By Fabrizio Robalino
Please describe the Kino-Border experience. When were you there and for how long?
I was at the Kino Border Initiative, which is located in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico from July 12 to 16 of this past summer. I was part of the Kino-Border Day’s Program in which groups of teens from all over the country get together with the purpose to unpack and understand the idea of immigration from a more humane approach rather than political one. I was with kids from different Jesuit schools; there were kids from in Salesianum School (a Jesuit school in Delaware), St. Ignatius of San Francisco, and Lourdes Catholic School (the local Jesuit high school). It was interesting to see different kids from diverse backgrounds coming together to learn more about immigration. Kevin, a junior at Salesianum School, said he was there because he had friends from both sides of political debate on immigration, and he wanted to find his voice in the debate. There was Jorge, a senior from Lourdes, who was there because he lives in the area and first-hand witnesses the struggles that the immigrants face every day. Initiative in
Now, the Kino Border Days was a well-structured program. The first night we were assigned where we were going to sleep. I ended up sleeping on air mattresses outside with four students from Lourdes. (Funny side note, on the first night, we found a frog by one of the air mattresses.) It was a great bonding experience; I spent hours talking to my four new friends about how the border has affected their lives. In terms of the activities, every morning there was a list inside the house that had a list of the day’s activities. Not all the students went to the same activities; rather, we rotated through the activities. There were three main activities: the PowerPoint presentations on immigration, the hike of the migrant trail, and the trip to “El Comedor.”
There was no one activity in which everyone was completely transformed. Certain people found a deep passion for immigration as they went on the hike. Others find their passion when they were learning about the horrifying facts of immigration during the PowerPoint presentations. My transformation moment happened when I was at “El Comedor.” The Comedor is a food serving area for migrants, and it is also the place where I met Tomás. When I first met Tomás, his eyes were red with frustration and disappointment because he was not going to see his triplet daughters anymore; his skin was a dark leather-like brown because of the countless hours that he has sat out in the sun; and his clothes were stained with dirt and sweat because of the ridiculous amount of miles he has walked. As I listened to his story about how he ended up in El Comedor, I was shocked to hear that he was from Montebello. When I told him that I went to Loyola, he began to describe the area around Loyola, saying that he used to live by Loyola when he was in his 20’s. I was moved to tears after hearing his story because I realized that he was leaving his whole life behind because he did not turn on his blinker when he was making a right turn to get to his house.
How was the hike for you?
It was insane not only because are the first five miles are long, but also because it is canyons and hills which turns the 5 miles to 10 miles. It was not a walk in the park hike either. Before the hike, Father Pete Neeley S.J., one of the main priests at Kino, told everyone to wear pants. Everyone was puzzled by his orders because it was about 100 degrees outside. However, once we began the hike, everyone understood why he told us to wear pants. The pants were to protect our legs from all the thorns that would have cut up our legs. The most moving part of the hike was finding items on the ground that belonged to immigrants, such as clothes and bottles of water. When we finished the hike and returned to the Jesuit house, Father Pete Neeley, pulled out a backpack and said “these are the things I have found over the past few years of going on that hike.” He showed us photos of the immigrants’ past lives; official letters of documentations like birth certificates; letters from loved ones saying that they are praying for them; survival items like matches and Gatorades; and Bibles. The most shocking items that Father Pete Neeley S.J. showed us were baby bottles. I could not fathom how any mother or father could bring their newborn babies over the border through that hike.
What made you want to do the Kino-Border Project?
I wanted to do the Kino-Border Project because the notion of undocumented immigration has played a big role in my life. I personally have papers, but both of my parents came here as undocumented citizens, and a large portion of my family came here undocumented. In all honesty, I did not know exactly what it meant for somebody to be undocumented, or derogatory terms, an “illegal.” These people weren’t lawbreakers to me; rather, they were my family, people whom I love dearly. That is why I am irked when in the news you hear different things, whether it is different political figures, like Trump, or different economists talking about the issues of immigration and all of that, we throw the term “undocumented immigrant,” and we start to lose the face that goes with that. So by going on this trip, I began to understand whom I am advocating for and what I am fighting for. My passion for immigration really started as a result of seeing what my parents went through. Although they didn’t get deported, they have faced the same alienation that people like Tomás have faced. Stories like Tomás’ change your perspective and outlook on life. I won’t be so cliché and say that I am so grateful for the things I have, although it may be true, but now that I know the real issue and the dehumanization that these people face, it has motivated me to be an activist for immigration. The dehumanization occurs as the immigrants walk from the U.S. side to the Mexico said inside a caged fence. It is the same fence that is used for animals, utterly disgusting. Another issue of injustice occurs in the streamline courts in Tucson, AZ. The streamline courts are where the immigrants that are being departed are put on “trial.” However, this is not a true trial. The immigrants do not have a lawyer, and they are asked in questions in English, even though some of them do not understand English as all. There is no justice when it comes to immigration.
How do you plan to take this experience and apply it to your future?
At the very beginning of the trip when I was down there, the staff asked the students what are the three things you are going to do after this experience. They asked this same question again at the end. The first thing I said that I would do would be to open a Kino-Cubs Club here on campus, which is a club designed to talk about the issues of immigration. The club only talks about the issues of immigration along the Mexico-US border, but also about the issues of immigration that are occurring right now in Europe, Greece, the Middle East, and the war refugees as we begin to unpack that large and complex issue of immigration. I also want to hold a spring symposium here [at Loyola]or somewhere else, to bring other schools together to talk about immigration and to do more research on it. My goal is to get more of the school body involved and aware of the issue at hand. I also plan on taking more students down to the border so they can experience the Kino project for themselves.
Is it common for students to participate in the Kino-Border project? What is the process for students interested in heading to the Kino-Border?
It is common for students to be down at Kino; however the Kino Border Days is unique. Father Pete Neeley typically has some school or group down at Kino every week. You have to ask months in advance to reserve a spot in the Jesuit house. It was about a two-month process for my trip. Honestly, it just takes a series of emails with Father Pete Neeley and Ms. Scully, the two main coordinators at Kino, to be able to go to Kino.
Do you plan on going back there again?
Yes, without a doubt. I am actually going down during Thanksgiving with hopefully 9 other Loyola guys. We will be doing this as independent agents. Going back a second time is always better because you catch certain details that you miss on your first trip to Kino.
Do you plan on doing any sites other that the Kino borders?
Yes, I plan on working on different immigration projects. Right now the Kino-Border Project is my main project because it is such a life changing experience. However, my main goal is to branch out to other immigration activities like talking to my congresswomen, joining different advocacy groups, and working in Los Angeles in deportation centers.
Do you plan on getting more students involved? If so, how do you plan on doing so?
I want to get as many kids involved as possible. I am doing this through the Kino “Cubs” Chapter that I founded this school year. The club will expose Cubs to the hardships, struggles, and social and legal barriers that immigrants face every day.
Kino Chapter will put a face on who the term “undocumented immigrants” refers to by having keynote speakers who are immigrants themselves. The club will also work with other local high schools that have a Kino Chapter organization as well, which will further raise awareness about the issue of immigration that occurs in all nations. The goal of this club is for Cubs to not only take the first step of sympathizing with immigrants, but more importantly empathizing and advocating for them through research, club discussions, and solidarity projects. However, the biggest project of the club will be to take members down to Kino. For the students who unable to go down to Kino, they will do research and become informed on the issue of immigration and that awareness is the first step before you are able to solve any major issue. The goal is to have kids not see this is an issue illegal immigration along the Mexico-US border, but rather as an issue of immigration as a whole. As Pope Francis says, the thing about immigration, whether it is in the Europe, Asia, or in the Americas, is to understand that we are all immigrants.
Any person who inspire you the most to be an advocate in immigration?
In terms of being an advocate for immigration, I have to thank my mom and dad 100% all the way. Given that they always tell me, “Don’t forget your roots or where you came from.” Whether it is doing well in school, or fighting for rights for those who have been looked down upon by society, understanding where I come from has pushed me to follow my passions. My mom always tells me to give back to the community, and I feel that by doing the Kino-Border Project and being part of the initiative, I am giving back.
Other people who have inspired me to become involved with Kino are the previous people who have done Kino, such as German Romero ‘14 and Cesar Castro ’14, the pioneers of Loyola’s Kino Senior Service Project, and Alejandro Zepeda ‘15, Alejandro Lopez ‘15, Alejandro Hernandez ’15 who went to Kino last year as their senior project. Also, Dr. Rodriguez has been a huge inspiration through his AB540 work and connecting me with Father Pete Neeley. Lastly, Mr. Contreras truly inspired me to go to Kino. He, like my parents, has motivated me to give back to my community and take pride in my culture.