Educators from across the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN) gathered at La Salle Educational Center in Homestead, Florida, for the 2023 Lasallian Social Justice Institute (LSJI) July 17-21, 2023. This immersive formation program focused on the migrant farm worker experience.
Monica Lauzurique, La Salle Educational Center executive director, and Brother Peter Nguyen, FSC, staff member, led the 12 participants through the week, which included hearing stories and struggles of migrants who live on the peripheries. Through these personal encounters, participants experienced the tremendous impact of storytelling as a point of natural human connection.
Early on, they met a family who has lived at the South Dade camp for years. The family shared their migrant experience, including what led them to migrate, the complex and loving sacrifices, as well as the camp’s history with migrant farmers. Group conversations continued about the effects of these circumstances, including traumas, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and mental illnesses.
“Engaging with the South Dade community allowed me to form authentic connections with migrant farm workers and their families,” said Baptiste Genestin, French teacher at Sacred Heart College Preparatory in San Francisco, California. “Their stories of resilience, perseverance and challenge deeply touched my heart and instilled in me a profound sense of empathy and responsibility.”
“Hearing personal stories always puts a human face to an issue,” said Rebecca Medellín, Spanish teacher at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, who participated in the 2017 LSJI program focused on immigration immersion and advocacy in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
At the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, participants saw the struggles that immigrants and asylum seekers face in their citizenship journey to build a new life in a new country. These realities include complex legal hurdles, high application costs and legal fees, language barriers, an indeterminate process timeline, uncertainty and the threat of deportation, amongst others. Participants also visited Catholic Legal Services, an organization that provides legal counsel and representation for migrants and asylum seekers at little to no cost in order to advocate for their rights.
“We are all humans, always striving to make a better life, to protect our loved ones, and to try and thrive, not just survive,” shared Aleta Andrews, visual arts teacher at Justin-Siena High School in Napa, California.
La Salle Educational Center board chair Father José Espino met participants at Immaculata-La Salle High School and Shrine of Our Lady of Charity’s shared Miami grounds and shared his story of coming to the U.S. Participants toured the grounds of the Shrine, where Fr. Espino explained the significance of both Our Lady of Charity and venerable Brother Victorino Arnaud, FSC, to the Cuban population locally, in Florida and beyond.
Brother Michael Phipps, FSC, counselor at Cretin-Derham Hall, said the immersion experience “provided a sobering gut punch unique to the Homestead community, offering a reminder of how often injustice grows right in front of us.”
Participants also had the opportunity to serve at La Salle Educational Center’s summer camp program and help with the biweekly local farm share food distribution. La Salle Educational Center acts as an unofficial distribution center for the community of South Dade’s government-subsidized food distribution.
The program’s final day allowed participants to reflect on their time together and pray for all those who they encountered. Participants discussed the urgency for action for the many communities represented and discerned the question—what comes next? They made plans to continue advocacy work for the people of the South Dade migrant camp, as well as those on the margins they’ve yet to meet within their own communities.
LSJI is a Regional program of Christian Brothers Conference. It promotes the continuing process of conversion to solidarity with persons in poverty and provides an authentic response to the Gospel and our Lasallian vocation. In previous years, LSJI has focused on indigenous realities, environmental justice, urban challenges, human trafficking, immigration, gang violence, homelessness and civil rights.