About DukeEngage Tucson 2010

Immigration is perhaps the single largest domestic challenge facing both the United States and Mexico today. People die nearly every week attempting to cross the border. Hostilities against immigrants in the U.S. rise daily. Local, state, and international relations are increasingly strained.

For eight weeks this summer, seven students have been given the opportunity to travel to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to study the many faces of immigration. Following two weeks of meetings with local activists, a Border Patrol agent, a federal public defender, lawyers, members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, maquiladora owners, Grupos Beta employees, migrants, and local farmers, we will spend six weeks partnered with Southside Day Labor Camp, BorderLinks, or Humane Borders in order to further immerse ourselves in the issues of immigration.

This blog chronicles our experiences and our perspectives on what we learn while here in Arizona. We hope our stories are interesting and informative.


Thursday, July 1, 2010


At the beginning of any new experience I have always faced challenges that I must overcome. My time so far interning with Southside’s day labor program has been no different. I admit that my work there so far has been very frustrating at times.

But I have also found that these struggles teach me something useful about myself and the world around me. Rather than just staying frustrated and upset when we encounter such experiences, we need to reflect on these issues so we can learn from them and become more developed people. What does not kill me makes me stronger.

One of the main problems I have had so far is teaching the classes. While it may seem straightforward enough for someone who is fluent in English to teach the language, I have not found this to be the case. Our attempts at a systematic effort have not been particularly successful due to lack of interest and discontinuity of which people come which days, and lack of teaching experience. We have not completely failed in our efforts; we have produced documents that they can study from and we have helped teach some of the men basic phrases. However, I don’t think we envisioned the progress being as slow as it is.

Our computer classes have gone a little better and we have successfully helped some of the guys to set up email accounts. However, the classes mostly consist of answering questions the men have about computers and the internet. We were originally hoping to have a systematic approach, but this has largely been abandoned.

Another problem we have been having is the ambiguous instruction we have been receiving from our superiors. We do not really have any superiors we have to report to directly. There are various interns and a few people from the church involved, but no one that effectively oversees the program on a day to day basis and ensures that everything that needs to be done gets done well and in a timely fashion. The program is very democratic and the men and all volunteers give input in nearly all decisions. All this amounts to very different guidance that often conflicts and ideas that are unrealistic.

This is not to say that the experience so far has been a bad one. We have built good relationships with many of the day laborers. Also, we have been bonding while watching the world cup together and some of the guys now give me fist bumps when they see me. I thought it would be much harder to establish this kind of connection with the men.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, there is always something important to gain from these struggles and this case is no different. I can personally say that some of my thoughts and goals that I had coming into the program were idealistic and a bit naive. For instance, I thought that the day laborers would be extremely eager to come to our classes to better themselves instead of waiting outside in the sun just chatting with each other. But I have to acknowledge that very few people enjoy taking classes (often including myself), especially from teachers with little experience in making the material interesting. I wouldn’t call myself a horrible teacher, but realistically this is the first time I have tried it I still have a lot to learn. I should not have just assumed that I could jump right into teaching and be great at it. Also, the day laborers are there to get work; they are struggling to make a living and so learning English or computing skills are not priorities for them. I now understand that I need to listen to what the men want instead of trying to force my vision of how things should upon them. I have adjusted my expectations as to what I can do as a teacher and determined what skills I need to improve on to be of more help. Redesigning the computer classes to make them more loosely structured is a good example of reevaluating the situation and making the changes that better reflect the needs and desires of the day laborers. I am also better able to appreciate the perspective of the day laborers and the reasons they might have for not attending the classes.

I have also learned a lot about how organizational structures work for programs like the day labor center and the problems they face. One common issue I am seeing is that there are many different visions among the different volunteers. I think the program would work more effectively if there was one consistent vision that everyone was working towards. It feels like we have been confused because we don’t know which direction to branch into because of these conflicting messages from our many superiors. I don’t know if this is an inherent problem with organizations that emphasize having everyone’s opinion count equally. Perhaps there needs to be someone making the final decision on which direction the program is headed.

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