By: Roxane Ramos
West Cosgrove, Director of Education
“If you want to learn about globalization, just come to Nogales,” says West Cosgrove, who summarizes his 35-year career and life passion in two words—border education. As West explains, the U.S.–Mexico border is the only place in the world where an industrialized nation borders a developing one. At those points of transition, the contrasts are stark and instructive. One trip to a Mexican maquila (factory), where shirts or auto parts are made for export and workers earn $5US, can illuminate more clearly and pointedly than any economic justice treatise the reasons why unauthorized migrants make the perilous crossing.
Over the years, West has taken thousands of students, teachers, social activists and other concerned citizens across the border, initially for Maryknoll as an educator and coordinator of their Border Project in El Paso–Ciudad Juarez, then for the El Paso-based Project Puente, which he founded in 2008 to continue this important border work. He loves how the experience transforms participants, and how even those who may already think they are well-informed about immigration issues come away with new facts and experiences to consider.
West admits his professional path is something better understood in retrospect than while he was living it. As a Houston high school teacher volunteering at a Catholic worker house in the early 1980s, West was moved by the faith and perseverance of the Salvadoran refugees he encountered there. “They had suffered incredible tragedies, lost everything, or saw their entire family killed by the U.S.-backed army, yet they displayed little anger. They remained hopeful for the future and grateful for the smallest kindness,” West marvels. In a decision that proved prophetic, West went right to the source, travelling to Venezuela with his family (his third daughter was born there) to learn more about the deep-seated spirituality he observed in these Latin American émigrés. He stayed for eight years, working as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner and organizing various efforts like a food coop and a barrio newspaper, for a neighborhood community.
West’s border work has also spilled over into his personal endeavors. A long-time cycling enthusiast, West hit the road by bike, cycling from Vancouver to Tijuana, a 35-day, 1,700-mile trip public relations adventure he called Border-to-Border for More Just Borders. Along the way, he stopped to lecture about the migrant experience and was a guest on several radio programs.
These days, you’ll find West escorting groups across the Arizona–Sonora border for the Kino Border Initiative. Since 2012, he has worked as the KBI’s Director of Education where his duties include opening doors (to dioceses and other collaborators in southern Arizona) and opening minds (of the many groups and audiences he addresses). Of course, it helps if the minds are already receptive, but West’s philosophy is to meet people where they are. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” West laments. “I’m glad when I can help shed some light on these issues and share the reality of the border. Really, we’re all here together and we’ve got to learn to get along. We’ve got to learn to understand each other.”