Alternative Breaks, a student organization dedicated to social issues, hosted a presentation Sunday to explain their findings regarding immigration after a student trip to McAllen, Texas.
The trip consisted of nine students who used their spring break to visit McAllen, located on Texas’ southern border at the Rio Grande Valley. Lili Ramirez, a member of Alternative Breaks, said the students learned about the area’s history and the experiences of community members, many of whom are Central American refugees.
“Our position is to not go into the community thinking that we know everything or that we’re here to ‘save them,”’ said Desiree Ortega, trip leader and neuroscience junior. “We’re here just to volunteer (and) learn ... so that when we come back to Austin, we can continue our part.”
After learning firsthand about social issues facing various communities around the country, the organization’s goal is that students will apply that knowledge back home, according to the Alternative Breaks website.
The students on the McAllen trip aided the community by providing basic needs such as changes of clothing, clean showers and translation services, Ramírez said. The organization also helped migrants plan bus routes to other parts of the U.S. and explained what to expect in those new areas.
“Coming from an immigrant background, I always felt that no one really cares until they’ve been to this themselves ... but I feel like this trip gave me a lot of hope,” said Ramírez, a chemistry senior.
The McAllen presentation was a part of a larger event called “Reorientation,” which taught students ways to apply their new knowledge. Reorientation took place at the Texas Union Building and included information on other student trips and issues such as gentrification in Houston and systemic racism in New Orleans.
Along with the presentations, panelists from social service organizations suggested ways to solve the issues discussed and provided resources for students to continue their work.
Panelist Stacie Jonas, an attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said she did human rights work in Central and South America before going to law school. She now works to provide legal services for victims of labor exploitation and sex trafficking — especially migrants — in Texas and other southern states.
“I realized that there were plenty of human rights issues that needed to be addressed here in the United States,” Jonas said.