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ASB: “A Day in the Life” in San Juan, Texas

Posted by on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 in Alternative Spring Break, College Life, Extracurriculars, Service, Spring Break, Student Life.

Two weeks ago was Vanderbilt’s spring break vacation. While many students go home or relax at the beach, a large number participate in one of Vandy’s most popular organizations, Alternative Spring Break (ASB). ASB was founded in 1987 at the BEST university, Vanderbilt! Since then, it has been established at many other universities. After hearing many positive comments about ASB, I decided to apply.

I was accepted into the ASB program and placed in A Day in the Life (ADITL), a site in San Juan, TX where participants work with immigration organizations. While ADITL was actually not my first choice, I am SO glad I was placed at this site. After being with my group for only twenty hours (which was spent driving to Texas), I became super close to all eleven members. Throughout the week we continued to bond while serving the San Juan community, hanging out and eating together, and reflecting on our daily experiences. I made eleven new friends over the course of a week, and I am sure that we will remain close friends as we continue on with life at Vanderbilt (We’ve already had three reunions and counting!).

One of our many stops in Austin, TX! We met up with Vandy ASB Alumnus Paige. She made us an awesome authentic Texas breakfast. We were surrounded by so many hospitable people during this trip.

Beyond forging strong friendships with other Vandy students, my ADITL experience was invaluable in providing me with the opportunity to make an impact through much needed service to a “unique” community. ASB is built on the foundation of three pillars: service, education, and reflection. Throughout the week I was educated on the goals of the two organizations we worked with, LUPE and La Posada. With LUPE (an organization founded by Cesar Chavez dedicated to improving the rights and living conditions of undocumented workers) we got to visit some of the neighborhoods that they are working on improving, called “colonias”. Seeing the conditions that many of these workers live in was mind-blowing. Despite the fact that these people lived in terrible conditions, the majority of them were very welcoming and responsive when we knocked on their doors to greet them and inform them about the services offered by LUPE. It was heartwarming to find that these people had such great kindness for strangers, even in their poor living situations. At La Posada, we taught English lessons to residents. La Posada is a temporary home for undocumented persons that have pending court cases which determine if they will gain asylum. Hearing the stories of their journeys traveling to the United States opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. For example, there were two men in their twenties from Eritrea, a small African country that borders Sudan. These two men were being oppressed in their country, so they fled Eritrea, crossed the border to Sudan, and took a flight to Brazil. Once in South America, these men crossed every border between Brazil and the United States (My geography is a little rusty, but that’s about seven to eight borders!). When I came to the realization of the risks and sacrifices these people took in order to gain a better future, I finally understood how privileged I am to live in this country. The people at LUPE and La Posada taught me more than I could have ever imagined learning in the span of a short week.

"Las colonias" AKA the neighborhoods that we worked in while volunteering at LUPE
A little LUPE field trip to "la frontera" (the border). Mexico is actually about a mile past this wall. The wall is kept open to prevent disrupting the agricultural work done in the fields. However, border patrol frequently passes by (We saw them twice!).
A group picture with the clients of La Posada on our last day of volunteering.

As we ended our week of service, our group came together with our host from LUPE to reflect on our experiences. We participated in an activity called “algo que tú llevas en sus mentes, sus manos, y sus corazones,” also known as something to carry in your minds, your hands, and your hearts. It was during this reflection period that I synthesized all the aspects of my ASB experience, and made the decision that I want to bring my service, education, and reflection back to the Vanderbilt community. As we left the Rio Grande Valley to return to Vandy, I found that my ASB experience had opened my mind to the immigration issues and challenges we face, that my hands were engaged in making a small impact on the community in San Juan, Texas, and the stories and struggles of the people I met will remain forever in my heart. I am excited to share what I have learned with other students on campus during one of the best spring break vacations of my life.

What is on our minds, hands, and hearts. A great reflection for the last day!
Random tidbit... we bought a hermit crab! His name is Bob, but he also goes by ASBob. I am proud to say that he is still alive.

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