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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

A grateful change

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GRAPHIC: CASEY WOOD ’23/THE HAWK
How the Winter Immersion Program broke my heart and put it back together again

Gracias a Dios, thanks be to God.

This phrase was repeated in almost every conversation I had with those I encountered in Las Cruces,

New Mexico while on the Winter Immersion Program (WIP), run by Campus Ministry.

Each person I met had a heart full of gratitude despite the challenges they faced every day. They were migrants, forced out of their homes and were unwelcome in the only place they could be safe.

Seven other students, our campus minister and I spent a week at the border learning and immersing ourselves with the people and the injustices they face.

There is an inconceivable humanitarian crisis not just at the border, but throughout the world, that is deeply rooted in the way migrants are treated.

We met so many people who were directly affected by these injustices, and each story I heard and every person I encountered made my understanding of immigration issues clearer.

Rosa (name changed for privacy) came to the U.S. to give her sons a better life. That is the cry of so many other migrants and asylum seekers who cross the border every day. Rosa and her family crossed when her children were young. Her sons all have U.S. legal status now, and her husband has a work permit. Rosa, however, has been unable to obtain the same documentation. She did not want to leave her home in Mexico, but she did it for her family.

I remember sitting next to her, listening to her story and being so in awe of the sacrifices she makes every day for them. Her struggles didn’t end after crossing, they just changed.

Luisa (name changed for privacy) was only 16 years old when she decided she needed to leave her home. She lived in a beautiful town in Mexico, a place where the clouds touched the mountains and trees. She was happy there.

Like Rosa, she did not want to leave her home, but she wanted her brothers to be able to go to school, so she traveled hundreds of miles to the border. She crossed through the river at night, the only way she could at the time.

The night Luisa told us her story, she also made us dinner. She brought her family with her, and her daughter translated.

The beauty of that night was in the community we created over dinner. Luisa opened her heart to us and allowed us to get to know her and witness the injustices she fought. We listened and silently promised to never forget her story, and to never let stories like hers go untold.

The WIP allowed me to truly see and know the people of Las Cruces, New Mexico. People who stepped over a line drawn in the ground by someone years ago and who sacrificed everything they know for the chance at something more. I met people whose stories were so different from mine, and I am so grateful.

How can we live our lives without encountering people with different paths from us? This experience sparked a transformation for me, a change in my core.

I still am processing this immersion experience and don’t know if I will ever fully understand every impact it had on me. Rosa and Luisa made me different and opened my eyes to the injustices that not only they faced, but thousands of people face every day.

How many other Rosa’s give up their freedom for their children? How many Luisa’s leave the only home they know to work long hours just so their brothers can get an education?

I still don’t know if I fully understand their gratitude, but I know I am grateful for the opportunity to meet Rosa and Luisa. I am grateful for the time that I spent with them because they helped me see my own humanity and encouraged within me a calling for the future.

I don’t know what that call is exactly, but I know that I cannot have seen what I saw and have heard what I heard and not do anything. For my encounter, for my broken heart and for all of the people who I truly know and see now, I am thankful.

Gracias a Dios. Thanks be to God.

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