Wake up America: Our nation's citizens take much for granted

    Now that Sun God is over and finals are nearing, the end of another school year is slowly creeping up on us. Seniors are preparing for graduation and the underclassmen are just happy that they survived another year of college. Before we embrace summer vacation, I just have one question for all the students at UCSD: What did you do this school year?

    Yes, reflect over all you did this entire school year. Is there anything in particular that you are most proud of and stands out the most in your mind? If so, why and how?

    I imagine that many answers lie at either of the two ends of the college spectrum — one, “”I studied so hard that I received provost’s honors each quarter,”” or two, “”I partied so hard and got drunk very often, but still managed not to get kicked out of school.””

    Although both are very impressive accomplishments, is there anyone at UCSD who can remember sacrificing precious studying (or partying) time to do something genuinely nice for his or her community or for others in need?

    This brings me to the weekend of May 17, otherwise notoriously known as Sun God weekend. Instead of partying, drinking and participating in the festive Sun God celebrations, I chose to be part of a group who went down to Tijuana for the weekend to build a house for the homeless.

    Around 30 men and women, consisting mostly of your fellow UCSD students and a few members of the La Jolla community, happily volunteered to spend the weekend in Tijuana. We worked in trenches alongside pinch bugs to build the foundation and walls for two homes, a clinic and a school.

    The volunteer program I participated in is coordinated by the Catholic Community at UCSD, in collaboration with Esperanza International, a nonprofit, nonsectarian charitable organization similar to Habitat for Humanity. It works with service clubs and churches dedicated to empowering the poor so they can help themselves.

    This was not at all a paternalistic, I’m-better-than-you-so-let-me-help-you type of trip. The goal of all the volunteers was not to raise the living conditions in Mexico to our American standards; it was purely to help people build whatever was needed. We worked side by side with locals. The volunteers were just there to lend a helping hand, not to build wonders because we come from America, the land of golden opportunities.

    The whole trip was a privilege for me. How many people get to go to a Third World country and experience what it is like living there? Although all the volunteers stayed at the Posada Esperanza, which had running water and electricity (unlike the local houses), we still had to make major adjustments to our daily habits to accommodate the scarcity of resources in Mexico.

    For example, I learned to take a full shower in one minute. Try doing that here in the United States with our fancy bathtubs and shower accessories. In Tijuana, it was literally wet down, turn off the water, lather, rinse off and you’re out. Although that seems quite impossible — especially for women, who have more hair to wash — all of the volunteers managed, without much difficulty, to abide by the one-minute shower rule.

    That epitomizes the main lesson I learned from my trip to Tijuana: how much we Americans take for granted the vast amount of resources we have available to us. Even as I’m writing this article, I’m thinking about the amount of money I put into upgrading my hard drive space in my computer just so I can download more MP3s. The people in Tijuana would be plenty satisfied with just a computer that works, let alone a computer with a huge hard disk.

    Esperanza’s volunteer coordinator, Robert Rivers, told us, “”If everyone in the world were to live like a middle-class American, it would take the resources of two-and-a-half more worlds to support us.””

    Given that startling revelation, I think it is about time that we begin making some changes to how we live our life and spend our money.

    On the subject of the United States-Mexican border, Rivers also informed us that the majority of Mexicans do not even want to immigrate illegally to the United States. Given the opportunities and resources in Mexico as we are given in America, no Mexican would even think of leaving his or her family and friends behind to travel through treacherous terrain in search of a job that pays well to help support the family. He told us this when we visited the United States – Mexican border.

    Other than listening to Rivers, my attention was fixated on the Mexican man crouched behind the border wall, clutching a picture of his family while waiting for the U.S. border patrol to switch guards. He was one of the many Mexicans planning to jump the fence that night.

    Why is it that when we cross the border into Canada, there is a huge sign stating something along the lines of “”brotherhood forever””? Yet, the Mexican-American border consists of two fences — one brick and one metal prison fence that caves inward. There is a park at the border between San Ysidro and Tijuana ironically named “”Friendship Park.””

    Why is the grass on the United States side mowed and green, and decorated with pretty blocks of cement, picnic benches and barbeque grills, while the Mexican side is teeming with weeds and broken blocks of cement?

    This trip has been more than just a house-building trip for me. It has opened up my eyes in so many ways. To think, if I did not go, all I would have been doing was partying for Sun God and getting annoyed at Cake for taking such a long time to get on stage.

    As I came back to the United States that Sunday, I regret to admit that I felt a rush of relief knowing that I have a nice, furnished apartment to come home to. I also felt motivation to do something — anything.

    The border issues with Mexico need a resolution and it has to come from the governments of the United States and Mexico.

    I am damn proud to be an American because I am lucky enough to be given the opportunities and resources to make a difference. Just as Rivers said, “”Bloom where you’re planted.””

    I am definitely going to Tijuana again next year — not just to go clubbing, but to build a house. In fact, I am going to be on the committee that organizes the trip.

    So if anyone asks me again next year, “”What did you do this school year?”” my answer will be the same as this year: I spent the weekend in TJ, building a house and eating some awesome, authentic Mexican food.

    For more information about Esperanza International Inc., visit its official Web site at http://www.esperanzainternational.org

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