Photo courtesy: Vintage Chrome Postcards
On Friday, my graduate cohort, the Humphrey Fellows and Murrow Fellows took a day trip to Nogales to see the U.S.-Mexico border. When my journalism boot camp professors first announced that our cohort would get to go to Nogales, I was ecstatic. First, as immigration is a large part of Arizona, I felt that going to the border would be an opportunity to get as close to the issues as possible. There’s nothing like seeing what physically separates us from Mexico. Second, I’ve never been to Mexico so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to physically get this close to our neighboring country.
Our three-hour bus ride through the southern Arizona desert consisted of window views of giant Saguaro cacti and Picacho Peak and an informative history lesson about immigration by Kristi, our wonderful trip coordinator.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Our first stop of the day was Mission San Xavier del Bac, a Spanish Catholic mission about 10 miles south of Tucson. We were divided into smaller groups and proceeded to our tour guides to take us around parts of the church’s exterior and interior. Seeing the church’s original intricate architecture and mural paintings truly took me back in time to the 18th century. Mission San Xavier is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. It was founded in 1692 as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino, but actual construction of the church began in 1783.
The groups migrated (no pun intended) to the side of the church to listen to Gene Lefebvre, co-founder of No More Deaths, a group that provides humanitarian aid to people who die while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Lefebvre gave us good background information on the efforts of No More Deaths as well as fascinating stories and statistics on the the immigrants who struggle to fight the harsh conditions of the Arizona desert.
City Hall, Nogales
Sheriff Tony Estrada
After a quick lunch stop, we then headed to our next destination, City Hall. It was there where we were privileged to meet Sheriff Tony Estrada and two U.S. border patrol agents who briefed us on the law enforcement system near the border. I was taken aback by their anecdotes and personal encounters with immigrants trying to cross the border. I’m used to seeing everything through the lens of the media, but after hearing the human stories of illegal immigrants, my perception of illegal immigrants was immediately colored with sincere empathy for these people who are simply in search of a better life but are burdened with the harshest of desert conditions and dealing with deceptive relationships with smugglers.
U.S. Border Patrol Agents
The Border Fence
All this talk about the border fence made me even more anxious to see it for myself. Our final stop in Nogales was, lo and behold, the real deal: the actual fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico. As our charter bus slowly approached the fence, practically all of the interior of the bus perked up in unison and all heads turned to the left to see for themselves what the deal with the fence was really about. It was so much different from what I imagined! Initially, I pictured a barbed wire fence, but this was nothing like it. I would describe the fence as enormous posts so thinly spaced apart, that only the most abnormally thin person could squeeze through or the most skilled, parkour master with superpower climbing abilities could jump over.
Being at the fence was nothing like I had ever experienced. Peeking through the cracks of the posts was like looking through a window of an entirely different world altogether and seeing only a glimpse of the Nogales of Mexico already gave me an idea of the economic conditions of some parts of the country. Some of the Mexicans on the other side came up to the fence to talk to us. Although I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying, the expressions on their faces told me everything: They were curious as to what was on the other side. The moment was surreal.
The fence that separates us.
Cherry burrito at Wisdom’s Cafe. Photo courtesy: Trip Advisor
We ended the long day with laughter, conversations and good Mexican food at Wisdom’s Cafe in Tumacacori, a few miles north of Nogales. Taking the waitress up on her recommendations, I ordered the mahi-mahi fish tacos and shared a fruit burrito desert with my friend Lorri. I was pleased with my fish tacos but even more impressed with my “healthy” deep-fried, fruit-filled burrito rolled in cinnamon and served aside vanilla ice cream. Mmm mmm. I was glad we didn’t need to wear seat belts up on the bus. Phew!
Overall, the field trip to the U.S.-Mexico border was one that I will never forget. Not only did I get a chance to bond with my classmates and meet journalists from all over the world, but I got to learn about illegal immigration in a way that I would never have been able to simply through the news. I would urge anyone who is interested in immigration and border issues to travel to Nogales to experience it in a different light. It will change everything you thought you knew. Thank you to the ASU Cronkite School for providing us with this amazing opportunity!