“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Early March found us at the border between the US and Mexico. We knew that it was a stretch to go so far south, given that our goal is to reach Alaska this summer.
But our schedule didn’t allow us to move west yet, giving us a large swath of time in the region. We knew exactly where we wanted to go.
“Tent City”, a migrant camp on the US-Mexico border
We went to “Tent City”, a migrant camp that has built up in the Mexican town of Matamoros, just across the river from Brownsville, Texas. The camp is a direct result of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which requires many individuals – including asylum seekers – to stay in Mexico throughout their court proceedings.
The camp is filled with families seeking asylum, and the children have been out of school for months. UNICEF does activities, and other organizations have tried to step in with mini-lessons and enrichment activities. But it’s no substitute for full-time school, and the damage is being done.
The Art Workshop
We worked with Angry Tias & Abuelas to gain access to a tent and tarps, so that we could provide an extended painting workshop. Usually this workshop is a one-time event lasting two hours. In Tent City, we provided the workshop five days in a row, at least three hours per day. This gave the children hours upon hours of painting time.
It was necessary.
Children in this situation are dealing with a lot of trauma. Trauma from whatever made their family leave their home country. Trauma from the journey. And now trauma from the conditions, uncertainty, and dangers living in the camp.
Our hope with the workshop was many, many-fold. We wanted to provide these kids with the opportunity to process their emotions and experiences through art. We wanted to provide an escape, a distraction from the stress of living life in limbo. And simply the chance to be a kid, playing with paint and imagining other worlds.
Conditions in the Camp
There were a lot of challenges that went with this workshop. Not only with the space, but also with the things kids would say.
- “I don’t want to paint my house or my country. Because if I think about that, it makes me sad.”
- “We can’t go home, because if we do, they will kill my Dad.”
- “That’s the United States, right?” (Pointing across the river) “That’s where I want to be.”
Conditions in the camp are unacceptable. Everyone is living in tents, slowly disintegrating under the hot Mexican sun. Every person we spoke to has had their court date continually rescheduled, stretching their cases on for months. In that time, tent flies rip and zippers break. Children grow requiring larger clothes and shoes. When it’s dry, dust whips up and coughing becomes a common sound throughout the camp. When it rains, mosquitos come out in force.
We connected with a few individuals and families in the camp. The first man we met was from Nicaragua, and we actually know people in common. We met another Nicaraguan family, who we spent time with over food and discussing the political situation in Nicaragua. We connected with a man from Cuba who has harrowing stories from his journey north. People in the camps are lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, mechanics, and teachers.
And there, in the midst of it all, are children.
Deepest thanks to Mary for sponsoring this workshop. Without your support, five days of 3-hr workshops wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you to Angry Tias and Abuelas for helping us gain access to the tent, and for providing tarps. Our greatest thanks to Dave Dittman for joining us and helping everything run smoother. Thank you to Ayudandoles a Triunfar for allowing us to store the workshop supplies in Matamoros, rather than trucking them across the bridge every day.