The Kino Border Initiative has one noble, overarching mission: “To promote US/Mexico border and immigration policies that affirm the dignity of the human person and a spirit of bi-national solidarity.” Last month we ventured through the origins and history of KBI, how the humble kindness of members and organizations within the Tucson community flourished into the established organization that KBI is now known as. As KBI has grown and adapted to changing dynamics, political shifts, and social needs at the border, so have our programs- particularly our Education program.
We at the Kino Border Initiative understand how crucial education can be to the foundation of working towards more humane and just migration policies. Throughout the years, we have fine tuned our programming to promote accessibility to more people, across multiple faiths, demographics, and geography. We expanded our Education program to include both virtual and in-person initiatives available to parishes, schools, and organizations of any nature looking to learn more about immigration. We structure our education initiatives through several modalities, including presentations, immersion groups and working with the Kino Teens- a network of high school youth groups engaging in solidarity with migrants and advocacy.
Early History of Kino Teens
What KBI noticed early in our journey as an organization was that empathy and compassion for migrants was not something that was limited to religious members or adults. Even children and adolescents within our communities showed unwavering dedication to our initiatives from early in our history. Their interest in involvement with KBI demonstrated that compassion and support of our mission transcended age and was truly something connected to the human spirit.
This dedication shown by the adolescents in our community is what inspired the establishment of Kino Teens. First founded at Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, the Kino Teens program was established in partnership with KBI as a space for students to learn, discuss, and connect with migrants in their community. The program grew and became a student- lead organization, supported by KBI and a faculty advisor. Students began networking and using KBI resources to raise awareness on migrant issues and border reality with their own friends and family. This first Kino Teens chapter inspired others to emerge soon after; first in high schools throughout Arizona, and eventually spreading to schools across the U.S. As of 2022, there are 13 Kino Teens chapters throughout the country.
Kino Teens Partnering with Their Schools
Part of what makes Kino Teens so unique is the balance between student leadership, and the support and guidance from KBI. KBI offers advocacy and leadership training for student leaders as well as resources like the Kino Teens Guide. Students are taught how to effectively raise awareness about the history and complexity of the contemporary border crisis and its human impact. This is especially important for those Kino Teen chapters that are further away geographically from the border and are working with populations who have a limited understanding and exposure to immigration. The training and resources equip students to be agents for change in their communities. The Kino Teens clubs have the liberty to create, promote, and organize initiatives in their own schools.
Brendan Colgan from Loyola Academy in Wilmette, IL, and his fellow Kino Teens members for example, found a healthy balance between their school’s traditions and their own initiatives for migrant rights by having school bake sales to support the KBI mission. These events not only raised funds for migrant assistance at KBI, but were also excellent opportunities to connect with other students and begin conversations about migrant rights and social justice.
Stephanie Bartholomew from Salpointe High School in Tucson, AZ, and her fellow members of Kino Teens partnered with their school by starting conversations with faculty members to incorporate Voices of the Border into their curriculum. Even though adding new publications to existing curriculum can be challenging, Bartholomew forged ahead because of how empowering and important she feels reading testimonies from migrants can be to students.
“I wanted Voices of the Border to specifically be introduced to Spanish classes,” she shared. “Change is coming and I think all us young people know and hope for that. Having Voices of the Border as a part of our curriculum would be representative of our dedication to hearing and learning from diverse voices about real world, modern issues that we don’t see enough of in traditional education. It would also promote conversational Spanish in classes, which I think is so much more valuable to learn than textbook, formal language.”
Kino Teens and Walking in Mercy
Though we are consistently impressed by the individual creativity of Kino Teens clubs, this creative liberty to adapt to their communities does not mean that Kino Teens clubs across the country exist independently of one another. One of the most dynamic parts of Kino Teens is when clubs join together for the various summits and leadership development programs that KBI hosts and organizes.
Walking in Mercy is one of these summits. Now in its seventh year, the summit is an opportunity for students to not only connect with KBI and migrants, but with like-minded students who share a passion for migrant justice. Each year dozens of participants from various Kino Teen chapters come together to collaborate and learn from each other; as well as to pray and reflect in community. The program changes each year. This year participants engaged in collective art projects, conversations about asylum with actual migrants in Nogales, Sonora, breakout sessions to learn more about immigration law, and guidance on how to raise awareness on campus.
These programs not only forge bonds between participating students through interactivity and personalization, but also equip them with the tools and understanding they may need to connect with even more people when they return to their communities. It is an event centered around renewal, both spiritually and academically, that empowers participants to uplift the KBI mission as they return to their schools and even as they graduate and move into new communities.
Kino Teens Leadership Days
Much like Walking in Mercy, Leadership Days are aimed to cultivate leadership skills in the Kino Teens, as they also collaborate and learn from one another. During this several day conference, students are encouraged to reflect and immerse themselves within the realities of the border to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of migrants who journey endlessly to reach the border in search of asylum. Students leave with the necessary skills to be better advocates for migrants and to promote social justice.
In 2021, Leadership Days included 14 participants from 8 of the 13 schools that host Kino Teens clubs. Brendan Colgan was part of this event and attests to the eye opening experiences that Leadership Days bring to students.
“I participated in both the virtual Leadership Days in 2020 and the most recent Leadership Days too,” Colgan reflected. “Both were incredibly impactful and brought their own realizations, but being at KBI in person was just incredible for me. The days were really long and very active. We helped at the Comedor, spoke with migrants, and learned from presentations, but we also had other events that helped put us in the shoes of migrants. We went on a hike on one of the days, and walked along the same paths that migrants walk everyday and that just really struck me. Hikes have always been fun, leisurely activities for me, but that hike was filled with moments of reflection. Every so often we would see traces of personal items migrants had left behind. Most of them were obviously very important personal items but they had to make choices of leaving behind these important pieces out of exhaustion. That was the first time I had really understood the level of exhaustion and pain that migrants experience during their journey. Understanding the decisions they had to make to finish their journey, when they already had so little to begin with… that was really hard to fully digest.”
Kino Teens Experiences with Migrants
Realizations like Colgan’s are not uncommon with the Kino Teens who come to visit the Kino Border Initiative for the first time. Even students who have a personal connection to the issue, either through lived experience or family history, still have transformative breakthroughs, especially when talking directly with migrants.
“My mom is from Sonora, so I’m half Mexicana,” shared Stephanie Bartholomew. “All of my mom’s family had to go through the naturalization process, so I grew up having that very personal insight. Talking to migrants at the comedor was a completely different experience than I had expected though. I was in a special position to translate between the migrants we spoke to and the rest of my Kino Teens group. Being in that position, witnessing how painful these stories were but how willing these migrants were to share their stories was just life-changing. That strength to be able to relive all that trauma just to educate strangers, that was something that I had never thought specifically about before and that realization was really important to me. It just made the concept of advocacy that much more powerful and real.”
Understanding of the human cost of unjust immigration politics comes into full view when students get first-hand experience to talk to migrants. Organic interactions and realizations like these are “life-changing” as Stephanie describes above. The generosity of migrants to help bridge those educational gaps, even if in the retelling they themselves relieve their trauma, help the Kino Teens walk away with a more profound understanding of the multi-layered hardships migrants unnecessarily experience.
The ability to compassionately listen and learn from migrants help them to engage in meaningful advocacy. This is truly a symbol of the significance of Kino Teens.
Kino Teens’ Impact Beyond High School
Witnessing and hearing about these meaningful experiences between Kino Teens and the migrants they accompany through their advocacy, truly reinforces our dedication to supporting and including even the youngest members of our communities within these important conversations about migrant rights and social justice as a whole. What we have seen time and time again is that these conversations and experiences are not just life-changing from an emotional or spiritual perspective. Countless students have shared and exhibited how much their time with Kino Teens has made tangible changes within their futures. For many students, the introduction to advocacy and the reality of migration have impacted their choices in life and for the future.
For Colgan, Kino Teens opened up a world of realities that he had never been exposed to before in Illinois. He shared that Kino Teens empowered him and many of his friends to formulate their own opinions and pursue their own interests outside of their comfort zones. His experiences with KBI made him realize that “social justice is definitely achievable at a young age,” and have inspired him to continue his work in advocacy and outreach.
Similarly, for Bartholomew, KBI has served as a launching pad into the world of social justice.
“I always had an interest in politics and enjoyed debating,” Bartholomew recalls. “I had volunteered growing up and was always interested in the concept of advocacy, but it wasn’t until I joined Kino Teens and learned first hand from KBI, that I realized how much advocacy and social justice meant to me. My experience with Kino Teens not only brought me closer to migrants but also made me branch out and start engaging with local and state-level politics too. Advocacy, social work, and diversity are at the core of my life now and I make a lot of decisions based on wanting to keep those things in my life. Even with college, one of the most basic personal requirements I had when starting the process was asking about social and political initiatives in the schools I was considering. It’s a part of me now and my goal is to become even more involved moving forward.”
These two Kino Teens’ experiences and plans for the future are not isolated instances either. Countless participants have shared how their time at Kino has shaped their faith and plans for the future as well.
As a student from Gonzaga University shares, “I now want to make my life’s work geared towards human rights for migrants. I was not raised religious, but the faith I saw at Kino was unlike faith I had ever seen before. It was a type of faith I could see myself partaking in since it centered so clearly on love as a verb and human dignity as a universal right.”
Another student from St. Ignatius Chicago adds, “The most important thing I learned is that migrants at KBI do not feel hopeless. Every one of them speaks of hope and trust in God. It inspired me to see migrants in a new light, not as hopeless people but people clinging to hope and love…My week at KBI formed a new perspective on people, social justice, politics, and faith. My faith grew stronger with the faith of the migrants, and my political views were challenged through complicated issues.”
Whether it be spiritual, moral, or ideological inspiration Kino Teens take away from their experiences, KBI is astounded at the strength that these students have harnessed through learning alongside migrants. As many of them graduate from Kino Teens and high school this year, we say goodbye with the faith that they will continue their advocacy. They have already forged a future of brilliance, rich with the knowledge of their experiences, guided forward by the heritage of Padre Kino who so selflessly dedicated his life to justice. Like him, these students do not see a world separated by borders. They are the key to the more just, humane, and inclusive future we all work so tirelessly for and to be a part of their journeys is the greatest blessing. To all the past, present, and future Kino Teens, we thank you sincerely for all you have done to bring awareness to migrant rights and to fight for justice. Always remember that the power and faith within all of you is enough to make any belief a reality.
You can learn more about Kino Teens here.