A dozen Nigerian, Haitian, Congolese and Iranian students got a lot of attention last Wednesday at Mercado Jamaica, a Mexican market that specializes in Day of the Dead supplies.
Each year before November 2, the city fills up with ofrendas, colorful altars dedicated to friends and relatives who are no longer living. From the massive altars in the Zócalo to the intimate ones in each home, these ofrendas bring back the memory and presence of lost loved ones on Día de los Muertos. Last week at Casa de los Amigos, volunteers and guests went to the market with students from our Spanish classes to share in the special tradition and prepare our ofrenda.
Since 2010, the Casa has held free Spanish classes for migrants and refugees in our conference room every Monday through Friday. Working in collaboration with Sin Fronteras and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Mexico, the classes began as an emergency measure following the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Since then, they have become a critical resource for those arriving to Mexico City from all corners of the world. Haitian students still comprise about half the class; other students have come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, India, Cameroon, Nepal, Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast, and Syria, among other countries. These classes are now a dear part of the daily life of the Casa. And for the students, the Casa is their classroom, social scene, and resource center.
The classes focus on helping students learn Spanish as quickly as possible; they also serve as an introduction to Mexican society and culture. Casa volunteers help organize activities with the students, like last week’s visit to the market. At Mercado Jamaica, the students, including three current Solidarity Lodging guests, picked out cempasúchil (Mexican marigolds), candied skulls, and papel picado, the finely cut paper art. We then returned to the Casa to decorate together. On our ofrenda, we set out water, candy, snacks, and the tasty pan de muerto. According to tradition, the dead are hungry and thirsty when the arrive to visit their altars after their long journey. We were hungry too, and celebrated with homemade tlacoyos and atóle, typical Día de Muertos food.
We feel privileged to share moments like these with such wonderful people who also bring their stories and diverse traditions. The Casa has a singular role in introducing our city to this new community, so many of whom arrived in Mexico after great struggle.
These classes shine brightly as a hopeful opportunity amidst the challenges of migrant and refugee integration in Mexico City. Every day, we witness the the difficulties faced by this vulnerable group to meet its most basic needs. New arrivals have a short, critical time frame to find a place to live, learn Spanish and get a job. We know that finding a community and building a support network are the keys to local integration. Every day the Casa works hard to support this process. We’re blessed to be able to share the Casa’s life of celebration, fellowship, and food.
Through the generous support of the German foundation Quaker Hilfe, we can continue reserving the conference room for the daily Spanish classes. For less than seven thousand dollars a year, we make this possible. We also need your support to hold cultural activities, perform maintenance, produce outreach materials, and cover other expenses related to our unique refugee work. Can you help us by donating to the Casa today?
Today we’ll take down our ofrenda. It’s time to get ready for Thanksgiving, International Migrant Day, our annual Caroling Party and the Posada de los Amigos. We’ve got an exciting few months ahead and we hope to see many of you here!
In peace and friendship,
The Casa team