Sunday, September 18th, was one the major events of CDM’s calendar year –the annual national reunion of their comité members. This was essentially a leadership development conference for the local community leaders who carry CDM’s message and mission to their communities, continuing to train other migrants in their rights. Twenty comité members from around the country –Zacatecas, Hidalgo, Queretaro– came to Mexico City to participate in the event. For some, this was their first time to the capitol. Also, like every September 18th, I marked another birthday. It’s become the norm for me to experience my birthday in a new place with new people every year and this was no exception.
There were several purposes to the day: providing rights-based training, facilitating networking opportunities, promoting leadership development, and motivating participants in their work as comité members. I wrote and adapted activities for a significant part of the agenda, so I was very interested to see how they played out with the group of migrants and former-migrants from across rural Mexico.
We started off the day with an icebreaker (of course). Everyone was given a notecard with a question on it. Some were funny –Describe the perfect sandwich. Others were more serious –What are you most proud of? We paired off, introduced ourselves, said where we were from, asked and answered the questions we’d been given, then switched cards and partners.
Lilían explains the activity.
Adelina from the CDM Oaxaca office introduces herself to a comité member. In the background, Don Jesus congratulates me on having a birthday.
Don Regino and Don Ángel from the Zacatecas Comité.
Rachel (CDM Executive Director), Don Isabel from the Zacatecas Comité, and Lilían.
Next, there was a discussion of expectations. In small groups we talked about why we were there, what we wanted to learn, what we wanted to share, and what we hoped to leave with. This created an ideal segue, actually, because many of the comité members said they were eager to learn more information about their rights and any new laws or policies that would impact them. We transitioned from there into a training about the complaint mechanism under NAFTA and a Know Your Rights! training led by our legal team.
Silas, CDM's Legal Director in Mexico City, presents the Know Your Rights Materials.
The screen reads: As a migrant and a worker, I have rights.
Comité members look over the new Know Your Rights! booklets.
Silas clarifies questions about minimum wages and expenses.
Having just received this training, the comité members were tasked with discussing their possible options for addressing abuse and injustice in small groups. We, the CDM team, took advantage of this time and the incredibly harsh late-morning sunshine to take some mediocre group pictures.
Mexico City team, minus Gracia, our photographer. From left to right: Myself, Jesus, Sarah, Ingrid, Nick, Lilían, and Silas.
Upon reconvening, each comité group presented their thoughts on each course of action (meeting with their employer, contacting an attorney, approaching the press, etc…) and discussed why they believe it was or was not a viable option, given their experiences.
Comité members under the mission statement they had developed during previous reunions.
Don Antonio presents for his group.
After a delicious lunch, there were more activities. One focused on identity and group identity. Comité members were asked to develop a motto and a symbol for their organization and then present this to the other participants.
Don Isabel explains the symbol and motto for his group. The quadrants read: strength, unity, confidence, and aid.
Don Martín Davila, a comité member who had recently traveled to Syracuse, New York, and presented on behalf of the comité at a conference there, shared his experience. It was powerful to hear him recount the trip, why it was meaningful and the challenges it entailed. He also said he was more nervous to speak here, in front of his fellow comité members, than he had been to speak at the conference in New York.
Don Martín gives a testamonial about his experience in Syracuse, New York.
One of the last activities of the day focused on leadership development. I introduced a short video on César Chávez, which, aside from introducing myself, was the only time I presented during the day. Lilían encouraged me to talk more, but I’m very shy about using my Spanish in a professional setting. Now it is my professional goal to look friendlier and less scared next time than I do in the picture below.
I took the floor briefly to introduce a leadership development activity.
The comité members filled out a leadership evaluation assessing their own strengths and weaknesses. Even though it was late in the day, they took this part of the training seriously and several presented their leadership positions –a short statement saying where they wanted to be in five-years and what their contribution in the comité would be.
Comité members complete their personal leadership evaluations.
Comité members reflect on their personal strengths and weaknesess as community leaders.
It was a long and tiring but fulfilling day.
Afterward, my fellow team members, Gracia (the photographer) and Alissa, who will be spending a year with the team in Oaxaca, went out for a birthday beer. Truthfully, I was too tired for more celebrating, but, as I explained to all who congratulated me on Sunday, I was grateful to be busy helping to do such good work on my birthday.
(Thank you Gracia Cuzzi for letting me repost and share your awesome photos.)
Leaving the reunion.
Alissa and I at the end of the day on Sunday.