Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two Sides to Every Story

Full Moon Rising Over the Sandia Mountain Range

Week two of our time in Albuquerque has come to a close. And we think they got the phrase, “time flies,” wrong. Time does not fly, it more so disappears, especially when every moment is filled with learning about different perspectives or laughter with good friends—both of which characterized the Gapsters’ final days in Albuquerque.

Ken Explaining the Intricacies of an Alter.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center welcomed the Gap students with open arms. The Gapsters spent three days learning about various historical and cultural topics relevant to one of the fastest growing populations in our country. During their inaugural visit to the NHCC, students dove into Hispanic culture by learning about Día de los Muertos. It is thought that the Day of The Dead is the one time throughout the year when the veil between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Deceased is lifted, so that those from both sides can come together for 24 hours.

The sojourn to get back to the Land of the Living is a strenuous and complex one that requires assistance from the living. Leading up to The Day of the Dead, families construct altars for their loved ones (including pets) who have passed away. These alters are not only decorated with items that the deceased enjoyed (sports teams, hobbies, books, foods, etc.), but also items that give strength and clues for their journey, so that they may be successful in reuniting with their families in the Land of the Living. Common items on an altar include bread for energy; water to relieve thirst; marigolds for a strong guiding scent; and candles as bright beacons to light the treacherous path. After hearing about the traditions of Día de los Muertos, students created their own mini altars, honoring their loved ones, pets, and causes that are close to their hearts.

Outside View of the Torreón (No Pictures Allowed Inside)

Students ended their first visit to the National Hispanic Cultural Center with a tour of the Torreón and the facility’s art museum. The Torreón left the students spewing questions—it is a good thing that our guide, Ken, was incredibly knowledgeable. The interior of this tower is adorned with a massive 360-degree fresco mural by New Mexican artist Frederico Vigil. The fresco recounts pivotal moments of world history through the Hispanic-perspective. Represented in the mural were ancient indigenous peoples and ceremonies, pueblo communities, the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas, great Jewish and Moorish philosophers, four different ethnic interpretations of Lady Guadalupe, Western expansion, etc. Sitting high above these depictions, the artist showcased various universal concepts such as medicine, hope, music, science, peace, military, architecture, faith, justice, education, love, and sacred earth. Of all of the questions the students asked, Bry’s question was one our guide had never heard: “What is the significance of everyone’s hands appearing to reach out?” Ken pondered a while then decided it was an artistic invitation for all visiting the Torreón to become a part of history; become part of our world’s story; become a catalyst of change—a common theme the Gapsters are hearing through the community partners with whom they are visiting.

Dr. Gauderman Speaking to the Gap Student about Immigration and Asylum

Dr. Kimberly Gauderman, associate professor in the history department at the University of New Mexico, spoke with the Gap students during their second visit to the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Her talk centered around emigration from Latin America to the U.S. Students’ minds reeled after learning about some statistics revolving around the issue of immigration. Dr. Gauderman mentioned that Mexico and the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are the countries of origin for the majority of Latino immigrants in the U.S. She also revealed that the largest population seeking asylum via the U.S./Mexico border is children 12 years-old and under—a staggering statistic that stunned the Gapsters. Dr. Gauderman also presented an international view of the United State’s immigration situation—that it more closely resembles refugee conditions, rather than immigration. This view definitely piqued student-intrigue. Dr. Gauderman concluded this conversation by informing the Gapsters about the work she does as an expert witness in various asylum cases. The students’ time with Dr. Gauderman was too short, as they were vying for the floor to ask her questions until she absolutely had to leave. Needless to say, thoughtful discussion took place after this talk, and due to the diversity of experience and thought within the Gap group, the conversation proved respectful, vulnerable, and colorful.

The Gap cohort bid the National Hispanic Cultural Center adieu after attending the performance, “Woman On Fire.” This Antigone-inspired play more fully immersed the Gapsters in the kaleidoscope of cultures that make up our country, as well as revealed some of the dilemmas that come with it. The main character of "Woman On Fire" grapples with what it means to be Mexican-American living on the Arizona/Mexico border while being married to a border patrol officer. Students walked away from this show praising its unbiased views and balanced representation of various perspectives on immigration throughout our country. Their time at the National Hispanic Cultural Center sparked a new Gapster motto that has been flowing ever since, “There are two sides (or more) to every story.”

Students Walking through Acoma Pueblo
On Thursday, everyone loaded up in our hefty 12-passenger vans and headed northwest to Acoma Pueblo—one of the 19 New Mexican pueblos. Acoma is known as the City in the Sky, as it was built atop of a mesa 400 feet above the valley floor. Having learned so much history and culture about Native peoples from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center the week before, the Gapsters appreciated the opportunity to visit an existing pueblo. They valued the efforts of the Acoma community to preserve and share its culture with non-Native peoples. Students walked away having learned about the symbolism used in various art forms, the significance of a three-story housing system, the intricacies of architecture to protect against raids, as well as current marriage practices.

Chris and Father Graham at The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe
Friday was call for yet another road trip, during which our Gapsters did not bring their cell phones--this is a common practice during the Gap Experience, so as to to encourage intentionality and engagement with the people and place surrounding them. On the way to Santa Fe, the vans were filled with continuous chatter (and the occasional interruption from a snore of someone catching up on rest). Upon arrival, the group met with Somos Un Pueblo Unido (“We Are a United Village”), a grassroots activist group that works with marginalized populations in New Mexico, specifically those who are undocumented. Somos Un Pueblo Unido specializes in community organizing to change or enforce various policies and laws. Some of their accomplishments include providing access to college education for undocumented young people at in-state tuition costs, campaigning so that immigrant families could maintain their right to a driver’s license, and tackling the issue of wage theft experienced by many immigrant families through winning multiple legal cases at the state level. For most of the Gapsters, it was their first exposure to these concepts. Regarding wage theft, students were shocked to hear that one woman who worked in hotel housekeeping made $500 for working 132 hours in two weeks. She made less than $4.00/hour when minimum wage in New Mexico is $10.91/hour. Needless to say, the Gapsters gained yet another perspective with this site visit, which only further reinforced their new-found motto: There are two sides (or more) to every story.

Hiking Tree Spring Trail
To celebrate their time spent in New Mexico, the Gap crew finally made it to the Sandia Range. If you speak Spanish, you know that this title translates to “Watermelon Range.” This name comes from the pink hue covering the west side of the mountain range during sunset. Waking up and looking out into the Sandias every morning from the Abbey made the students' Saturday hike that much more special. Huffing and puffing up Tree Spring Trail's two mile climb was all worthwhile when the students reached their lunch spot at one of the breathtaking lookout points (see picture above). Eating lunch at 9,500 feet surrounded by such powerful scenery allowed the Gapsters to reflect on all of their service and shared experiences during their time in New Mexico, while the exercise made memories of their Outward Bound experience loom in the back of their minds.

New Mexico will be deeply missed by the Gapsters. Nonetheless, excitement abounds as the Gap students begin to make their way to the Mid-West again.
Some of the Gapsters Holding Down the Fort at the Amtrak Station in Albuquerque.

For more pictures of the Gapsters' second week in New Mexico, click the link below:

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