San Diego VFP Chapter Travels to Tijuana

March 01, 2019

Last Friday afternoon a group from San Diego Veterans For Peace traveled to Tijuana to attend a program put on by UC Davis regarding the Humanization of Deportees, with particular emphasis on the Deported Veterans in Baja California.  Here is an "After Action Report" from one of their newer members, Stephanie Siegel. 

UC Davis Conference in Tijuana, on 22 February 2019, was my first VFP activity outside of monthly meetings, since becoming a member.  The presentation by UC Davis was very well done, and the introductions by the Deported Veterans included personal stories that were quite poignant.  The best part of this activity overall, was experiencing the camaraderie, hospitality, and positive attitude that was embedded in each interaction.  This meeting gave me an opportunity to feel "connected", to San Diego VFP members, a few from other chapters, and also the Deported Veterans.

Because I was very nervous about driving and getting lost in San Ysidro, I reached out a few days earlier.  Local chapter people communicated back and set me up with a most gracious ride, and I got door-to- door service, all the way.  This was a most appreciated courtesy, and a testament to local VFP inclusiveness and support for individual members.  Thank you to all involved, and especially to Maynard Kartveldt (my limo pilot) in making that happen!
Local members met at border entry, and walked over to the Mexican side together.  We were processed and admitted, then walked to the other end of the bridge, where Departed Veteran Hector, and supporting wives Blanca and  Lupita, and Maurice Martin (Northern California Chapter) met us, and escorted us to the meeting.  It was a most warm welcome!  Even though I'd never met these people, they immediately put me at ease, were anticipating questions and explaining where we were going, what we were doing, and a bit of introductions enroute.  From first contact it was all very pleasant, enabling me to enjoy time in Tijuana.  There was never a moment of terror at being lost, because we were a group of friends, and I was never alone.  This was priceless, because I really do not like being lost and alone!
The facility where we had the meeting had a set up of media that was a part of the overall project that UC Davis was involved in.  They had set up posters with photos of different individuals who had been deported.  Each person had a short bio about who they are, and about the circumstances of their deportation.  In addition, a bit about what they left behind was included, which was often heartbreaking.  These were not faceless people that are just numbers, and their efforts to adapt to their situation was illustrated with each story.  A very powerful display.  
Besides the inspirational posters, UC Davis had a table with headphones and (iPads?) For video viewing of stories of other deportees, some in English, some in Spanish.  The videos all had subtitles in the opposite language spoken in the video, which was a really great touch.  The emotions expressed in the language a deportee was most comfortable in speaking could be captured, because it was in their own words.  A viewer could read along also, in a translated version.  Brilliant strategy, as in the setting where they had this presentation, there was a mix of native speakers of both English and Spanish.
We went upstairs to our meeting, where a presentation was given to explain a bit about the project, and then launch into videos about individual Deported Veterans.  
Several of the Deported Vets also introduced themselves, and Deported Veterans Robert, Alex, Hector and Felix spoke about their experience.  Again, putting a face on the issue, hearing how it has disrupted lives, became very much more a real issue .  A trail of broken families, with essentially orphaned children, and spouses with no backup in a normal or tangible manner from their loved one, are left in the wake of this catastrophic event.  UC Davis has their videos, and those of people outside of the Veteran community,  posted online at their "Humanizing Deportation" website, available at:
Some of the Deported Veteran videos were made with Vets who are no longer living to tell their story. These Deported Veterans, lacking access to VA Medical Care, that they could have received in USA, went through nightmarish illnesses.  They came back to the US in such terrible shape that they could not survive, or they simply died in Mexico without proper interventions.  These stories described policies whereby Deported Veterans can only return to be buried in VA cemetery, with the honors they are entitled to.  Why should they have to die to be repatriated?  I cannot fathom this concept, at all.  It is something I never knew before, and it just seems so hypocritical, and very disturbing, to "honor" a Veteran for their service in this manner, posthumously, after rejecting them.  To add insult to injury, most, if not all, are diagnosed with PTSD after serving in battle.  Unbelievable.  Unbelievable.
There was so much to take in and process.  Prior to this trip, I had very little knowledge about Deported Veterans.  They now have names, and faces, with stories too.  I've sat in a restaurant and shared a meal with them.  The interaction between the Deported Veterans, San Diego VFP members (that I barely have met) and a few VFP from out of the area, was so open and joyful.  I came away with a greater sense of the purpose of VFP has in this outreach, and feel a part of it.   I'm looking forward to participating in whatever way possible to support the Deported Vets, and to bring them home.
The presence of wives, Blanca and Lupita, gave me an additional opportunity to connect.  As a woman Veteran, I exist in a liminal state at times.  Existing between "two worlds" can be difficult to navigate, as the Veteran population is very male-centric.  Lupita was very attentive, and extremely gracious with me.  Her perspective was incredibly appreciated, and I look forward to working with her in future border projects.  She informed about how much the Deported Vets are involved in assisting the non Veteran deportees, and refugees in Tijuana.  The outreach includes providing basic foodstuffs to women and children's shelters.  These Veterans are not just focused on their personal plight, they are attuned to the greater picture of deportation, and using their leadership and communication skills to network on behalf of vulnerable individuals.  
I encourage other members of VFP to participate in events with Deported Veterans.  If you only go one time, you will learn so much, and appreciate how the VFP community is interconnected.  These Veterans have chosen to make a positive impact, showing resilience, strength of character and a dedication to the highest ideals of the what being "American" means.  They made an oath to our country, and they have not gone back on this, even though we have not held up to our promises.  This was not my understanding as I left USA to cross the border.  I came back with that concept upon my return.