By Sara Green
Early in the morning, I rode my bike to Li Ka Shing auditorium to attend The Southern Border course that I am taking as part of the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship Program (FLAS). That day Professor Beatriz Manz was invited to lecture about her anthropological work in Guatemala during the civil war. The lecture shed light on the lives of Guatemalans who were forced to flee during the conflict and the U.S.’s role in supporting a government with a long list of human rights violations.
The Southern Border course has been invaluable to my understanding of Latin America because the professor builds a historical foundation through which we can analyze current issues. With this information I feel much more prepared to enter the field of migration and U.S. international policy relations.
After the lecture I found myself thinking about the unaccompanied minors from Central America who have migrated to the U.S. to escape to the structural violence that is still present in their home countries. What is our role in supporting Central Americans who are fleeing violence?
Especially taking into account the U.S. government’s devastating political actions in some of these countries.
This question lingered in my head as I trudged up the steep hill to the Goldman School of Public Policy. As a dual degree student (my other degree is in Social Welfare), I am used to the constant mobility and change of perspectives as I moved from building to building on Berkeley’s campus. That day in Economics for Public Policy, we were modeling government food stamps programs and learning about how people interact with these government benefits.
Although both my classes that morning were about two completely different topics, the themes merged that very afternoon. As part of my Spanish class, we are volunteering at local organizations where we practice Spanish through service learning. I biked down to Oakland International High School (OIHS) that afternoon to help students who recently won their asylum cases sign up for government benefits. That day I met Oscar, an 18 year old from Guatemala, and we were working on signing him up for Medi-Cal and CalFresh medical and food assistance programs.
Oscar told me that when he reached the United States a little over a year ago he did not speak English or Spanish. He was born in a rural area in Guatemala and had worked on a farm his whole life. Oscar is currently working on learning numbers both in Spanish and English, which is completely new for him since he did not have formal schooling in Guatemala.
I was struck by his determination and resiliency in navigating a new language, education and government system. I thought about the Guatemalan Civil War and had a better understanding of what brought Oscar to America. I also reflected on the structure of government programs and how hard it is to navigate the system of benefits as a newly arrived immigrant. The understanding I gained from my courses that day could not have been more aligned with the interactions I had with Oscar that afternoon. Having an understanding of issues from both a micro and macro level is exactly why I pursued a dual degree in the first place.
I am incredibly appreciative to be coupling a dual degree with the FLAS fellowship this year. Exploring the issues from many angles has deepened my knowledge of migration and international policy. I am eager for another semester of wrestling with these profound social issues and also getting to work alongside those like Oscar who have had to be brave enough to tackle them daily.
Sara Green is a dual Masters Degree student in UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and the School of Social Welfare.
Oakland International High School (OIHS) serves newly arrived immigrant students to the U.S. all of whom are English language learners. Nearly 1/3 of OIHS’s current students are from Central America.