Changing hearts and minds by experiencing the life of others
By Abe Villarreal
Most of us feel like we know a little about most things. Then reality hits us. The truth is, we know very little about almost everything.
It’s a difficult reality to accept. In an age where we can Google an answer in less than a minute, information is literally at your fingertips. But there’s a wide gap between information and knowledge. Reading and repeating something won’t take us too far.
Once a year, I have the blessing of traveling to Agua Prieta, Mexico, with university students to partner with an area charity named Rancho Feliz. The impoverished border town is what you would imagine your parents told you about “Old Mexico.” The infrastructure is poor, the people about the same.
And through the bumpy unpaved roads of main streets, between corner taco stands and panaderias (bakeries), there are people just like you and me. People that want a better life.
Isn’t it funny how that phrase seems like it only belongs to foreigners coming to the United States? Most of the people I know, red-blooded flag-waving Americans, also want a better life. Doesn’t that make us the same?
Even after you think about it for a moment, we still feel so different, and it’s because we have an obsession with focusing on our differences. They are poor; we are rich. They are foreigners; we are citizens. They speak Spanish; we speak English. They, we, they, we, the back and forth goes on forever.
On my recent trip to Agua Prieta with 10 Western New Mexico University students, I saw minds and hearts changing. It’s something that always happens when you decide to share experiences. We helped build a home for a family living in a shack. We played soccer and ate pizza with orphans. We heard testimonies from old and young addicted to cocaine.
And as the hours passed, minds began to understand, and hearts began to open. The trials and tribulations of these Mexicans were our trials and tribulations. Their desire to live comfortably, feed their families, and contribute to their communities were our desires.
Before the weekend ended, we visited a migrant center. In the courtyard, the men played basketball. Mothers breastfed. Kids chased each other. Most had smiles, and then the mood changed. We were taken inside to hear the stories of several migrants who had been traveling thousands of miles from several Latin American countries.
A younger woman began to tell us how she was in medical school when her professor accused her of spreading ill will about her country’s administration. She was forced to flee, leaving her family and a dream career. Her words were few because she could barely speak as she held back tears. She’s not sure where her journey will take her.
I don’t know what will become of the families we met, the weary traveling migrants, or the innocent orphans. I do know that they want the same thing I want. They want to live an honest life, working and contributing to others.
At the end of each night, the students had a time of reflection. They shared that because of what they witnessed on each day, they were a little humbler, a little wiser, and a little more understanding of strangers who now felt like neighbors.
A weekend of experiences taught them far more than a search on a smartphone ever will.
Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in southern New Mexico. He can be reached at email@example.com.