Breaking the Barrier

An Interview with USD’s Border Angels

by Ale Esquer

This Spring 2018, I found myself lost during the Alcalá Bazaar, USD’s annual showcase of on-campus clubs and organizations.  This mishap however, did lead to a surprisingly fortunate find: learning about the USD chapter of the national organization, Border Angels. I was fascinated by what I heard, even from the first few minutes of chatting with active members at their table. The group,  relatively new to USD, is a chapter of the larger organization, a non-profit established in 1986 by Enrique Morones, whose focal point is based on protecting migrants on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border. One of their current projects, for example, is an ongoing fundraiser for Haitian refugees in Tijuana. As for USD’s chapter, their main work has been based on collecting funds for two kinds of volunteer work: day laborer outreaches and water drops. The first is based on meeting with day laborers around San Diego to look into their wellbeing, supplying them with food and hygiene products, and keeping them informed on the legal resources that the organization can provide for them. The second, organized water drops, consist of volunteers going into the Southern Californian desert and placing water along migrant paths. These water drops are aimed at preventing the fate that many migrants face while attempting to cross into the United States: death by dehydration.

Since joining, I have realized that a surprisingly small amount of undergraduates know of the group’s existence, the same position I was in before that fateful Alcalá Bazaar. Due to this, and because of the importance of their work (especially pertinent in 2018’s political climate) I secured  an interview from some of the lead organizers in the group, to excavate some insight into the organization, as well as the nuanced relationship between USD, San Diego, and the border between the US and Mexico.

Hi! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! If you don’t mind, could we start with your names, your roles in Border Angels, and how long you’ve been involved with the group?

KM: My name is Kimberly Riveros, and I am currently a vice-president for [USD’s chapter of] Border Angels. I established Border Angels on campus last spring [2017].

WM: I’m Wendy Martinez. I’m a junior. I’m the current president. Like Kim, I joined last spring, when it first started.

MP: My name is Maria Parra, I’m a second year, and I’m the treasurer. I also joined when it started.

So, before we talk about anything else, could you tell me what Border Angels actually is?

WM: Well, Border Angels is just a way for us here in the USD community to be informed about what’s going on with these immigrants, with the things that they go through as they cross over into the United States. It’s also a way for us to be active in that community. I think the whole purpose of it is to try to get students to get a wholesome, raw experience while they’re out in the desert, while they’re interacting with these immigrants, making sure that they realize that there’s more to their story than what media portrays, or what they might think they know. I think it’s really just about bringing awareness to the USD community and opening ourselves up to these new experiences that, while they may be uncomfortable at times, do allow us to grow and really understand something that really isn’t talked about.

KM: We also strive to educate people. For anybody that has any questions about the organization, we’re always more than happy to explain what we are, that we are advocating for human rights and human lives. We don’t stand for any political group at all, we’re just for human rights and saving people. At the end of the day, that’s what it really is. With the desert water drops, for instance, we are hopefully preventing somebody from literally dying of dehydration.

I was going to ask how you first hear about the group, but given that two of you were the founders, I wanted to know how that idea actually came about?

KM: Well, I first heard of Border Angels my freshman year, so two and a half years ago. It was close to my community back home, so I started volunteering with them. Then I found out that the founder of Border Angels is actually a USD alumnus, and then I found out that other universities, like CSU San Marcos, had chapters. I was like, “Why don’t we have a chapter, if Enrique, [the founder of Border Angels] graduated here?” I remember that he told me that there was no Border Angels club at USD, that [he said] “You should start it,” so that’s what motivated me.


MP: I wasn’t part of the founding of this club, but I did join because of Elena and Kim. I met them my freshman year and when they started it I decided to join.

What has your experience with the organization actually been like? Has it been different from what you originally expected?

KM: It was different because I didn’t think it was going to be that hands-on. When I first started volunteering, I didn’t know what to expect, and my first volunteer experience with the organization, before it was even established at USD, was a water drop, and it was during the summer, so it was super hot, and it was super eye opening. I didn’t go with any of my friends, so I met a whole new group of people that had the same interests as me as far as immigration, and here, in the U.S., so, yeah, it was very eye opening.

WM: I went with Kim my first time, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I think it was scary; I was like a deer in headlights the whole time, because I didn’t know what to expect. I feel like that’s the thing with a lot of new members, they don’t know what to expect, and come out like “Oh, that wasn’t that bad.” After we got into it and warmed up, we were fine. It was just a matter of breaking that barrier, those first impressions, and being like, “this is what it’s all about, this is why I’m here, these are just regular people that weren’t born into the same circumstances that we were”, and realizing that privilege and why we were there to help. For me, it was very raw, very real, just empowering, honestly, to be more involved in the community, in what really isn’t so far from us here at USD.

MP:  I haven’t been to a water drop, but I’ve been to day laborer outreaches and I was really nervous going in. I didn’t know if we were intruding going in, if we were going to make them upset. I didn’t know what to expect, but getting to talk to them was really nice. Some of them were… I felt like they thought we were pitying them, and I felt bad for that, like we weren’t doing the right thing, but there were other people that were very grateful, and they were happy for the lunches, and even just for being able to talk to people. They’re there for a long time, just by themselves, so it was nice for them to see new faces and talk to new people. It was really nice, I really enjoyed it.

How would you describe USD’s relationship to the border and the organization?

KM: I know certain groups on campus do go down to the border and do some community work, but if we’re talking about the whole student body… a lot of people just don’t know about Border Angels. There are many times when we go into the meetings, and ask for a show of hands of how many people have heard of Border Angels, and usually, only a couple of people raise their hand, if that. We’re not really known that much, but I think we just need more time, since we are really new.

WM: I think that relationship with the student body here will get better the more well known we get. We are starting up, we are fairly small, our events are not really as well known as they should be… This [Fiesta Night] was our first big event and I feel like we’ve done really well for our first try. I think the student body, at least some of them, will be interested in the work that we do, it’s just a matter of getting them here and making sure that they are comfortable going to these events. Like Kim said, the University does have different opportunities for students to engage with the border, and I think it’s all just a great opportunity for them to, once again, make sure that they recognize the community that’s not too far from us and their different circumstances from where we are right now.

KM:  I feel like USD as a whole has done a good job in helping us establish ourselves. We just need to work on getting more connected with other organizations. Little by little, it’ll grow.

Lastly, for anyone who reads this, how could they best support Border Angels, and what would be the best way to reach you if they have any questions?

KM:  Come to our meetings! Learn about it. Like we mentioned before, like Wendy mentioned, at first it can be scary, but think about volunteering. It’s hands-on, so it is very nerve-wracking, but once you get there, when you’re surrounded by all of these people that share the same morals as you, and are, in a way, fighting for what you want as well, and for some kind of justice, it’ll really be worth it.

MP: I think it’s really nice for people to just come in to learn about it, because we are living in this USD bubble and, here, it’s a whole different atmosphere than just going down the street, so actually going down to interact with the day laborers, or going on the water drops… they are real eye-openers, and real learning experiences.

KM: The best way to support us would really be to reach out to us and come to our meetings. Our info is on Torero Orgs, so if they email us we’d be able to answer any questions anybody might have. As far as supporting us, just being open to those experiences and events that we have, not making assumptions of what it’s all about, really, just going into this with an open mind.

This piece originally appeared in the Spring 2018 Issue. Photography by Lauren Koumelis.


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