Over every winter, spring, and summer vacation LMU’s Center for Service and Action offers Alternative Breaks trips. Alternative Breaks are domestic and international experiences in which students spend a week, or more, immersed in another community, and address particular social justice issues affecting that location.
This spring break, I had the opportunity to visit Louisiana and Mississippi with a group of nine students and a faculty advisor, sponsored by LMU’s First To Go Program, which focuses on providing academic support and engagement opportunities to first-generation students through mentorship and counseling programs. Although I am not a first-generation college student, I have peers who are. I was able to benefit from their further insight into the people, places and situations we encountered.
The trip began in New Orleans, Louisiana. We visited the 9th ward, the area most directly affected by Hurricane Katrina, and has yet to be fully returned to its initial condition. We were shown around Loyola University New Orleans by a senior who had chosen to live in New Orleans after a volunteer trip he took in high school. He informed us of the socioeconomic and health insecurities remaining and growing in Louisiana’s poorest neighborhoods due to lack of funding and programming. His particular organization had taken action by providing community members and students with local sustainable gardens and education services that promoted healthy and safe options, and sponsored the new film Reversing the Mississippi. Also, we traveled to Bourbon Street, the center of downtown New Orleans, and were able to take in the city’s historical buildings and eat tasty beignets. We concluded the trip’s Louisiana section with a visit to the Mexican Consulate. There we were introduced to the head consulate, and discussed topics affecting the Latino residents of Louisiana and Mississippi, which the office dually represents.
The remainder of the trip was spent in Laurel, Hattiesburg, and Biloxi, Mississippi. In the three communities, we learned how southern Mississippi was also greatly impacted by Hurricane Katrina because they experienced property and industry damage. The damage provided an opportunity for people mainly from Mexico and Central America to immigrate, and assist with reconstruction, and required more labor for food industries, specifically poultry factories, that produce almost eighty percent of the United States’ poultry. Those five days were full of fun excursions to Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and the University of Southern Mississippi, insightful discussions with migrants workers that shared their stories and expressed problems with the local industry, service at a food kitchen for elderly community members, and intense group discussions with reflections that helped us process and brainstorm ideas to assist with post-trip action.
The trip was a wonderful opportunity to depart the bluff for a few days, and visit another part of the United States where we engaged with communities that are experiencing similar pressing topics such as immigration, food production, and equal rights, while striving to bring awareness and change. The week opened my mind and heart to those who are going through difficult times, and our ability as active citizens to travel, learn, make connections, and find ways through theatre and other disciplines to promote justice, love, and kinship.