Sunday, October 25, 2015

Digging Deeper: Exploring the Highs and Lows and the Spaces in Between...

Watching as the First Hot Air Balloons Take Flight in the Pre-Dawn Hours
So it has been a while since we've been able to update the blog. Besides having some minor technical difficulties with uploading photos and software compatibility issues, life just got busy and there weren't enough hours in the day to accomplish all that we had planned.

Our final week in New Mexico was filled with both highs and lows, as the students more concretely learned about the various social injustices and forms of oppression that occur around the globe, and in our own country -- sometimes in our own back yards. Yet, as they were processing the full impact of what they were learning they also celebrated the rich and diverse Latino culture that pervades this part of the desert southwest with several events at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. 

At the end of the first full week, the students volunteered to serve at the International Hot Air Balloon Festival, which is an annual event held in Albuquerque. Arriving at 4:15 am to watch as the first balloon took flight in the early pre-dawn hours was really something quite magical to behold. The students watched in awe as the shapeless, masses of reinforced nylon lying in the dewy grass slowly filled with hot air, and became gargantuan recognizable shapes, which then floated skyward. As the day warmed up, after the sun crested the horizon, an entire fleet of hot air balloons were launched amidst a throng of well over 8000 eager spectators. 
Hundreds of Balloons Preparing to Take Flight 

As the day wore on students made their way through the busy festival grounds over to the Music Fiesta site and checked in with the Volunteer Coordinator. Upon receiving their assignment the group meticulously numbered and set up the seating area for the three bands who would grace the main stage area later that day. The Music Fiesta is the culminating event, concluding the annual 7-day international event and usually draws huge crowds. After setting up the venue site, students then ticketed, checked-in and ushered hundreds of ecstatic concert goers to their assigned seats. The headlining band was The Band Perry which for many of the students was a double-bonus: getting to see the hot air balloons and getting to see one of their favorite bands! It was a day full of sun, fun, and festivities.

Students Assist in Setting Up for the Music Fiesta Main Stage Event - The Band Perry
The Crew Prepares to Ticket and Usher Excited The Band Perry Fans to Their Assigned Seats
Who Wouldn't Want to be Greeted and Seated by One of These Friendly Faces?! (Alec, Autumn, Kate)
Morgan, Nicole and Sam Eager to Assist Concert Goers

It was a good thing that the students were buoyed up by the hot air balloon festival because the following week -- the final week in Albuquerque -- was a bit more challenging than simply setting up chairs for a music concert.  

As previously mentioned the students were confronted with the hard realities of what it is like to live in fear. Fear of economic insecurity; fear of being ripped away from your family and swiftly deported; fear of domestic violence; fear of being labeled and judged as 'disabled'; fear of not having enough food to feed your children; fear of not having the 'right'color of skin; fear of living in a toxic environment... Visits to a number of social justice and human rights organizations throughout the second week in Albuquerque gave the students plenty of opportunity to reflect on the level of privilege that most of them have known since birth. Discussions with the folks at Somos Un Pueblo Unido gave the students an understanding of the common practice of 'wage theft' that occurs frequently in the immigrant labor force. They learned about the complexities of how the political process and the various legislators who hold office in any particular state, inevitably shape the laws that govern any particular region or state, particularly as it pertains to the vastly contentious issue of immigration. For many, it was a wake-up call about the importance of becoming politically aware and the power of grassroots organizations to influence and shape public policy. 
Additionally, they learned about the the pervasive effects of domestic violence among the largely Latino and Hispanic community in the greater Albuquerque area. Yet, the women who serve as advocates at Enlace Communitario, an organization committed to eradicating domestic violence at its core, were quick to inform the students that domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic classes and other demographic identifiers that people tend to use when working with a particular population or addressing a particular issue. Not surprisingly many of the Gap students felt very emotionally raw when they heard the personal story of one woman who had endured a very painful past, full of violence and abuse. Entering first into the country as an illegal citizen, not only did she eventually gain US citizen status, but she was eventually able to break out of the cycle of violence and abuse. The resounding message from each of the organizations the students met with that week was this: "Don't sit and wait for these issues to simply disappear or go away, because they won't. It is up to your generation to carry the torch and work towards a solution to these complex problems." The students also spent a day working with Catholic Charities, where they learned not only about the 'charity model' of how this organizations has historically dealt with serving the needs of those who are in need -- particularly the immigrant population to the greater Albuquerque/Santa Fe area -- but additionally they gained some understanding of the dizzying number of statutes and types of immigration visas that undocumented persons are faced with once they cross the border and want to file for citizenship. As one student stated "It seems so unfair that just because I happened to be born on the north side of the Rio Grande and I have white skin, I am able to have all the freedoms and opportunities that I do." . 

The two weeks in New Mexico ended with several celebratory events hosted by the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), the first of which was taking in the featured art exhibit: Quinceanera: Our Story, Our Future. The evening before we had to board the Amtrak to make the long train ride back to the Midwest (27 hours+), students helped the educational outreach committee at the NHCC prepare for an early Dia de los Muertos celebration, which included making traditional sugar skulls for local children and other participants to decorate and take home. Although many of the students knew in a general sense what the traditional Mexican 'Day of the Dead' celebration is -- an annual event to honor and acknowledge loved ones who have passed on -- many were unfamiliar with the level of dedication and commitment many people take in observing this holiday. After several hours of volunteering for educational outreach committee, the students were finally able to attend the exhilarating and galvanizing concert by the East LA band, Las Cafeteras. Not only were they incredibly talented musicians and performers, but the message the band delivers: 'Equality and justice for all!' got the packed audience revved up. As one student stated emphatically, "this is my jam!!!

Traditional Dia de los Muertos Altar Honoring Loved Ones Who Have Passed

Morgan M., Morgan P. & Alec Making Sugar Skulls

Zack Puts Final Touch on Sugar Skull

Local Kids Decorating Skulls to Take Home

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