Wednesday, August 19, 2009

opportunity for my bolivian peeps

You can take the Bolivian out of Bolivia, but you can't take Bolivia out of the Bolivian.

During my recent visit "home" to South Dakota and the Twin Cities, I spent a few days with Dr. Martin Morales, Director of the UAC-CP's Veterinary Science Department, and Carlos Vergara, UAC-CP Projects Coordinator and a 2007 graduate of the College's Agronomy Department. Both Martin and Carlos spent 2 1/2 months at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., where they participated in an exchange project.

As we ventured along Minnesota's Highway 10 on the rural route bound for the Twin Cities, I inquired about their experience in the U.S. They shared some of their observations and I found myself really excited to see my homeland through their Bolivian eyes. At the first sight of the glowing skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis, Carlos confessed that his trip to the USA was a "dream come true."

Carlos Vergara looks out over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. He would love the opportunity to obtain his master's degree in the U.S., but in the long-term, his heart is in Bolivia.

"So," I asked Carlos cautiously, "are you ready to go back to Bolivia?" He took no time to respond. "Yes!" In his polished English, he confessed, "I miss my gente." Gente. Carlos capped the end of his sentence with the Spanish word that, translated word for word, means "people," but carries a bit more feeling. And then he added, using his Hugh Smeltekop-influenced English vocabulary: "I miss my peeps."

I think there is a grand misconception that everyone wants to go to the U.S....and stay forever. But what I have seen as more and more of our students and faculty travel to the U.S. for academic exchange programs is that, while they are absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the U.S., they also desperately look forward to coming home--to Bolivia. (Even my Somali cab driver last Saturday night told me: "This is a great country and I'm happy to be here...but as soon as I can, I'm going back home!")

In the ongoing immigration debate, I think people forget to ask themselves or fail to understand why people come to the U.S.--why they choose to leave their beloved family, friends, language, and culture behind to find their way, often at life threatening costs, to come to the U.S. Simply, it's for that one word: oportunidad. They come in search of opportunity that they can't access in their homeland.

So, along the same line of "Books not Bombs" thinking, I have to wonder if we invested less in building walls to keep people out of the U.S. and invested more in projects like the UAC-CP that provide opportunity for a better life in people's native lands, maybe the immigration debate would cease to be such a "problem."

Last night, as we ate Julia's Never Fail Chocolate Cake in honor of my homecoming, Sr. Jean reminded Hugh and I that UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan used to say that wealth isn't measured by money, so much as by the amount of options that we have. And that's what we do here at the College--we provide the poor with options, with opportunity. It's this opportunity that empowers our students so they don't have to leave behind the people and culture they love just to improve their lives...and, as Carlos would say, the lives of their Bolivian peeps.

Special thanks to the people at South Dakota State University and University Wisconsin-River Falls for the genuine hospitality you showed to Carlos and Martin. We are grateful for your partnership and the opportunities you provide for our faculty and staff.


heatherlydiajoffe said...

Love this entry and your thoughts on immigration, something we seem to have in common - will have to discuss.

Kent Jensen said...

We really appreciated having Carlos and Martin here for part of the summer. It was a treat! I hope it was productive and successful from their viewpoint! Thanks for the updates Sarah, I enjoy reading them and appreciate your efforts on this blog. God Bless.. KC