A pastor who leads MCC-supported peace workshops in Nogales, Mexico, talks about life on the border and how the trainings changed his view of peace.
I came to Nogales, Mexico, in 1993, a year before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. It was a time of economic crisis, and my parents decided to move here and look for a different life. A lot of people did that. People still do today.
In Nogales at that time, there were not too many people or buildings. It was a tourist town.
Crossing the border was so easy. I used to jump the wall, cross to Nogales, Ariz., go to McDonald’s to eat some hamburgers and come back.
Today is totally different. We started to see the people in the U.S. build a wall. Now, there are more border patrol, cameras, helicopters patrolling the wall and remote-controlled planes or drones.
I had the chance to experience the good relationships both Nogaleses had before. But that relationship was broken. It had the effect of dividing countries, dividing relationships. Now there is tension and fear even for those crossing legally.
Most people in this community do not have documents to cross the border. For the most part, they try to make a life here. In the past, more tried to go to the U.S. for a period of time and then they came back. Families that are already established in Nogales, they don’t try now.
But migration from farther south in Mexico and from Central America is continuing. I think that never changed. People from elsewhere, they are always migrating to this place to migrate to the U.S.
Our work in Hogar de Esperanza y Paz Asociación Civil (Home of Hope and Peace Civil Association or HEPAC), MCC’s partner organization in Nogales, is basically to build a healthy community here. We work with children, with women in the community and with groups that come to visit us through BorderLinks (which organizes tours to help people learn about border issues).
Today, we are helping to lead peace workshops.
In the past, I used to see the concept of peace as something that’s going to appear like magic. When the current series of peace workshops started three years ago, that changed my mind in terms of seeing peace from another perspective.
As I started to learn from MCC, I found that peace is something I have to work for. Now, that is something we are teaching to the community. To have a peaceful community, we have to work every day — to bring justice, to bring truth, to bring compassion.
The workshops are a space where people can reflect, can start to see a different way of thinking.
We live in a society where life is really immersed in the factories. People are really busy going to work, coming back.
For many in the workshops, this is their first time to reflect on their context. Some participants start to cry. When we give them time to share, they tell us they never thought there was a way to really start the process of being in a peaceful place.
“. . . peace is the art of giving away the heavy things and filling the places that are empty.”
We are discovering a totally new view. One of the important times in a workshop is when we talk to people about what peace and justice mean. It’s not only the absence of conflict. We can be in that process of building peace even when there is a conflict.
Peace is not the end; peace is a way. For me, that is a good definition. It is more than not fighting. It also means working for justice.
I bring a lot of examples and images from the Bible into the workshops I lead. I was born and raised Presbyterian, and I’m an assistant pastor at Sol de Justicia, a Presbyterian congregation in Nogales. I believe there’s always a place to include God and spirit when talking about peace.
Sometimes people ask me, why are you talking about religion? I think we are spiritual beings and at some point we need to include that kind of material, to talk about Jesus and his work for justice, to talk about the prophets.
The point is to give examples of justice and peace and how can we invite and do these kinds of things in our own personal contexts.
I believe we can do this without trying to change people from one denomination or belief to another. A good example of that here is HEPAC. HEPAC has people from every church — Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal.
When we come to this place, we see every person as an equal and somebody important who can contribute to the process of growing here.
We really need spaces like this and we don’t have too many. In the factories, human beings are just a number. We need places people can contribute with their own ideas, their own creativity.
I am learning a lot. Even when I am the person having the opportunity to lead a workshop, I learn something new.
Every person has a unique richness inside. We had this serious, shy woman in one of the workshops. She said, for me, peace is not a fight; for me, peace is the art of giving away the heavy things and filling the places that are empty. I remember that and think of it.
Things like this, that’s why we say in this place everyone is a teacher, everyone is a student.
Even if someone doesn’t have the opportunity for education, they have something inside that can be used to change consciousness, to change minds.
(By Tito Bojórquez; as told to Marla Pierson Lester)
Tito Bojórquez is a pastor and a staff member of Hogar de Esperanza y Paz Asociación Civil (Home of Hope and Peace Civil Association or HEPAC) in Nogales, Mexico. MCC Mexico and West Coast MCC support peace work through HEPAC, and Bojórquez, whose peace efforts are funded by MCC Mexico, works alongside West Coast MCC worker Luzdy Stucky of Tucson, Ariz. MCC’s Global Family education program also supports HEPAC’s work with children.