Vibrant colors, stray dogs, oceanside resorts, and crowded streets: from the border on, Mexico is a land of intriguing contrasts. “The thing that surprised me most about Mexico was how Tijuana is an overtly transient city,” reflected senior Kim Welfing after a weekend-long Avodah excursion across the southern border. Whereas most Americans view immigrants as trying to escape the country to a better life, in truth, though they desire to further their economic prospects, Mexicans have a fierce loyalty to their country. In fact, most Tijuanans hope for their stay in the border city to be temporary. This mentality makes Tijuana an image of transition, with elements of a hopeful utopia alongside the dystopia of poverty and unrealized dreams.
Perhaps the most moving stop on the trip was the memorial of the immigrants whose attempts to cross the border ended in their death. Through the old, metal border fence, students could look through cracks to see the new wall. Their guide for the weekend, former Tijuana resident and Providence alumnus Adrian Crum, recalled seeing people literally jump and pull themselves over the old fence, only to run back when they saw the border patrol coming.
Next on the trip were the factories–mostly American companies seeking cheap labor, which were well fortified, both in and out. Students and guides speculated that this might not only be to keep undesired visitors out, but to keep the employees from taking equipment or valuables out to sell. In contrast, Rosarito Beach Resort just a few miles south boasted beautiful facilities, celebrity guests, and horse rides on the beach.
The education continued when students worshipped with Mexican believers on Sunday at the church the Crum family had helped to plant years ago. The interaction with the Spanish-speaking congregation was where personal learning took place. “The most interesting thing I learned in Mexico was about the cultural differences,” said senior Laura Fobar, referring to the customs she was unused to, “[l]ike the social importance of handshaking. It was slightly uncomfortable, because I don’t usually greet an entire crowd of people individually, but I’m glad he [Crum] told us ahead of time.”
Though the pastor preached his sermon entirely in Spanish, he took time to pray with the students afterward, when Crum was able to translate. “It was so amazing to be prayed for by someone who didn’t know me and couldn’t even understand me,” senior Shelli Cammenga said. “But he still considered us so incredibly valuable despite our inadequacies. That’s the love of Christ right there.”
Before going home, the Providence crew served the congregation an American treat: hamburgers fresh from the grill. The food was good, but for many of the students, the culinary highlight remained the Carne Asada they enjoyed the night before. Laura Fobar summed up the general sentiment after that mouth-watering dinner: “It was the bomb dot com.”