What a Winter Break

The Alternative Winter Break Program, hosted by the Cross Cultural Center, has given college students the opportunity to not only take part in community service, but also learn about problems faced by members of certain communities.

Courtesy of Griselda Santos

Courtesy of Griselda Santos

This past winter break, 26 engaged Anteaters spent one week focusing on one of two areas: Urban Homelessness and Poverty at Dorothy’s Place Hospitality Center in Salinas, California or Immigration: The Desert in Between in Saguaro National Park and Humane Borders in Tucson, Arizona. Dorothy’s Place has been providing care for the homeless since 1982, when volunteers began to distribute food to those on the streets in Salinas. This organization has grown to provide more than just sandwiches with their countless programs in order to support the homeless in the area. Homelessness is a world issue that is not often taken into consideration by college students who aren’t exposed to this poverty stricken environment.

Nancy Huang, one of two coordinators who went to Salinas, said “the environment I was in for the week was completely outside of my comfort zone.” Although this experience was like nothing she had been exposed to before, she took initiative to gain the full experience.

“From serving breakfast in the soup kitchen, to interacting with guests in the dayroom, from helping out at the holiday party, or working with the children in the youth program,” Nancy says, not only did she serve her community for one week, but she also learned firsthand about the issues of homelessness through the people she met. Most importantly, she emphasizes that this “program allowed the participants to look past the stereotypes of the homeless and poor and really see that they’re just like [us].”

In addition to Nancy and the other students who explored homelessness, 14 eager students went to the Saguaro National Park and Humane Borders in Tucson, Arizona in order to uncover information about immigrants who travel through the Sonoran Desert.

The main objective of this experience consists of having participants learn about the injustices of immigration, be exposed to the environment that many immigrants face when trying to come to the United States, as well as helping Humane Borders, a non-profit organization that has the objective of preventing deaths due to dehydration when crossing the border by managing water stations for migrants. One main objective of this trip was for participants to learn about the immigration laws and the effects that came about because of them. One of the participants, Serina Bravo, “learned about how there are no ethnic studies in the public schools and universities in Arizona, and how there is a list of banned books for the K-12 public school systems in Arizona.”

Not only did participants learn about the legislation, but they also were able to meet an organization focused on educating the public about what occurs because of the immigration laws.

“Puente was one of the more informational aspects of the trip, and I felt it was the most rewarding because I learned so much about the struggles and injustices that the undocumented community goes through on a daily basis in Arizona,” Bravo said.

Some participants were able to refine their knowledge with experience. Another participant, Griselda Santos, said that “being in California, we only hear about Arizona’s SB 1070 law, but I didn’t really have an idea of how much it impacted individuals living there.” Alongside understanding immigration rights through the perspective of the agency’s participants, Bravo mentioned that participants were able to “see firsthand how the undocumented people’s rights were being violated within the federal court. We were at the trial proceeding for less than one hour, and within that time, about 40 to 50 people were found guilty and thus, sentenced to prison. After one’s prison term is up, he or she will be deported back to his/her home country. It was frustrating to see how the immigrants were given unfair trials and treated as if they were criminals. Every person on trial was handcuffed on the hands, ankles, and waist. They were chained up and looked at as if they were criminals, when in fact the only thing they are guilty of is wanting a better life for themselves and their families. It was infuriating because of the way they were presented in court and of their unfair trial.”

After a week in Tuscon, Arizona, both participants claimed that if they could do this program again, they would because it was a rewarding and educational experience like none other. The Alternative Winter Break Program is definitely one of a kind. The Cross Cultural Center has done a great job of enriching the experiences of Anteaters here at UCI.

In addition to the Alternative Winter Break Program, they also have the Alternative Spring Break Program, in which there will be four different trips from which to choose. Prior to the two trips, the 26 Anteaters could only wonder what to expect, but after a program like this, they’ve changed their perspectives and are ready to take on the world one step at a time.