Every year, students from colleges across the nation come to the Valley to volunteer with LUPE and to learn more about issues along the Texas-Mexico border. Visitors come from as close as UTPA in Edinburg to as far away as Grinnell College in Iowa to get firsthand experience learning about immigration, border communities, economic justice and much more.
This year, students came from University of Miami, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Vanderbilt. Students helped flyer in the colonias, attended house meetings, and helped prepare for the annual Cesar Chavez March. The students visiting from the University of Miami had a special privilege this year: giving back to a family that has given so much to visiting students and the union year after year.
La familia Martinez, who live in La Homa Meadows, loves to open their home to visiting students. La Senora Martinez is a single mom with two daughters. She works long hours and one of her daughters just had a baby. But that hasn’t stopped the family from making sure visiting students are well fed and feel welcomed into the community. La Señora Martinez has also helped in whatever tasks the union needs-from hosting house meetings to cooking to cleaning to bringing people out to actions. La Señora Martinez is one of the union’s most devoted members.
That’s why students from the University of Miami were so happy to give back by helping paint the family’s house. “We painted her house because she hosts a lot of community meetings,” said student Jenna Oien. “So it’s important that the house looks presentable and welcoming.”
“I am so surprised by her hospitality,” said Valeria Villanueva, one of the U of Miami students. “She was always asking us if we wanted water or food. She even gave us some food to take home, which was gone before we got in the driveway.”
La Señora Martinez was equally impressed by the students, who showed willingness to work together and help someone they didn’t even know. And the students were excited to help.
“We understood that the household could have used the help and we were glad to provide them that,” said U of Miami student Antoine Romulus. “The appreciation we got back was also well taken. For me personally, the experience was all about finally getting to see a colonia firsthand and to learn about what constitutes that type of living situation for so many people.”
Getting a firsthand learning experience is what LUPE’s Alternative Break Programs are all about. For one week, students and youth are immersed in the reality of immigration on the Texas-Mexico border, learning not only the politics and policy behind it, but also talking with immigrants and colonia residents and hearing their stories.
“Actually being in the area made me realize exactly how big the issue of immigrant rights is,” said U of Miami student Noopur Ghande. “I learned so much—definitely more than I could ever have learned from reading a book… I’m so glad I spent that week in South Texas, and truly feel like a changed person because of it.”
If you’re looking to learn about immigration, border communities, economic justice and much more, ask your college’s community service coordinator to participate in LUPE’s Alternative Break Program. Contact Vaughn Cox or 956.787.2233 for more information.