Desert Water Drop (Borderlands)II

Here are photos from yesterday’s Border Angels desert water drop. “Since 1994, more than 11,000 sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives have died from dehydration in their attempt to across our increasingly militarized border. Our water helps reduce the 500+ deaths every year.”

These water drops save lives and bring attention to this humanitarian crisis.


The back of the Border Angels’ shirt reads: Who would Jesus deport?

These experiences allow me to reaffirm my role and purpose in how I serve as well as provide deeper conviction for my solidarity and work in education and social justice. Each time I participate in a water drop, I have the opportunity to hear new stories of the courageous and tragic plight of so many immigrants. Each story is different, but they all represent the unwavering human spirit of survival, strength, hope, and the determination and perseverance to obtain a better life.

On this most recent experience I had the honor to meet a father and son who were experiencing the desert water drop for the first time. The father, Luis, crossed through difficult border terrain six times with his mother starting from the early age of six. Desperate for access to quality health care and for a second chance for her son’s life, his mother decided to make the treacherous journey with Luis and her 18 year old son suffering form leukemia. The doctors in Mexico had given her son a month to live. Under the care of a compassionate and determined doctor from the UCLA Medical Center, her 18 year old son went on to live 16 more years.

Luis recalls walking all night with his mother and brother in the silent, darkness of the night; the only sound was the crumbling of the earth under their feet and the sound of their breath puncturing the suffocating stillness. He wasn’t scared, his mother told him everything would be okay, and he felt safe with her. It isn’t until now that he can recognize the extraordinary feat his mother was leading and how vulnerable his safety was on those treks.

Besides blistering heat, temperatures soaring as high as 110 degrees, and burning cold, temperatures falling as low as 20 degrees, migrants must also contend with dangerous creatures that roam this unforgiving and untamed borderland such as the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, and the Brown Recluse Spider, on of the most venomous creatures in the area. These creatures hid under rocks and shrubs where migrants hide from both the border patrol and the sun. The death of many of these migrants is not a painless death. Dying from exposure to the elements can be brutally elongated process.

In his award-winning book, “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea describes the stages of heatstroke in painstaking detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint. This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.” Initially heat cramps will develop primarily in the legs and abdomen area, followed by heat exhaustion, usually manifested by dizziness, blurred vision, head aches. Once heat stroke sets in, one will begin to experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. “By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations occur, and the body’s nerves are aflame” leading to convulsions and eventually unconsciousness. “You are having a core meltdown, “Urrea explains. “Your temperature redlines – you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimsom.”

Maybe more difficult than the dangers faced in the desert, is the separation of family. Luis’ father was a migrant farmworker who left his homeland to work in the fields of the United States when Luis was too little to remember. Unlike his older siblings, Luis has very little memories of his father, who spent most of Luis’ life working in the fields. It was a beautiful sight to see the juxtaposition between Luis’ experience with his father and his relationship with his son, Ricardo. Luis told me he had been wanting to get involved in this type of volunteer work for a while now, but was hesitant because of the wounds it would open, so when his son told him he wanted to do this as part of his community service project for school, Luis realized that in order to support his son, he would have to confront his pain. In seeing their relationship, there was no doubt in my mind that when we listen and follow our hearts, our children come to help us heal and teach us profound lessons.

There is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for my daughter. There is nothing immigrants are doing when they come through the desert and traverse that border that I wouldn’t do in their circumstances to give my daughter and family a better life. We have a humanitarian crisis in our backyard and we need to join in solidarity with our migrant brother and sisters.

The story of immigration doesn’t just start with the deemed illegal crossing of thousands of people looking for a better life. If you want to understand the problem of immigration, you need to understand who profits from it, not just who suffers. Forced immigration begins with trade agreements, demand for cheap labor, privatization of natural resources, land-grabbing, maquiladoras (sweatshops) run by multi-nationals, the war on drugs, and mafias like the IMF International Monetary Fund creating debt greater than the moral responsibility we have to people’s well-being. You see, this is the very definition of structural violence – the erasure of parts of history in order to criminalize the victims of exploitation and dehumanization. It is through the work of organizations like the Border Angels that we bring light to the narratives that are erased, and begin to humanize the people that have become invisible.


Dehumanization creates hate. Vigilante groups and some border patrol agents have been known to slash the water jugs left for the migrants.  Nineteen slashed water jugs were counted between the volunteers yesterday.  For every slashed jug, five more were left in its place.  As Jonathan, one of the volunteer coordinators for Border Angels stated in similar words, we can only fight death by saving a life.  “Be a sweet melody in the great orchestration, instead of a discordant note. The medicine this sick world needs is love. Hatred must be replaced by love, and fear by faith that love will prevail.” – Peace Pilgrim.



Occupy Education

My passion for education and the access of education by those who have historically been disenfranchised and oppressed comes from the following personal anecdote:

At eighteen years of age and approximately a month-and-a-half before graduating from high school, I gave birth to my daughter who is now successfully attending American University in Washington D.C.  I wanted to breastfeed – eager to be an exceptional mom.  More than ever, I wanted to finish school.  At the time I lived in San Ysidro and commuted on the trolley and bus to Morse High School, the only aspect of my life that was constant. My grandmother, whom I had lived with all my life, understood deeply the importance of my education and the development of my motherhood. Having endured very difficult life experiences and fourteen years as a farm worker for agribusiness, she made it her life mission to provide a more dignified life for her family.  Everyday for a month-and-a-half, my grandmother made the 2-½ hour trek from San Ysidro to Morse High School, carrying my newborn daughter in her sixty-six year arms, to arrive at the beginning of lunch period, so I could give my daughter her second breastfeeding of the day.   Off to fifth and sixth period I’d go, while my grandmother waited, in a small office with my daughter, for the end of the school day.  After school all three of us would embark on our journey back home to begin our voyage the next day, like three Durgas (A Hindu Goddess and word that means invincible in Sanskrit).

I began my teaching career ten years ago at Hoover High School.  I first became passionate about teaching when my 12th grade English teacher inspired me to believe I could be somebody when I grew up – to have a vision for my future.  I wanted to use the universal experiences of the characters in literature to help students have a deeper sense of themselves and inspire them to overcome the stories in their own books.  Not too long after I began teaching, my inexperienced philosophies were assaulted by fallacies about student learning: lazy, apathetic, can’t learn, needs remediation, doesn’t follow instructions, doesn’t listen, doesn’t care; the same fallacies that had been used to describe me.

Growing up, school was my escape.   The few funny and creative teachers I had allowed me to dream and believe outside the realm of my existence.  I hung on to their every word and though I can’t remember the stories I read and projects I completed, somehow they inspired me.  I felt smart – I felt deserving.   Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought much about my life after high school, until the second semester of 12th grade, when I found myself pregnant and trying to explain to my French teacher why I wouldn’t be able to join the exchange program she had recommended me for.  That summer I enrolled at San Diego City College, and my journey toward education began.  Not knowing what a thesis statement was or how to structure a paragraph were just a few of the aspects that made me question whether college was the right option for me.  I was taking college classes because I had a vague notion of what I wanted to “do,” though I’d never had the opportunity to explore anything else.   I continued to go to school because it was familiar and gave me some form of constancy.

My teaching credential program was the first time I experienced a connection between what I was learning in the classroom and the career field I was preparing to enter.  College prepared me for the content and strategies I would ultimately use in the classroom.  My employment as a research assistant and administrative assistant prepared me for the intricate dynamics of a workplace.  Nothing prepared me for the limiting and oppressive structure I, along with my students, would face in the classroom.  The literature I had hoped to use to deepen students perceptions of themselves and the world around them was deduced to scripted curriculum, rote memorization, vocabulary and grammar activities and test preparation.  I was abruptly introduced to a world where students received a sub par education because of their social, linguistic, racial, and economic differences.  Rather than inspiring our students, the structure eclipsed their lives and diminished them to remedial academic zombies.

AVID was the first experience I had in public education where every educator’s approach was centered on the students’ success not failure. A central belief of AVID is that students will succeed as long as they are in a compassionate environment with appropriate support systems and rigorous and relevant curriculum. Cuba was my second experience.  I was profoundly influenced by the conviction of a people who believe that properly educating the next generation of children is the only way of guaranteeing dignity and sustainability for their people.

In 2007 I participated in the Ahimsa Center Summer Institute at Cal-Poly Pomona.  I was first compelled to apply when I read the following description of the institute’s syllabus: Gandhi’s enduring significance is anchored in his commitment to ahimsa or nonviolence as the foundation for his vision of humanity and as a powerful force to question, reform and transform the unjust establishments of authority.  And question I did.  I took a more critical look at my role as an educator both inside and outside of the classroom and at my responsibility as an advocate for the students.   I looked introspectively and wondered how I had come to be so well adjusted to injustice.   Never before had my vision of love and social justice been clearer.  I embarked on a journey to funnel this vision into transforming the lives of the students I served.

Carmen at an Occupy Education Protest

It was also during this time that my daughter began attending High Tech High International (HTH).  Rigor and academic expectations took on a whole new meaning.  At first I’d pry into her work to ensure she was receiving challenging and engaging assignments, but pretty soon I was using the ideas for my own classroom – and I saw it transform into a dynamic and exciting place of learning and exploring.  I attended as many exhibitions at HTH International as I could – hungry for knowledge and power to transform my students’ experience.  I also remember this being a very challenging time, often having to spend time justifying the work in my classroom to administrators.  I also spent a lot of time modifying projects because we did not have the needed classroom time, technology, and materials.  This drew me to learn more about the efforts and, most importantly, structure of HTH.  I researched the New Urban High School project, which lead me to the Big Picture Learning initiatives and Massachusetts Institute of Technology hand-mind model.  There was a world of innovation and possibilities I had just been introduced to.

On June 26, 2010 my daughter graduated from High Tech High International.  Transformative.  That is how I describe her education.  For most of my teaching experience I waged a revolution to implement a few of my creative ideas in my classroom.  I want to be part of a movement that revolutionizes education.  I believe in the mission and principles of High Tech High (HTH) and schools like it across the country.  From its building structure to its educational design, HTH exemplifies the essence of the spirit of learning.

These last few years have allowed me the opportunity to visit many schools in San Diego and across the country in search of more ideas and more questions.   I’ve had the opportunity to listen to students’ stories and dreams, and imagine what it might take to create an education structure where their stories and dreams drive the decisions.  Chimamanda Adichie writes about the danger of a single story that creates stereotypes – incomplete portrayals of a person’s living experience that robs people of their dignity.  Our students are robbed of their dignity everyday we allow their voiceless experience in an educational system that favors isolation over collaboration and suspicion over trust.

At the center of this whole process is my continued spiritual growth, yielding a constant awakening of my heart.  The philosophies by which I operate as an educator are rooted in love, empathy, dignity, and the need to learn from those whom I serve.  Laughter, play, and curiosity open the mind and are prerequisites to creativity and innovation.  The space for self-definition and self-expression must be an integral part of the learning process that occurs for adults and children.  A student once suggested, “How can you expect to change the world, if you don’t know who you are?”  Our students will be the first generation to be critically challenged with the complex difficulties of an ever-evolving industrialized world.  The classroom must expand beyond the physical walls of the school and engage students in real-life, real-heart authentic projects so they will develop the necessary skills and talents to become catalysts for change fueled by a vision for love, democracy, and sustainability.