Some places seem to hold lingering stereotypes, unable to shrug off their poor reputation. Tijuana is a case study of such injustice. Its physical separation from the adjacent San Diego, a vibrant and eclectic city typical of many in the USA, is symbolic of the division between the nations, with Mexico a perennial victim to their domineering neighbour. Our ultimate purpose was to work with the wonderful Esperanza International in helping with the construction of a home in Rosarito, as well as offering service for many different organisations scattered across Tijuana and its neighbouring areas. The spirit of altruism that shines through a city all too infamous for its history of crime owes gratitude to the vibrant individuals which inspire such organisations.
Before the Immersion, we had doubts over whether visiting Tijuana was a true reflection of Mexico as a whole, due to its close proximity to the United States. These were immediately shattered as we stepped foot onto Mexican soil – the contrast between the wide, ambivalent streets of San Diego and the bustling, meat-scented scene of Tijuana was clear.
Becoming acquainted with a broad collection of passionate individuals was an enduring highlight. Eduardo, working for Esperanza International, was our group leader for the entirety of the Immersion. Eduardo announced himself as a generous, eloquent and knowledgeable individual who constantly inspired us to offer our best service. Despite a troubled past, Eduardo’s commitment to improving his “home” and the lives of his fellow Mexican citizens is truly inspirational. He is the embodiment of a Man for Others – a man utterly devoted to the enhancement of his community in the face of adversity. Yet Eduardo is simply a reflection of the many amazing people who strive to inject goodwill into the veins of Tijuana. Padre Jaime, Sister Ulga and the Sisters of St Theresa were tangible examples of individuals catalysing local yet boundlessly impactful change.
Perched on a hill overlooking the mesmerising landscape of Rosarito, before the awe-inspiring abyss of the Pacific Ocean morphed into an endless blue horizon, lay the fertile ground upon which we would construct the foundations of a home. Although Rosarito teased us with periods of torrential downfall, these only served to illuminate the blessing of sunshine for our construction endeavours. The manner in which rainfall paralysed not only our worksite but Tijuana as a whole is demonstrative of the added complications of daily life in Tijuana, absent from our privileged lifestyle. Yet even in poor weather, the spirit of the community shone brightly. We were privileged to witness the sheer dedication of the community on the worksite, whether it be assisting with construction or serving up the most magnificent carne asada – tantalisingly succulent home-cooked barbecued beef. The efficiency and camaraderie of our group’s efforts on the worksite exemplified a common dedication to our cause in positively impacting the life of the family for whom we were building.
Our nightly reflections provided us with the tools to digest our formative experiences, through the exemplary leadership of Sue Walsh, Brother Ian Cribb and student leader Matthew Tarlinton. By listening to each others’ emotional responses to the daily events, we came to a shared understanding of how our Mexican experience impacted different people in unique ways. Furthermore, it was incredible to witness and partake in the formation of enduring friendships through our shared experiences.
Fittingly, Eduardo’s parting advice sparked within us the necessity to transform our fresh understandings into future action. For us, this is the true power of the Cardoner experience. To not only be exposed to a starkly different culture, but to engage with it and carry what we have learnt into our lives beyond the Immersion.
Gerard & Alex