Colonia La Esperanza

 

10-6-16

The last four weeks in Guatemala have been extremely complex, safety in the region has gotten worse; gangs are forcing community members to flee, extreme raining flooded the only library in the community and the classroom where my host organization offers before and after school support.

Two weeks ago, ten Guatemalans were killed in a landslide due to the rain just minutes from our home. Many locals no longer believe that the neighborhood’s name: “La Esperanza” reflects its meaning. It has been very difficult for locals. The majority of the region still lives in small, improvised home, with dirt floors known as Covachas. Raining seasons are difficult for these families.

Just this past Sunday (10-2-16) in broad daylight a young man was murdered across the street from UPAVIM. I have been told of these events before, but it is definitely my first time experiencing such horrific crime scene. The scene could be seen from the UPAVIM school building. Four hours after the shooting, the young man’s body covered in white sheets was carried out and put into a police truck. Minutes later the alley was covered in watered down blood as it was being cleaned. As I observed, I spotted many of the children I work with at UPAVIM, and I wondered, how are these kids supposed to focus their minds on learning when their childhood has been torn apart by scenes like these?

There are times when I feel hopeless, and then I see some of the most honest and beautiful smiles and continue to understand my role here. I hug these kids with passion and tell them how much I believe in them.

Despite all the challenges many still continue to work hard to survive. It’s inspiring to see hardworking women continue growing alongside UPAVIM, an organization established more than 20 years ago. I have found family thousands of miles away from home. My relationship with the community is growing every day.

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Guatemala City

Note: Unidas Para Vivir Mejor (United for a Better Life) is a women’s artisan cooperative located in the community of La Esperanza, a former squatter settlement on the edge of Guatemala City. The women support themselves and UPAVIM through the production and sale of traditional, fair-trade handicrafts. UPAVIM faces the social problems of La Esperanza and improves the quality of life there with its school, free education projects, community library, and a medical clinic. International volunteers contribute mainly by teaching classes in UPAVIM’s free education project, Reforzamiento. Reforzamiento is aimed at helping neighborhood children.

UPAVIM’s mission is to empower local women. Over the past 25 years, UPAVIM has grown from a small baby-weighing program to a women’s cooperative employing local women.The proceeds from these crafts pay the women’s salaries, fund UPAVIM’s community health clinic, and fund UPAVIM’s school, which includes a daycare, pre-school, and elementary school (K-6th). In addition, UPAVIM runs a bakery and soy factory which provide fresh and affordable goods to the community. Find out more by visiting http://www.upavim.org.

 

Soy Latinoamerica

After much reflection and of course after a long process with immigration my wife and I have decided to move to Guatemala for a year. In this beautiful country we will be volunteering with Unidas para Vivir Mejor or UPAVIM (United for a Better Life) a women’s cooperative whose work has focused in socioeconomic development in the community of Villa Nueva in Guatemala City. This decision has come as the result of years of academic and personal formation. 

As an undocumented immigrant in the US, my background growing up in Mexico and many other personal experiences, I was aware of the suffering of many groups of people, but it was latter that I came to realize how much I shared with many of these oppressed groups. I sympathized and understood their struggles. I became enraged with injustice happening in every corner of our world.Since the age of fifteen I have been an advocate for fair treatment to farm workers, a holistic and comprehensive immigration reform, federal Dream Act, among other legislations that would give people an opportunity to a better life. I became a social justice activist…And much of my four years at Fresno Pacific University I spent time exposing myself to new cultures and experiences. After all, I was the first in my family to ever attend college. Thanks to communication technology It became a hobby to research multifaceted issues faced by nations around the world. Also,  I had the privilege of having incredible prepared professors who unintentionally or intentionally helped develop my personal ideology of the world I live in. Those educators exposed me to a buffet of historical context of injustices to people in the seven continents. Although much context was explained by my professors during class sessions, I made it my objective to conduct in depth research of all topics. I became  intrigued with learning about the reason and meaning of why people have been and continue to be oppressed. Thanks to mentors at FPU I came to love biblical justice. 

As I continued to study, I discovered the brutal oppressions (not one but many) of my Oaxacan people and my brothers and sisters throughout the North and South American continents (conquest, colonization, revolutionary uprisings for independence who at the end benefited the same oppressors, imperialism etc.) Oppressions whose ripple effects continue to affect millions of lives to this day. I knew that I need it to continue studying to then do something about it. 

What does one do when it becomes clear that my own background has been marked by injustices and oppression? When I hear my grandmother romanticize about a light skin baby and I feel sad and guilty for her not knowing that her brown skin and my skin are beautiful. When I read the history books and learn how amazing my culture was but I cannot experience it because thanks to the racism and ignorance of imperial powers it not longer exists. I became in love with what little remains of my culture. I acknowledge all the wrongful doings, and renew my hopes for my continents. And in my hopes I envision an educated, peaceful and justiciable Latin America; enormous potential that has struggled so much to show due to outside powers.

I am breaking many barriers. In my experience, when our Latinos families exiled from their home countries it is for good. Some bring their entire families to begin a new life in el Norte, others build  new families here and the only connection back home is their remittances to their mom and dad and or brother sister etc… And they are not to blame, after all in a realistic perspective, life in many Latin American countries are undesirable. 

However, as Latinos we are responsible for the welfare of our countries. It’s important for our new generation to discover their rich latino heritage and continue to construct a new Latin America. I go not to change and transform people’s life’s, rather to learn, serve and transform my own. I go not to take from my people but to give back, to repay the investments that many trusted me with. 

I want my hopes and vision of my Latin American countries to be reflected in my actions. I want to start by challenging my persona. I want to return home. Actually further south to where I was born and where I grew up. I want to challenge my aspirations, my dreams and be motivated and enlightened by the dreams and hopes of my Guatemalans brothers and sisters living economically oppressed. I take this amazing opportunity as an invitation for my siblings, family and community to do the same and return back home in one way or another always for the betterment of their respective home countries. 

 My family’s initial response of our decision was undeniably unsupportive. Again, is not a norm to return back home. Mom thought that it was a crazy idea, “I don’t understand how after all you’ve invested in your career, you are leaving to a foreign country to live in poverty rather than finding a good paying job to continue getting out of poverty here in the U.S”? mom adds. She has good points; depending on the election results, I’m risking my entry back into the U.S., I have worked odd jobs since my arrival to the U.S. in 2004 meaning that a college education was to change my destiny in becoming economically stable, in other words my wife and I are poor, last year we earned below the poverty line. In the year I will spend in Guatemala, my life style will change dramatically, and to be honest I will need to survive with 1/4 of my total earnings from last year. A risk both Marlene and I are willing to experience and grow from. It’s both saddening and joyful to know that we do have a great advantage over many Guatemalans, for any emergency, we have support from our family and friends back in the U.S. I am excited for this opportunity.  

México-Odisea Latinoamericana

Hola que tal, les comparto algunas fotos de mi crucé por México. El año pasado fue mi primera pasada por este gran país después de más de ocho años sin poder regresar por razones migratorias. Este verano tuve nuevamente la oportunidad de visitar mi país de origen.

Para ver mas fotografías visite: Odisea Latinoamerica

Hello peeps, I’m sharing with you some photos of my passage through Mexico. Last year was my first time back to this great country after more than eight years without being able to visit due to my immigration status in the U.S. This summer I had another opportunity to visit my country of origin.

To see more pictures please visit: Odisea Latinoamerica

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Protesta. Oaxaca, Oax.

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Abuelita. Guanacastle, Oaxaca

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San Isidro Llano Yerba, Oaxaca.

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Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

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Parque Centenario de Putla, Putla Villa de Guerrero, Oaxaca

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Guanacastle, Oaxaca

Guatemala-Odisea Latinoamericana: A glance of my travel experiences

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Espero que se encuentren bien, les comparto con ustedes algunas imágenes de mi odisea por Latinoamérica. Para disfrutar de más fotos visiten: Odisea Latinoamericana

Hello, I hope you are well, I share with you some pictures of my odyssey through Latin America. To enjoy more photos visit: Odisea Latinoamericana

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SEMILLA: Guatemala City – CASAS Zompopo de mayo

 

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Cementerio General. Ciudad de Guatemala.

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Antigua, Guatemala

Equipo de Cronistas Oaxacalifornianos (ECO)

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After several years of chronicling and sharing experiences of fellow Oaxacans’ in Central California, I was invited to form part of the Oaxacalifornia Reporting Team (ECO) to conduct a University of California Participatory Action Research project. ECO or The Oaxacalifornia … Continue reading

Guatemalan Malls

6-13-16
Today has been a relaxing day. I woke up early to eat a delicious breakfast, slides of pineapple accompanied by a cup of warm Guatemalan coffee.  At 11:00 am the group was taken to a nearby mall to exchange currency. After returning to CASAS we had lunch. In the building complex, I found a ping pong ball table, and I invited some of the students to a game before our class began. At two o’clock, the group watched a documentary, “Recycled Life”, presenting the struggle of some of the most marginalized people, known as “guajeros” living in the capital’s immense trash dump. This is a preparation to what students will be exposed tomorrow while visiting an overlook of the trash dump.

Next, students were able to meet their host families where they will be staying for the next month. At five, Cindy, Marlene and I took a taxi to another local mall, “Miraflores” to experience one of many hubs of the wealthy minority. The experience was extraordinarily expensive. Everything cost far above my income range. It turns out that “the distribution of income remains highly unequal with the richest 20% of the population accounting for more than 51% of Guatemala’s overall consumption.” It is highly westernized. In fact, none of the store ads are representative of the Guatemalan demographics, all ad models are white and a majority of those ads are in English. Most of the brands are international corporations.

References:

“Guatemala.” The World Fackbook. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2016. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gt.html&gt;

Guatemala at a Glance

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Finally, we arrived in Guatemala City. After going through customs and picking up our bags, we exited through the sliding glass doors and were greeted by enormous crowds of families waiting for loved ones or guests. It was a color overload as my eyes became adjusted to all my surroundings. I saw women wearing their traditional handmade dresses, as well as a particular young girl selling traditional flutes to tourists. She reminded me of one of my cousin in Oaxaca, Mex. The Fresno Pacific group boarded a bus hired by the seminary where we will be staying. The majority of these buses are refurbished School buses from the United States (by the way, in Guatemala one will see an abundance of refurbished U.S. school buses. Guatemalans extend their durability and recycling in a way. I am no expert but, due to the lack of government regulation on these buses, air pollution has been the consequence), I witnessed a large number of U.S. missionaries representing various churches wearing their passionate “mission shirts”. As we left the vivid environment, I thought about how effective is the church being in Guatemala? I feel that perhaps the style of missions could be hurting Guatemalan society. In a sense, a modern colonization, this came to mind because I myself felt a sense that, “wow, there is a great need here, I feel sorry” in reality there is so much work that needs to be tackle, but can the missions be modeled in a way where Guatemalans are empowered to tackled the changes their country …needs. In other words, instead of outsiders coming and trying to fix a problem (putting a Band-Aid) I believe that a more sustainable change can be achieved by locals with the support of outsiders.

Another important observation I made, was the militarization of the city. Heavily armed guards, police officers, and the military are spread throughout the city. Gated and armed neighborhood entrances are very common views in the city. Our group will also be staying in a gated and well-secured neighborhood.

I am excited to continue exploring and learning about Guatemala.

LAX

June 12, 2016

It is exactly 6:20 pm, I am at LAX waiting for my flight to Guatemala, but let’s backtrack a couple of months. May 6th 2016 Marlene and I received our bachelors from Fresno Pacific University (FPU). I double major in Political Science and Spanish. I also obtained a minor in International Relations. Marlene majored in Social Work. Although we go about it in different ways, we both are called to serve others. Therefore, we were given the opportunity of a lifetime by a great mentor, Dina. Which brings us back to why we are here at LAX; for the next two weeks we will volunteer to support a group of FPU students studying abroad in Guatemala. Through this opportunity, both Marlene and I will explore the historical context of Guatemala, learning about the political, cultural and economic traditions of the Guatemalan people.

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LAX

 

Fresno Pacific University Undocumented Students speak about immigration

A former FPU undocumented student and myself were invited to “participated in the 2016 Mennonite Health Services Annual Assembly “Finding Abundance in Scarcity,” March 31-April 1 in Sacramento” telling our personal stories to new audiences. I believe that by sharing our personal immigrant narrative, we will discover new allies in pushing for a just immigration reform and put an end to stereotypes that dehumanize our communities.

Story by wayne.steffen on April 7, 2016 @ 8:52am-Fresno Pacific University. For original article visit: Fresno.edu

 

Faculty, students and alumni participated in the 2016 Mennonite Health Services Annual Assembly “Finding Abundance in Scarcity,” March 31-April 1 in Sacramento.

Randy White, D.Min., associate professor of community transformation and executive director of the Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, gave the keynote address at the opening general session. His title was “Finding Abundance in Scarcity Through Faith Tradition and an Assets-based Approach.”

Dina Gonzalez-Piña, Jose Eduardo Chaves, Patricia Vazquez and Jennifer Lehman presented the second general session: “Finding Abundance in Scarcity Through New Generations and Cultures.” Gonzalez-Piña is assistant dean of multicultural affairs at FPU, Chavez is a current FPU student, Vasquez graduated from FPU in 2015 and is now an admissions counselor and Lehman is director of development at Swiss Village in Berne, IN.

Valerie Rempel, Ph.D., dean of the seminary, associate professor, J.B. Toews Chair of History and Theology and MHS board member served as assembly master of ceremonies. Angela Hernandez, student in the Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy program, presented the workshop “Holistic Healing: Conceptualizing Mental Health Using Systems Theory.” She was also student representative to the planning committee.

More at mhsonline.org

Students present “Harvest of Dreams” to humanize immigration

Article published by By wayne.steffen on March 28, 2016 @ 4:44pm -Fresno Pacific University. See original article at Fresno.edu

“Putting a face—or faces—to immigration issues is the goal of the student-led “Harvest of Dreams” event at Fresno Pacific University.

Election-year political rhetoric has painted an unfair picture of undocumented residents, according to organizers. “Our main ambition is raising awareness of the other side of the immigration story,” said Jose Chavez Garcia, FPU student and member of the planning committee. The FPU Dreamers Club, a student group, is the sponsor.

Several activities will take place April 4-7, 2016, in Alumni Plaza on the main FPU campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., including a photo gallery, music by local and other performers representing immigrant communities, a collection of stories of immigrants from all over the world as well as food. Other events will include “I’m an Undocumented American,” a chapel program from 10:00-11:00 a.m. April 6 in the Special Events Center; and “Journey Narratives,” from 12:40-1:50 p.m. April 7 in the Steinert Campus Center, Room 103.

Many undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. as small children and think of themselves as Americans because that is the culture they grow up in, Chavez said. These individuals and families are trying to survive, support themselves and live the American Dream—many have achieved legal status and become teachers, firefighters and other professionals. “There’s a big difference between immigration policy and immigrants,” he said.”

For more information, call 559-416-6266.