February 2020
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Students Come Face to Face with Life at the Arizona Border

Demarest, NJ: Life-altering awakenings occur each time Holy Angels students participate in the Mission Awareness Process journey to Arizona and Mexico. During winter break, Religious Studies Department Chair Carol Fay, Spanish language teacher Carmen Quiñones, Laura Carbo, Valeria Gonzalez, and Julia Swearer made the trip to learn about the realities of life at the border and the support offered by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

MAP visitors learn about the people who risk their lives trying to cross the Mexican border, the work of people who enforce immigration law, those who assist migrants, and projects that offer economic opportunities. The SSNDs partner in projects that include a carpentry workshop, a sewing co-op, a café that sells Fair Trade coffee, and a migrant shelter in Agua Prieta.

“Walking along the wall on both sides of the U.S.A./Mexico border offers a whole collection of lessons in architecture, art, policy, and perspectives. Whoever said that good fences make good neighbors did not have this wall in mind. The view from the two sides is strikingly different,” Fay observed.

 Here in Arizona the wall 
is ugly, dreary, foreboding 
separates “us” from “them”  to opportunity
is a weapon emboldened by concertina wire 
to punish and inflict lethal harm 
to deface it is a crime 

On the Mexico side the wall
separates families
is an obstacle
is a place of both protest and celebration
hope for solidarity
has been turned into a work of art

“Who will be our Joshua? How many of us have to yell and sound the alarm to make the wall come tumbling down? Is now the time?” she reflected.

After stopping in Tucson, Swearer said, “I was awestruck by the passion our tour guide, Kat, emanated and the safe haven Casa Alitas provides for migrant families who have proven credible fear and are awaiting transportation to their U.S. sponsors. The building was lined with beautiful artwork, including murals and drawings done by children staying at Casa Alitas. I was moved by the extensive work the staff and the many volunteers do to identify the language spoken by each family and to contact appropriate translators, if necessary. I feel so humbled and blessed to have this experience and see for myself the generous side of humanity kind people wanting to give hope to families during a challenging time in life.”

Casa Alitas includes a medical office, therapeutic art classes, a garden, recreation spaces, and private space for families. Personnel also make travel arrangements.

AHA’s visitors also spent a day with Peg Bowden, author of “A Stranger at My Door.”

“Around the breakfast table, Peg told us how one specific encounter with one specific migrant impacted her views on migrants and even her own life,” Gonzalez said. After a migrant collapsed at Bowden’s front door, she faced serious decisions about how she should respond.

“Hearing Peg’s story of kindness got me thinking that there are not many people who are willing to help, but there is hope for change,” Gonzalez added. “I want to make more people aware of the seriousness of this issue. How many more migrants need to collapse, and even die, for Americans to take notice?”

Carbo described meeting the Green Valley Samaritans, who search the desert for migrants.

“We found bottles and clothing from passing migrants. These objects helped us know where to leave jugs of water where migrants who are passing on their journey can find them. My fondest moment of the day was when we wrote messages on the bottles to encourage the migrants. This showed me how kind and selfless people can be in a world that has been consumed by division and fear,” Carbo said.

AHA’s visitors also had dinner with a border patrol agent, spent time in Nogales (AZ and MX) and Douglas, and participated in a cross planting in honor of a migrant who died on his journey.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.

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