When I was in elementary school, one of the things that I looked forward to doing in the near future was going on a mission trip to Mexico with my parish’s high school youth group. Whenever I entered the youth group room at my school, I couldn’t help but stare at all of the pictures from past mission trips that plastered the walls and knew that going on a mission trip was something that I was called to do. I felt called to be a part of the youth group’s, as Kolvenbach states in “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Higher Education,” “…action-orientated commitment to the poor…” (27). Unfortunately, by the time I entered high school and could join my parish’s youth group, the previous director took a job at another school, leaving the group and the mission trip in an odd state of transition. My high school didn’t offer the same experience that I was looking for, one that was “…expressed not only in words but also in deeds…” (Kolvenbach 27), so my desire to go on a mission trip was pushed to the back of my mind.
But then I graduated high school and began going to Loyola. My oldest brother went to a Jesuit high school and college, so I knew what I was getting myself into regarding the Jesuits’ passion for service, faith, and justice when I decided to go to Loyola. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to learn about Project Mexico, Loyola’s international service immersion program. It was exactly the type of mission trip experience that I was looking for – I would not be simply learning about topics such as immigration, the environment, human rights, and political and economic issues, but I would be learning through physical, hands-on projects. Once the time came my sophomore year, I submitted my application as soon as I possibly could and was overjoyed that I was accepted as a Project Mexico team member. Weekly meetings began immediately, and I was plunging head first deep into this project after years of waiting for the opportunity.
After weeks of team building, preparation, education, and fundraising, the new year rolled around, bringing our departure date to Mexico with it. I flew back to Baltimore from Cleveland on January 2nd, and the very next day, I was right back on a plane with the rest of the team on our way to Mexico. Despite the six-hour-long plane ride, I could not fall asleep nor could I concentrate on the book that I brought along. I was far too excited to gain “…an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world” (Kolvenbach 34). I was ready to formulate my own opinions about these “[m]any countries [that] become yet poorer, especially where corruption and exploitation prevail over civil society and where violent conflict keeps erupting,” (Kolvenbach 32) such as Mexico, rather than simply agreeing and going along with my conservative family. And, immediately upon landing in the San Diego International Airport, I knew I was about to experience a lot more than I originally anticipated.
Although I thought that I was prepared to face Mexico’s socio-economic state and the situation of Mexican immigrants traveling to and living in the United States, I was still in awe during the duration of my time in Mexicali and San Diego. I saw that it was true that thousands of immigrants arrive from everywhere, especially Mexico, “[e]ach one a unique individual, they all aspire to live life, to use their talents, to support their families and care for their children and elders, to enjoy peace and security, and to make tomorrow better” (Kolvenbach 32) – to essentially live the American dream. What was even more shocking was how difficult it is for these immigrants to even have a chance to work toward this dream. What many people there consider monumental, such as the first promotora of the community graduating college this past December, Americans consider typical. Through Project Mexico, I feel as though I experienced what Kolvenbach was hoping when he states, “Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering and engage it constructively. They should learn to perceive, think, judge, choose and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed” (35). My Project Mexico experience was everything I hoped for and much, much more than I expected. The knowledge that I gained and the opinions that I formed are something that I do not regret nor would trade for anything in the world, something that I think both Kolvenbach and King would be proud of.