I would have never thought that almost three years after my Peace Corps service, now back in the US, that I would still be volunteering with the same young women in Mexico as part of a non profit, Mariposas, that another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer founded. Part of Mariposas programs includes providing college scholarships to young women in Mexico. You see the immediate impact it has on their lives and in their communities. When I asked Citlally, one of the scholarship recipients studying dental hygiene, what is her plan after school she responded to open up a practice in her community and help others there maintain good oral hygiene. All of the young girls provide a similar response of wanting to give back and help improve their community. The struggles that these young women face and the motivation and determination that they have to give back no matter how few resources they may have has inspired me and made me a more compassionate person.
We should not have walls…We should only have abrazos across the border and find more ways to connect to our neighbors. Every time I have the opportunity, I like to tell a story of the year I lived in Mexico. Of the families in the plazas. The mariachi with my co-workers. Watching the soccer games at Hank’s. Altogether. There are no walls, really, when you think about it. A piece of steel can’t separate the meaning of neighbors. Such ideas of separation, of tyrants, are always failures….
There is unity in diversity – As I lived in Mexico for two years, my neighbors taught me more about myself and my values than I ever thought possible. Humility, love and friendship can go a very long way. I am grateful for the experience of understanding different cultures, the strength to build these bridges and the courage to learn about the world.
A recent NYT article is a testament to how one city—Buffalo, NY–has continued to welcome all immigrants and refugees–including my parents and grandparents– since the late 19th century on.
Just in the last ten years, Buffalo has placed 10,000 immigrants from the Middle East alone. Before that, the “Old West Side,” a low-income neighborhood near Lake Erie, welcomed thousands of Puerto Ricans to settle here. Going even further back, it took in thousands of Southern Italians, including both my father and my mother’s families.
On the West Side, my maternal grandfather opened an Italian deli where my mother and her brothers all worked together. At the same time, my father found work in the New York Central Rail Yards and supported his family with that job for the rest of his life. Both sides assimilated into the fabric of America, just as the “new arrivals” now are in the process of doing the same.
I’m proud to see the “City of Good Neighbors” carry on this tradition of building a bridge of love and acceptance to all comers and hope this is an inspiration to other cities to do the same!
Yesterday, returning from Panama, we went through U.S. Customs at the Atlanta airport in order to re-enter the U.S.A. While being directed across a large room to a station, we observed a Homeland Security/Customs agent standing in the center of the room directing travelers as to which way to go. We both noted the agent, a woman, who was wearing a hijab.
Moments later we spoke of this and Margi mentioned that seeing this moved her to tear-up emotionally. My reaction was one of confusion, a feeling of dissonance, like seeing a kangaroo on the street directing traffic. My mind was unable to grasp the image of a Muslim working for U.S. Customs; it just had no frame of reference for me.
Hours later I awoke in the middle of the night with some clarity of this experience. I concluded that either this woman was a Christian, hired by the Customs department, and told to wear a hijab and positioned in a very visible place for all returning U.S. citizens and incoming citizens from other countries to see, as if this would prove that this country is truly the “Land of the Free,” or she was truly a Muslim person who, wittingly or unwittingly, was being used by the government for the same purpose. In each scenario, I am assuming she is a person who is employed out of necessity and is a dedicated employee.
At a time when Muslims are being profiled, discriminated against, and publicly humiliated, I realized that what I felt when seeing this person was a sense of embarrassment and shame for being an American. I wondered, if in the eyes of the non-U.S. citizens and in the eyes of the supporters of this ugly discrimination, I was assumed to be one of the proponents of security walls, immigrant bashing, global warming denial, anti-science, and on and on.
I cannot wait for the pendulum to start swinging again and I will do what I can to speed it along.
While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Central Mexico I was so lucky to have met many amazing people. I asked several of my friends and coworkers to write out a message that they would like to share, something they would like residents of the United States to know about Mexico and its people. I wanted to take this opportunity to share one of those messages…
“It is sad to see that there still exists racism, the flags and the colors should not divide our towns. You all are always welcome here.”