Beyond the Wall: Under the Same Sun

Wall between U.S. and Mexico with ocean


Twenty-four miles separate Alcalá Park from San Diego’s sister city, Tijuana. To many, the border represents rigid separation, but in the world’s fourth largest binational region, exchanges across the border shape daily life. Every day, goods, workers and some USD students flow across ports of entry at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa.

On a sunny February weekend, 11 representatives of USD’s Latinx faith community crossed that border to share in a University Ministry retreat: El Encuentro Espirtual, which is held exclusively in Spanish to facilitate an immersive experience. The gathering at San Eugenio Parish on the crowded east end of Tijuana’s city limits is the second annual retreat to connect members of two faith communities.

“The fundamental goal of this joint retreat is to allow students from USD and youth from San Eugenio to share in understanding their faith and identities,” reflects Maribel Orozco ’20. As a student leader and Mexican-American, Orozco has used the interactions with San Eugenio parishioners to deepen her understanding of place within her own church community.

Highway into Mexico from San DiegoThis collaboration has built upon a relationship developed over three decades. University Minister Julia Campagna ’09 (BA) has crafted and executed a number of events with her counterparts at San Eugenio in addition to the retreat, including service projects and homestays. This particular retreat was aimed at students who seek their faith in the Spanish language and to help bridge generational gaps with their parents and grandparents. 

Campagna recalls her days as an undergraduate visiting San Eugenio and her appreciation of residents’ open-arms welcome. “Having the opportunity to interact with communities in Tijuana was so valuable to my undergraduate experience,” she says. While the neighborhood has changed since then — now filled with more residents and big-box stores — its hospitable environment remains.

The retreat featured an animated atmosphere; participants particularly enjoyed sharing in the Holy Hour of Adoration and small-group reflections. “It was such a beautiful experience to share these genuine moments with another youth from San Eugenio,” says Orozco. When night fell, talk about faith and identity blended together over s’mores and mugs of champurrado, a thick chocolate drink. Lit by the fire’s flicker, students connected in ways that promoted mutuality.

The role of language barriers in celebrating faith is understated for younger generations of Latinx Catholics in the U.S. today. Orozco admits to some insecurity about her own fluency in Spanish, even though she was raised attending Mass in Spanish. Working one-on-one with Alejandra — a fellow 20-something completing her own undergraduate studies in Tijuana — Orozco says the retreats have helped her to understand her multicultural background and its relation to her faith.

“I wouldn’t trade my identity for anything, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt like an outsider within my own culture,” she reflects.

Campagna says like Orozco, many Latinx students share heritage across the border, but still have difficulty reconciling their multifaceted identities of faith and hyphenated nationality. “If we’re able to build meaningful relationships that allow us to see each other’s humanity, share experiences and recognize differences, I would be proud of that.” — Michael Bennett ‘19

Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall

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