Fire Brings Misery to the Poor of Tijuana
By Rich Reader and David Rizo
Burning debris around the outskirts of Tijuana is a common phenomenon because the make-shift housing developments do not have garbage service. The danger comes in the summer when dry grass can carry a fire. And the danger becomes extreme when the Santa Ana winds blow. In the parish overall perhaps some 20 or 30 houses burned this last week. Eight houses burned just a block away from our parish. The fire started early in the morning when garbage was being burned under the cover of darkness. The fire consumed 8 houses in our parish before being contained. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate mission church responded by bringing food, blankets, sleeping bags, toiletries, etc. and offering to allow the displaced to use church facilities to clean up and shower. Even worse than losing your home, is losing your documentation, especially if you are an immigrant. Without those documents, it becomes difficult to work, and one becomes susceptible to being exploited. Replacing the documents is an arduous, if not impossible, process.
This week we visited an extraordinary woman/mother/Catholic. A few years ago, her house burned down as a result of a neighbor under the influence of drugs. The woman and her two children stood on the street and watched their house be devoured. Other neighbors were outraged at the neighbor who caused the fire. But the woman defended him, saying that it was similar to an accident in that he was not in his right mind. The neighbors were amazed at her forgiving attitude and rallied to rebuild her house. Two years later the brother of the arsonist hanged himself. His family was devastated and in disarray. The woman invited them into her home to comfort the family. The arsonist declined at first saying that it wasn’t right, given what he had done. The woman insisted, telling the man that he needs to do it for his brother and to give his family a place to grieve.
During this period, the woman has battled cancer. She showed us that her hair used to be down to her waist, but today is only an inch long, having grown out a bit since the treatment. With a smile she explains that her distended belly makes her look pregnant, but it is really caused by the cancer and a related hernia. She took us into a small courtyard to see her Marion garden. There are statues of Mary, St. Joseph, and Jesus beautifully surrounded with horticultural excellence. She explained that while the whole of her house burned, this garden just outside the front door was not damaged. A sign on her outside gate lets the passerby know that a Catholic family lives here.
The group at the church that was formed to help migrants got a donation of an ice chest full of cooked chicken. The owners of the rotisserie set up business only 6 months ago on a street where there were already three other places selling chicken. They arranged to have their new business blessed by the Oblates. Their church community was loyal to them, and the business has done very well. The tasty chicken was taken to the migrant shelter where a long line formed.
Our wonderful youth leader, Mildred, has completed her studies in psychology thanks to her sponsor Paulette Bartlett. She lacks the necessary documents to be able to exercise her career due to the corona virus disruptions, but still plans to start looking for options in her anxiousness to realize her dream profession. She tells us a bit of her story below
My name is Mildred Juárez González. I am 19 years old and I am studying psychology and am in my fifth semester in the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. I am a member of the youth ministry called SEARCH at San Eugenio de Mazenod. One thing important to me is service, especially in my chosen profession. Through my experiences in SEARCH I have found out that service can be very enjoyable.
I consider myself a very committed person, desiring to accomplish every detail of my work. I always like to learn all aspects of what I am doing and challenge myself to improve in every area. I always believed that we all have abilities to accomplish the things that we are challenged to do and are given various talents to do so.
I grew up in a family that includes my parents and two older brothers. My parents are from Cordoba, Veracruz. They traveled to Tijuana when they were 18 years old. After arriving here, they were all alone with no family. There was flooding in 1992 and they lost several processions. They worked very hard to get reestablished. After some years, they were able to buy land and build a house.
My family has taught me to pursue with great effort the things I want and dream of. My mother especially encourages me to dream big and challenges me. My father supports us and the decisions we make. My mother has taught us values and that faith is the most important thing. My parents did not even finish high school before going to Tijuana. My father makes our financial decisions. When I was in kindergarten, my mother got very sick and my dad had to take charge of raises us. When my mom recovered, we had incurred significant hospital expenses. My father got laid off and was unemployed for some time. My mother went to work. Eventually, my father found a new job and both my parents continued to work. So my brothers and I took on the responsibilities of studying and taking care of the house.
My brothers and I continue our studies. I love to learn and have always been the best in my class. In high school I studied technical and computer programming. That training and my life experiences can now be of service in my community. When I chose my major, it was easy, because I always wanted to be a psychologist and always wanted to go to the college that I am in. This public university is really good and provides opportunities to serve in the community. A great challenge was getting in however, because they only accept 180 students a year. Being from a technical high school actually made it harder to get in. I had to prepare mentally, physically, academically, and spiritually in order to pass their entrance exam.
The university is a long way from home, so the time and expenses to get there are a great hardship. Some of the classes require us to work in the field, which adds to the expenses. Sometimes it comes down to deciding between food and transportation. I have learned how to prioritize my expenses, save money, and how to work. It is a great effort to keep my grades up.
My profession goals are to first learn English and obtain my psychology license. I hope to someday have my own practice. Eventually, after I have worked for a while, I would like to pursue a Masters degree. I am still debating what area of psychology to specialize in when I go for my Masters, but I am very interested in every area of my major.
I believe I will have much to offer the community, such as therapy, group instruction, and special need identification. I hope this will inspire other youth to get interested in service work also.
Finally, I have already benefited from this scholarship program. This support enabled me to buy books and materials in addition to tuition. I am deeply thankful for the generosity of the donors that demonstrated such confidence in us. One day I hope to be the person that helps a youth accomplish his dream.
Mildred Juárez González
Fast Forward to June 2020 and the Corona Virus.
My name is Mildred Juárez González, and I just completed my studies in psychology.
I am blessed to be a beneficiary of the San Eugenio Scholarship program, which made it possible to pursue this career, helping cover the expenses of books, psychotherapy, transportation, and tuition. I am anxious to exercise my profession in the community that has given me so much.
However, many things to graduate formally are on hold such as the graduation ceremony, my exit exam, and my certificate of graduation. Starting the job search is difficult since I lack the necessary documentation. Nonetheless, I will start looking because I want my dream to be realized.