Valley, there are five-mile radius cameras and miles of uninhabited mountains that are covered with ground sensors that detect exactly where people are walking, so that when the fog sets in they can still track people down.

Throughout my time in Tijuana, I met hundreds of people around the city that had been deported years ago. Some of them didn’t even speak Spanish when they were initially deported. Other people have just stayed in Tijuana due to the proximity to the United States, it allows them to hold onto the hope of returning soon. What I was most often told was that everybody ends up in Tijuana. It's a waiting area, people regather themselves, or are eaten alive by the city. It's the purgatory of migrants.

Courtesy: Angelica Afanador

Within the following weeks, a single mother arrived with her two children at the office after being detained while crossing into Texas. They were flown to Tijuana by DHS, one of their many tactics to disorient migrants by sending them far from where they originally came. They spent five days in detention centers. The children called them prisons and were telling me about how cold they were sleeping against the cement floor. They weren't given any soap or allowed to shower. They were given food at 1 am - not that it mattered since the lights were on 24/7. What broke my heart the most were their shoes. When they entered the detention center, all of their belongings were thrown away, including their shoelaces. Since their shoes were already too big for their little feet, their mother tore pieces off of the foil blankets they were given and made them laces. Above is a picture that their mom allowed me to take.

But it's not only migrant children that are suffering. One week, we had a birthday party for a 10-year-old girl named Kayla. She was born in the United States and her mother was deported two years ago. Being a minor, she had to come with her mother back to Mexico. She told us that she really wanted to go back to the US -  her birth country. I felt an ache thinking about my friends back home with unauthorized parents.

Although my time was filled with extremely somber and angering issues, I also found time to enjoy the sister cities of Tijuana and San Diego. While in Mexico, I found myself shedding my old picky eater self. I should have probably been warier of eating street food, but it was also where I found the best and cheapest meals of the trip. After work, I’d go to Playas de Tijuana and walk along the beach during the sunset.

In San Diego, I fell in love with Barrio Logan, and particularly Chicano Park. To me, the historic and cultural background of the neighborhood for Mexican American residents felt empowering and full of hope. However, I soon found out that the community is facing a deep battle against gentrification. They’re combatting this with communal events with information on how each resident can confront gentrification.

Returning home at the end of the summer was an emotional whirlwind. While I felt excited to go back home, I also felt selfish. My ability to freely cross the border and leave everyone I met behind felt utterly wrong. However, being a part of Global Scholars added a purpose to my return. In our first class meeting, despite our different internships and locations, I instantly felt an unspoken common bond with all of my classmates. We all felt passion, yet an underlying frustration about the things we experienced over that summer. That shared connection and understanding gave me solace, and I cannot thank the Global Scholars program enough for providing me such a transformative experience.

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