It wasn’t until I began reading the specifics of my potential role as the El Otro Lado Border Immersion assistant that I realized how much of “The Other Side” I had never actually encountered: I have never owned a passport, I have never left the mainland United States, no one in my immediate family has owned a passport or left the country… Yet, I would be doing all of this in a short span as I acted as an agent of Lasallian charism, as a facilitator, as a pupil myself. I took my photo, acquired my passport and booklet, underwent background checks, packed up my life as I knew it into two suitcases…

4:15 a.m. And just like that, the alarm is blaring again. I plug in my string lights next to my bed and stare at the ceiling, and then at my altar in the corner of my room. I roll out of bed, light my altar candles, and hype myself up as I prepare for the day. In the shower I ponder the day’s meetings, Google Spreadsheets, work to be done at Casa Guadalupe, emails to be written to Border Patrol, what I’ll be making for dinner in community that night as it is my night to cook and lead prayer. The internal to-do list swirls around in my head as I paint my face and pour my coffee and slide on my wristwatch. Then it hits me: only a few more days! And just like that, my purpose is renewed. The morning fog clears from over my inner-monologue as I remember what the weeks of anticipation have been leading up to: our first El Otro Lado Border Immersion of the 2018-2019 academic year. Up until this point about two weeks ago, my inner-dialogue, my anxieties, my experiences of joy and excitement looked a bit different, as I began to find my footing as a Lasallian Volunteer: What business does a witch (without a broom or cauldron) have living in a Catholic religious community? I heard the word “antiphon” for the first time at the Kitson Institute, I still do not have my Hail Mary memorized perfectly, I sometimes struggle with finding my Canticles in time. And just like that, I remember the laughs at dinner or during chores; the questions I was nervous to ask but that my community members were incredibly patient in answering; the moments of genuine human connection in the midst of an airport pick-up, or a hospital drop-off, or when a source of anxiety back in our hometowns came to the fore—and I remember that community has become a brave space, not only for myself, but for all folx (a gender neutral collective noun used to address a group of people) who dwell there and those who visit. And just like that, I have gotten a taste of what it means to live in community. To be a part of a unit, a little pocket of safety on the Southside of Tucson, while life continues on for each of us inside and outside our shared space…

And just like that, I took my first ever trip out of the U.S. ever a few weeks back when Sr. Jodi, Mrs. Alma Mejia-Garcia (founder of El Otro Lado at San Miguel High School in Tucson), and myself did a site visit to HEPAC (Hogar de Esperanza y Paz), an organization that works to support womxn (an inclusionary, non-binaried gender term) and youth who are fleeing from South and Central America mostly, a few folx have sought aid from Mexico; HEPAC is run by a mother-daughter duo who work in tandem with the surrounding community in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to provide support and empowerment to their clients, with the nurturing and maintenance of human dignity at the crux of the organization’s mission statement. They provide opportunities for the folx they help serve through work, allowing them to keep half of what they earn to accrue savings as they start fresh, the other half of their income going toward facilities expenses and the education of the youth they were traveling with [all folx receiving aid from HEPAC live on-site in residence halls]; tutors, teachers, rec leaders and volunteers visit multiple times a week and facilitate multiple-subject lessons and recreational activities for the children and help facilitate fun activities the whole community can take part in. It was a profound experience, crossing over for the first time, and seeing first-hand the differences in what goes into crossing over to Mexico versus coming back to the U.S. And just like that, my eyes began to open wider: While I am aware of my intersectional identities as a Pan African woman in the United States, I was able to obtain my passport with relative ease, I was able to pass freely through a port of entry, which is anything but “easy” as a site, as a social/cultural/political symbol. Never have I had to consider my citizenship status, or my first language, or my name, or the reality of being separated from family as the result of economic or socio-political devastation. And just like that, my self-concept—much of which had been formed through the lenses of my experiences of marginalization—shifted drastically: How do I unpack my positionalities of privilege to hopefully become an agent of positive change and to be in solidarity with the folx I am striving to serve, over the course of my service as an LV and beyond?…

I serve as an El Otro Lado Border Immersion assistant at San Miguel High School. I work directly alongside Sister Jodi, a literal Goddess (she would throw a fit if she knew I called her that in this blogpost). She used to work at Saint Mary’s College of California  in the Mission & Ministry Center. And just like that, I am reminded as to how wildly chance/fate/luck has worked in my journey as an aspiring Lasallian. She left campus right as I was entering in 2014. And here we are, a full four years later, two women from the Bay Area who narrowly missed each other in Moraga, leading Border Immersion Trips in the middle of the desert.

Each Immersion trip consists of a different theme each day, one day we have an orientation/prep day; one day we do a six-mile hike for a water/supply drop along a popular cross-route in the Sonora Desert alongside the Tucson Samaritans, a humanitarian organization; one day we connect with Border Patrol and public defenders who are living and breathing the realities of Operation Streamline; one day we help serve at a Comedor in Nogales; one day we visit part of the Tohono O’odham Reservation and receive a her-storically silenced narrative of indigenous folx from Southern Arizona whose nation is obstructed by a border wall they are supposed to be completely independent from, we are seeking to unpack a narrative which has been largely silenced, so as to absorb El Otro Lado as not only a two-sided or black-white issue, but as the multifaceted, gray reality that it holds…

And just like that, I am about to lead Mullen High School from Casa Guadalupe over to breakfast on campus as we prep for our hike and supply drop in the Sonoran Desert.

Savannah Mattox is a first-year LV serving at San Miguel High School in Tucson, Arizona. She is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.

El Otro Lado, which means “the other side”, is a US/Mexico border immersion program hosted by San Miguel High School. This program provides Lasallian students with the opportunity to explore the US/Mexico border and learn about the many complexities of immigration. Through this five-day immersion program students and participating staff members learn about, and experience in part, the hard journey our brothers and sisters that cross from “El Otro Lado” endure. In addition to informing participants of the hundreds of migrant deaths that occur in the Arizona desert, El Otro Lado allows students to interact with humanitarian aid groups, Border Patrol agents and those directly impacted by US immigration policy.