Category Archives: Student Reflections

Student Reflections about the Dia de Muertos Parade in South Philadelphia

Context and Prompt

The Mexican American Communities course took a fieldtrip to South Philadelphia on October 30 to attend the Dia de Muertos parade in the neighborhood. For this blog, each student selected photographs from the fieldtrip and shared reflections on the ways that the image(s) connected to the themes of the course and their learning.  Their responses were guided by the following questions:

  • How does this photograph speak to you?
  • How does it connect to the readings, films or discussions you have had in class?
  • What does it mean to you personally?

Please scroll down to read the students’ reflections. To view all images from the fieldtrip, please click here.

Veronica Mellado, Political Science, BMC ’24

This photograph of the students and guest speakers on the panel in the restaurant speaks volumes for me as it represents the importance of community-building between migrants and demonstrates the great impact that hearing testimonies of immigrants has. The students in this picture are a vehicle for the guest speaker’s stories to come to life, and allow the speakers to give their own perspectives on the life of a Mexican immigrant. Each guest speaker illustrated their journey to America and the obstacles they have faced over the years as they resist assimilation and celebrate their roots. Javier expressed the importance of worker’s rights and the lack of protection of undocumented workers in the realm of construction. This relates back to the film we have watched in class, “The Hand that Feeds”, as it pertains to undocumented worker’s rights and how difficult it is for immigrants to unionize and advocate for better working conditions and pay, as they fear the possibility of being deported. Alma, the owner of the restaurant, echoed this sentiment as she experienced the threat of being deported while attempting to purchase a space for her restaurant.

All guest speakers explained the importance of family and their desires to give their children better lives. This photograph is a representation of the realized dream of the owner of the restaurant as well as the sacrifice that many immigrant parents are willing to make so that their children may have an education and better opportunities. The children of immigrants also take on tremendous burdens, as the children of the speakers have inevitably encountered. In our readings and discussions we explored and observed transnational families and how several families are separated in the efforts and endeavours of building a better life for their children. Parents make the sacrifice of leaving their children behind, knowing that they will probably not see them grow up. One film we watched, “Guanajuato Norte”, showcased the life of a Mexican immigrant farm worker who could only visit his family in Mexico once a year. His story was only one among the countless stories of separated families, and illustrated the loneliness in migration.

The speaker in this photograph also symbolizes the obstacles of migrants who wish to create new businesses or restaurants in the United States. In this class, we discussed several successful  migrant stories, including the story of Cristina Martinez, who successfully made a South Philly restaurant famous for their barbacoa. The immigrants who are successful in creating their own businesses have remnants of their culture and incorporate as well. The restaurant itself is a testament and embodiment of the  nostalgia that immigrants have in reference to their country of origin. The readings and films reinforce the idea that Mexican American immigrants do not assimilate easily and build communities of people that share their values, backgrounds, and traditions. For example, the film, “Adelante”, touched on the gathering of Mexican-American immigrants in a small town centered around their religious practices and traditions. They were able to find refuge in recreating an environment similar to one they had grown up with in Mexico.

Personally, this photograph resonated with me because of the emphasis on community and listening to migrant voices and stories. Their vulnerability and honesty was powerful in their testimonies, as they discussed several obstacles they have faced as well as their role in their community as advocates. Listening to their testimonies and first-hand experiences with racism, crossing the border, and language barriers were very impactful. I was personally moved from hearing the stories of these speakers as they reminded me of my own family and the struggles they endured in migrating to the United States. The picture shows how their presentation and discussion was very impersonal and authentic. I really appreciated having the opportunity to hear their stories as they have further explained the life and resilience of Mexican immigrants in America.

Sylvia Young, Undeclared, BMC ’24

I chose this photo because I feel like it includes a lot all in one image. First, it shows four different people who are participating as dancers in the parade. I think the variety of who these people are is really meaningful, especially the two women in the front, one who is older and one who is younger. I think this speaks to the importance of tradition as a manner of connecting different generations and as a way of maintaining and passing down culture. I also just like the pose of the woman with the white headdress and her smile and look of pride.

I think this photo connects to the class because it highlights the way in which culture and traditions are maintained and developed over time and place. In particular, it relates to some of the later topics of the course, especially the idea of creating a home in a new place and developing a community and sense of belonging. This photo shows the different ways in which that creation of community can occur, by displaying the recreation of traditions, the spreading of traditions to younger generations, and the involvement of the non-Mexican community, all of which contribute to creating a sense of belonging.

I feel like this photo highlights the value of traditional and culture. On a more personal level, I think this picture shows the impact and value of learning about the traditions of a culture that is not your own. One of the things I really like about this picture is that you can see the street sign, restaurant, and people watching the parade in the background. I think this emphasizes the public context in which the parade is occurring and the fact that it is happening in the U.S., not Mexico. I think both of these things show the value of traditions not only in one’s own culture, but also the way that everyone can benefit from seeing the practice of traditions. I think this photo really speaks to traditions as a source of community and connection.

Sunny Martinez, Political Science, HC ’24

My name is Sunny Martinez, I am a sophomore at Haverford College and I plan to major in political science. We had the amazing opportunity to get to hear the personal stories of migrants who have been doing work to move the community forward and also to eat at one of their restaurants as well as explore the community and celebrate the day of the dead. In this photograph the class is listening to the speakers from the community. I am the one with pink hair sitting in the front row. I can still remember what I was thinking and feeling during the talk. There was a point where I had tears in my eyes because what was being said was so incredibly powerful. I really appreciated the strength of each and every one of them and admired their vulnerability.

It was so nice to hear the oral histories of these amazing people because so often in classes we are limited to just texts so to have actual people with lived experience to hear from is so meaningful. It really put a face to the communities which we are discussing in class and brought the material to life. They faced all the struggles we learned about like exploitation in the workplace, transnational families, lack of rights due to not having citizenship, feeling isolated, etc. It also really gave me hope. It is easy to feel down about the situations of communities that face lots of adversity but seeing people literally dance through the streets with pride for their culture made me so happy. Hearing about how they are doing the work to build community and create a sense of belonging for Mexican migrants was so beautiful.

As the daughter of Mexican migrants myself I felt so comfortable in their presence. Their stories and struggles were very similar to those of my parents. Also just being in the community reminded me so much of home and it felt so nice being surrounded by my culture after spending so much time feeling nostalgic for it. I will definitely be returning to the area to give myself that little piece of home here and there. The whole experience made me feel very proud of my culture which I think I really did not appreciate enough growing up. Now not being surrounded by it I realize just how beautiful it is and the talk gave me a much deeper understanding of my parents struggles.

Stephany Yupe, Sociology, BMC ’24

When I was scrolling down through the array of photos taken the day of the Southern Philadelphia trip my initial thought was that all the images translated a sense of belongingness. The photograph I choose came at the culmination of the panel of speakers that shared their migratory experiences and their entrepreneur journeys with our Mexican American communities class. The panel of speakers was perhaps the most touching moment for me throughout the entire experience, as it symbolized a form of storytelling that was reminiscent of the Latino community that I was raised in and expanded on the emotional ties that root migrants to cities like Philadelphia. I believe that hearing firsthand the struggles and resilience of the speakers when they spoke about their years building up their businesses and their activism in the community was much more impactful than hearing their voices translated into texts.

Although the history of the migratory circulation of the U.S Mexican border is important
in the context of understanding the pull factors that have created alienation for Mexican
migrants, the stories of cultural reconstruction and resilience from the people themselves spoke to me on a much deeper level. As I sat there listening to moments of pain in which one of the fathers expressed his grief, at not being able to see his children for years, it pained me to feel the separation of not just a border but of accessibility in the lives crafted for immigrants in the United States.

However his stories of not letting barriers interfere with his life in Philadelphia and
creating a ratio station with awareness to the string of Mexican business in the area was
inspiring. The relationship that all the speakers had with one another reminded me of the family bonding that was mentioned in Mujeres Luchadoras in which these imagined communities, of migrants, find home in similar experiences of food, culture, and organization. The collective experiences shared resonated with feelings of displacement I’ve felt in a campus that does entirely understand what it means to either come from immigrant families or share emotions of othering. These experiences more than validate my own, helped me reflect on the diversity of what it meant to migrate, and the efforts to share collectivity even when each circumstance might be different.

In retrospect, I choose this particular group photo after hearing the stories of the speakers
including the story of Alma the restaurant owner who after years of being denied the chance of
purchasing her own business opened her place in the middle of a pandemic. These stories to me signified one of the final themes we have been learning about which is that of migrant resilience and agency a narrative that does not get spoken about enough. In most narratives of migrants, there is a constant need to show them as people who have been victimized by this system, which in many ways is true but it leaves out the coming together of migrants to resist the dehumanization of the system.

The group photo shown above was my interpretation of togetherness and crafting belonging in a space that most of us can resonate with. The presence of the speakers in the photo reminds me of the generational learning and traditions that are passed down to our generation and how we become conscious of continuing what our own families started. Ultimately the trip, including the parade and the altar had me reflect a good deal on why I choose to pursue sociology, to better understand perspectives that aren’t always exclusively my own, and to engage in those experiences no matter how close or new they might feel.

Shiza Ranamagar, Sociolgy, HC, ‘24

Throughout this course, we’ve discussed the long history of oppression of Mexican migrants. Migrants have always been perceived as commodities, never as human beings, and so, they have always been mistreated. We have seen how emotional and traumatic their journeys to the U.S. have been, and the hardships that they constantly undergo from the time they decided to leave Mexico to navigating the U.S., sometimes alone. In particular, reading about the traumatic effects of the Bracero program was difficult because families were separated and Braceros were abused and never given adequate compensation.

Although I genuinely enjoy going to this class, our material is usually extremely heavy
and it often leaves me feeling disheartened. However, while on this trip, I was filled with so much joy. Every part of it felt so magical. The minute we stepped off the bus and onto 9th street, I was ecstatic to see the overwhelming amount of cultural diversity. The streets were filled with Italian markets and restaurants, Asian restaurants, and Mexican markets and restaurants as well. The streets were lined with vendors of various ethnicities as well, selling fresh produce. The restaurant we went to, Alma Del Mar, was beautifully decorated for Dia de los muertos. There was also someone singing in Spanish, and my heart was just filled with so much joy. The people dining there looked like locals and looked so happy and at peace.
This photo stuck out to me because it encapsulated this trip well — from the ethnic restaurants in the back (like the Taqueria) to the people walking in the parade. It was absolutely beautiful to see people dressed in traditional attire, as well as indigenous attire. What I loved even more was seeing non-locals walking and celebrating with the locals.

This trip encapsulated the theme of resistance, which we’ve been discussing a lot in class.
For migrants, resistance comes in various forms. For instance, Roxanne discussed crossing the
border and how migrants surviving in the desert that was meant to kill them, was a form of
resistance. In the film Adelante, it demonstrated how Mexican migrants recreate cultural events
that used to be celebrated in Mexico, such as Quincineras, weddings, and as seen in this photo,
Dia de los muertos. Furthermore, Medina discussed the political economy of nostalgia, which
involves having a space that evokes memory of one’s home country. 9th street certainly evoked
this sort of memory because there were so many Mexican restaurants and markets that carried
traditional foods, clothes, records, and other products. In addition, the vendors and owners were Mexican or Spanish speaking as well.

This trip meant a lot to me. It reminded me of my home, Queens, NY. I haven’t been home for a long period of time. But being in this space, I truly did feel at home — the culture, the music, the diversity, the smells, and simply the coexistence of different ethnicities. This is what I call beautiful. When I first came to Haverford, I experienced a huge culture shock. I would try to escape by going into Philadelphia. I was trying to find a connection to NYC, but I was constantly disappointed because I kept going to Center City, and didn’t embody the diversity of Philadelphia. However, this trip made me realize that Philadelphia also has a boisterous (im)migrant community and I find that absolutely beautiful.

Romelia Guerrero, Psychology, BMC ’24

How does this photograph speak to you?
This photo speaks to me by showing the strong community we have in this class. Many
of us have shared personal experiences that have been relatable and being able to take
a trip together as a class was a lovely experience. This class has provided us the
opportunity to meet members of the Mexican community of south Philly and listen to their
stories. It’s nice to have a picture with many of our peers and our guest speakers all
together learning and connecting.

How does it connect to the readings, films or discussions you have had in class?
Listening to the stories of our guest speakers reminds me of many of the videos and
readings we have had in class. Many of our videos in class emphasize what the lived
experiences of Mexican Immigrants look like on the daily. One specific reading I was
drawn to was Rosa’s chapter where she talks about how women built their community
and support system to get through tough times together. Their story reminds me of our
guest speakers who have built and found their community in South Philly over the years.

What does it mean to you personally?
Personally, this picture means community. My peers in this class have told countless
stories about their personal experiences of topics that relate to what we study in class.
Their stories have helped me see the experience of what the first-gen experience looks
like from all over and at times has been comforting having people to relate to. In class,
Dr.Montes has created an environment that is safe to make this possible. When we took
this trip, our entire class got to experience this celebration together as a community and
we had to opportunity to bond in an environment that was out of the classroom

Maria Reyes Pacheco, History, BMC ’24

This photo speaks to me for a variety of reasons. The beautiful Katrinas stick out in their bold
dresses and intricate headpeices. Then there is our class, standing in front of El Rey del Taco before joining the parade along with the Katrinas. It shows how we were able to not only hear from and learn from the South Philly community but also engage with it and be a part of their celebration. The celebration itself you can tell is an expression of resistance and joy. You can see this both by the vibrant colors but also the smiles on so many faces.

In our own class, we have learned why resistance and joy are so vital to the Mexican-American community, and immigrant communities at large. A large part of this is due to the sense of diasplacement and unwantedness that Mexican migrants have felt since their early arrival to the country. A part of this is a result of the United States’ xenophobic and racist immigration policies that show that they see immigrants as expendable. Some of the ways they resist are by building communities and creating ways to celebrate their culture and pass down traditions. The Día de Los Muertos festival was an exact representation of this. In the pictures you can see so many children and years from now these are memories that will make them proud of who they are and where they are from in the face of outside pressures.

I love seeing our class in the pictures because it shows how this trip and course as a whole
were extremely personal for so many of us. Many of us are first-generation immigrants
coming from either Mexican-American or Latinx communities. Being at a private white
institution, we can sometimes experience a sense of nostalgia and unwantedness so the
festival was a reminder of how strong our community is and how we are also a part of this
celebration. This course has taught us a lot about our history and our parent’s stories. We feel
seen and recognized, something that is not the norm in the US education system. I am beyond
grateful to Professor Montes and everyone that helped put this trip and course together.

Lizzany Mayta, Sociolgy & Spanish, BMC ’24

This photograph embodies belonging, culture, resistance, art, and individualism. These are all key concepts which are important in any culture but are especially important in Mexican American culture. Dia de los muertos is an important celebration for the Mexicans. This Catrina is a symbol for the celebration but for me it is an example of how the Mexican American culture here in Philly can express and resist racist systemic institutions. Through this resistance and expression of their culture it strengthens the community and creates a sense of belonging as they celebrate part of their home country and “echando raices” (setting their roots) in a new unfamiliar country. La Catrina represents the beauty of Mexican art. It has intricate detailing on the dress, the head piece, and the makeup. This photograph encompasses so much beauty it’s an example of finding belonging in a community which through this celebration can resist a country full of hatred and unacceptance in being proud of their own identity and culture.

This photograph connects to what we have learned from the Mexican American communities’ course because throughout the course we have learned about the historical context of Mexican migrants and how it is a unique case in the United States. Move over, the way Mexican migrants have built resistance and resilience of their identity in the United States while passing it along to their children. Identity is an important discussion we discussed in class which involved the Mexican American identity which many of my peers were able to connect, but for me it made me realize how much similarities there is between other ethnic identities, we have similar experiences, but it is each unique to each person.  This photography embodies a unique identity for the individual dressing up as la Catrina. It is their culture, it’s who they are, their identity. They are not afraid to express this to the world instead they are proud to be who they are. As I reflect through this photography and what I learned in class I started to feel nostalgic and homesick with my own culture. I felt an urge to connect more with both of my cultures as the daughter of Argentinean and Peruvian immigrant parents.

This photograph means a lot because although I don’t have a direct connection with Mexican roots it makes me realize how much similarities there are between my Argentinian and Peruvian roots. Especially, in the similarities of the migrant experiences in having to restart their lives here in the United States and leave their home country. But also, the rich culture that there is within all ethnic cultures. Personally, this photograph had me reflecting on my own culture and traditions. This whole experience emphasized the importance to express and be proud of where we come from. How this community and all communities have built resistance and resilience in the United States. This photograph portrays Mexican American culture, and it is an example of how any culture and ethnicity can be symbolized within a photograph. A single photograph can capture so much meaning.

Leslie Torres, Sociology, BMC ’24

I chose this specific image from our trip to South Philly because it was a moment in my culture that I never got to learn about growing up. I can’t remember a moment where I was in class and learned about myself but I knew plenty about the history of how the colonizers set sail from Europe and how they conquered the supposedly “New World” that was North America. When the reality was North America had always been there with its own inhabitants living peacefully undisturbed until they were conquered and with a majority of their history lost. They thought the Native Americans were primitive even after they taught the white man how to plant and harvest crops to survive. The colonizers were mentored by the Native Americans who learned to live and respect the land. This has become a recurring theme we see in the history of America. Americans will condemn the very work they are dependent on to live comfortably.

Joining the parade on Dia de Los Muertos was exciting, confusing and inspiring. I enjoyed smelling the incense as I walked alongside the dancers and the attractions in the streets. I chose this particular scene because at the time of the parade I didn’t understand what they were doing; It was only after the Aztec dancers came and performed at my school did I understand that they were asking the mother earth for permission to dance or closing, thanking mother earth. When they performed at my school I sat right in front of them, and when they encouraged us to participate in the ritual I felt an enormous pressure to take the lead on how everyone sitting behind me should participate because I was the only Latinx student seated at the front; so initially I felt anxious and timidly raised my hands to mirror the traditional dancers to pray and ask for permission for them to dance from the North, South, East, West and from Mother Earth. And as I watched them dance I felt motivated to raise my hands and get lower to the ground and feel the earth beneath me as they were doing. I felt the more confidently I participated the more natural it felt.

The Field Trip to South Philly easily connected to the course because it was the most validating class I have taken as a result of the history of immigration I’ve learned. The discussions in class created an opportunity to relate my experiences with other students and validate my own identity. This image represents the themes of Nostalgia and Homemaking practices immigrants have cultivated and nurtured in order to maintain their culture and re-create a small version of what their community was like in their Native countries.

Karen Prangan, Psychology, BMC ’22

This semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to take Mexican American Communities, a Praxis course based in the Sociology Department and taught by Professor Montes. I was initially drawn to it by not only its macro and meso-level analyses of the US-Mexico migration, but also by its focus at the micro-level, exploring how migration has directly affected Mexican migrants, their families and communities and their daily experiences. On October 30th, our class took a field trip to South Philadelphia where we were able to meet community members and hear each of their unique migration stories. This photograph captures one of my favorite moments: our class learning about the realities and hardships of US-Mexican migration but also the moments of joy and healing that emerges from finding a sense of belonging and a community that reminds you of home in an unfamiliar land.

One of the biggest beliefs I have about education is that learning can occur outside of a four-walled classroom. I believe in the value of immersing yourself in the community/space and really learning from the people who live the experiences you are studying. For me, it’s one thing to read about Mexican-US migration history in formal, academic paper, and another to visualize, hear, and understand the events and emotional experiences from community storytellers who have lived and currently live the experiences we read about. I often feel like there is a disconnect between aspects of history we learn about in college classes and the impact it has on an individual level to those who have lived those histories. It helped me put into perspective that this isn’t a far-fetched abstract theory we often read about in classes and something a community a train ride away has grappled with for a large part of their lives. This photograph showcases how active and relevant fieldwork can be a gamechanger for students’ education.

In our course, we have read and discussed extensively about how migrants make sense of their identity as well as engage in homemaking practices and nostalgia products. As we sat in the heart of the Mexican/Italian Market in South Philly after a wonderful lunch at Alma Del Mar, whose owner captivates our attention in the photograph, I felt the resistance and resilience the Mexican migrant community has built by reconstructing their homelands across the border. It is heartwarming to know there exists a community to support them and help ground many migrants. We were able to see and hear about the worry, anguish, and grief that comes with the unknown, the uncertainty of the future, and even the present. But it is especially encouraging to see that despite these harsh realities, there are moments of hope, joy, and pride that help them resist. For many students in this class, this course hit very close to home and as the daughter of immigrants myself, it’s a privilege to experience such a dynamic course, taught in collaboration with those who were willing to vulnerably share their current realities.

Jennifer Nguyen, Sociology, BMC ‘22

This photograph is of the Dia de Los Muertos Parade going through Broad St. in South Philadelphia. The parade was one of the highlights of the day for me. I remember entering the parade right as we left Alma del Mar, where we enjoyed some fresh seafood tacos and heard from Mexican American business owners on their experiences migrating to and living in South Philadelphia. Up until the point of the parade, I felt like we were outsiders looking into a window of what life is like in South Philadelphia for the day. Walking in the parade, much like the people in this image, we became part of the community and celebrated alongside them throughout the day.

In class we discussed the difficulties of migrants building a new home for themselves in a foreign country with little to no connections to their family and culture. The significance of the Dia de Los Muertos parade in South Philadelphia for the Mexican American community was felt by all who were there to celebrate. In this photo, there is a man dressed in a skeleton costume biking with a float of “La Catrina,” surrounded by the traditional marigold flowers that were found all over Broad Street that day. Walking close to the float are people from the neighborhood in normal dress. I think this is a perfect representation of creating a sense of “home” in a new place. Members of the community put in effort to find the resources dress up in cultural gear and recreate symbols of culture for Dia de los Muertos, the “normal” parade participants were welcomed to walk all the same- there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the day other than being there and enjoying the festivities.

Professor Montes mentioned in class that this year’s parade was the largest one to date in Philadelphia. Though Philadelphia does not have the largest population of Mexican migrants and is not one of the major migration points for Mexican Americans, the community here in South Philadelphia has a strong sense of closeness and welcoming that makes this place feel like home- even to a bunch of college students visiting for the day from Bryn Mawr.

Ingrid Engelhardt, Growth and Structure of Cities, BMC ’22

This image spoke to me because it emphasized the importance of tradition and continuing it even when far away from home. These ofrendas are common in México during Dia De Los Muertos. However, this is not a custom done in the United States. By creating these ofrendas and sharing them with the community, people can get a sense of nostalgia from looking at them. This plays into what we have discussed in class about nostalgia products. While the ofrenda is not a product, it does produce a feeling of nostalgia and remembrance of Mexico. This creates a space where people can feel like they belong and have their own community. The ofrenda creates nostalgia for the celebration that migrants remember in Mexico. By creating the ofrenda and other aspects of Dia de Los Muertos here in Philadelphia, migrants can still feel connected to their roots while they are in Philadelphia. These kinds of spaces are so important, as they help toward building community and being a space of both collaboration and remembrance.

Something Professor Montes also shared with the class was that this ofrenda was built by
the community for this event. This plays into what we have talked about in class in terms of the
importance to seek and gain community. This ofrenda is an example of how migrants have
formed a community and continued to engage in traditions with one another. This community is incredibly important to have as it is a place that offers support and help, especially because
migration can be hard. By having a community that you can do things with, like building
ofrendas, you can feel a sense of belonging and that you are not alone. The ofrenda is a visual
representation of community building and connection. Making this image a reminder of the
Mexican community within South Philadelphia.

For me, seeing the ofrenda in person was a chance to see an incredibly beautiful and meaningful piece that was created by and for the community. It showcased a creative outlet to
engage with Dia de Los Muertos with tons of details that can only be seen when examining the
ofrenda for an extended period. For me, it was also clearly a piece that was collaborated on by
many people, making it an ofrenda by the whole community. This was a visual representation of
community and resistance in South Philly. The field trip was a special experience that was a chance to see and be a part of such an important holiday within the Mexican community. I am
really happy I got to go and was able to see the ofrenda that the community made

Graciela Kennally-Presslaff, Undeclared, BMC ’24

I picked this photo of a woman dressed in a traditional head garment who is performing a native dance. Indigenous and Hispanics of indigenous decent are often forgotten about in the discussion of Hispanics. Our languages are often forgotten under the guise that ‘all Hispanics speak Spanish.’ While Spanish is very sacred part of our culture, millions of Mexicans speak an Indigenous language.

My birth mother is Honduran Indigenous. Had I not been adopted; it is quite likely that my first language would not have been Spanish. In my own experiences I found that not only are Hispanic adoptees often neglected by their own for not being raised in traditional households, but indigenous Hispanics also face the same struggle for not speaking the language.

Many traditions have native roots. Día de los Muertos is no exception. I always get excited when other cultures draw back to their roots and celebrate their heritage. Seeing Mexican fabrics, traditional headdresses such as this one, braided hair, beaded earrings brought me so much happiness. For me it signifies incredible pride in one’s culture. Dance and song especially is a practice many natives, not just Hispanic natives engage in.

To me, the trip was significant not in just connecting our course and meeting Mexicans but meeting people of many different backgrounds. Hispanics are an ethnicity, not a race; thus, we are incredibly diverse. South Philly was no exception. As I spoke to some people that night, some introduced themselves as Ecuadorian, Honduran, Mexican, Colombian, and Dominican. While all cultures may not celebrate Día de los Muertos or engage in cultural practices, they were out to support the community. Everyone welcomed us in a grand celebration of our culture.

Desiree Bagot, Sociology, BMC ’24

Over the course of the semester, I’ve had the experience of learning and submerging myself in what it means to be a Mexican migrant, the challenges that migrants face, and how migrants adapt to living in a new country. Not only have I learned the complexities of Mexican migration, but I have also learned of these aspects from a sociological perspective through the use of readings, films, and most importantly in-person field trips. Learning through a sociological perspective is important to me, because it helps me better understand the process in which things occur and why they occur. It further helps me understand different systems and structures, such as politics, migration, race, identity, belonging, social justice, etc., and how they interconnect in ways that impact certain groups, in this case Mexican migrants, and society as a whole.

This picture shows a group of students and educators that are a part of the Mexican-American Communities course and members of the Mexican-American community in South Philadelphia. During this trip, I had the experience of exploring the Mexican Market, eating delicious tacos, and being surrounded by inspiring and driven peers, educators, and guest-speakers, many of whom are first generation college students and/or first generation Americans. The guest-speakers explained their stories as first-generation Americans, speaking about their experiences initially coming to the U.S., how they settled in Philadelphia, and how they have formed a home in their communities. I have read and watched much about the Mexican migrant experience, but hearing about the guest-speakers experiences, specifically recreating home in the new host society, connecting with transnational families, and engaging in entrepreneurship, was rewarding. One of the guest-speakers, Alma, is the owner of Alma Del Mar, a restaurant in the local community. She talked much about her experience coming to the U.S., the xenophobia and exploitation she faced, and most importantly maintaining her restaurant. The guest-speakers’ stories spoke volume, mostly because it showed that all they wanted was a better life and a better chance at success, so why deprive them of that opportunity?

In the Mexican-American Communities course, I have learned a lot about migrants persevering through hardship and injustice in our readings and films, but hearing about migrants’ experiences first-hand is so invaluable. It is especially inspiring as a first-generation, low-income college student. Having this background can be inspiring, but also challenging. It can feel as though there are times when you could be doing so much more, but you are only limited to the resources that you have. Hearing about the Mexican migrant experience has only further pushed me to fight against the odds and finish my college education, no matter how tough it may be.

Claire Brouillard, Undeclared, BMC ’25

This photograph speaks to me because it brings me back to Alma del Mar, where we learned about the stories of migrants. Listening to these stories was incredibly moving as we got to connect the things we were learning in class to the faces that were standing before us. Through these oral histories, I gained a better understanding of how difficult migration is even after one
has settled in the United States.

The panelists described how isolating it can be to live without family and to dream of going back to Mexico knowing that they might not get the chance to. They also described how living in a place where Spanish is commonly spoken, such as South Philadelphia, helps to foster a sense of belonging as they adjust to life in the United States. The panelists’ stories strongly connected with the readings and films we have discussed in class. We have read many texts that describe how isolating it can be to migrate to the United States and how many migrants dream of returning to Mexico. We read about casas vacías, which are empty houses that get left behind in Mexico while their owners migrate. Their owners hope that they will one day be able to return to their empty homes while migrants’ families and loved ones maintain the empty houses. Hearing the panelists discuss their desire to return to Mexico and how they know many people who never got the chance to do so elevated my understanding of these readings because I was able to connect the stories of migrants with the factual accounts we had read. This gave me a deeper understanding of how badly migrants wish to return home and how important these casas vacías are.

This photograph personally speaks to me because it represents gaining a deeper understanding of migration. Migration is not something that is very openly discussed in my family despite the effects that it has had on many of my loved ones. For this reason, I enjoyed hearing migrants’ stories and connecting them to the little information that I know about my family’s immigration history. In doing this, I feel that I can better understand the struggles that my family members have gone through. This makes me even more thankful for the strength and bravery of my ancestors because their perseverance through the hardships they faced is the reason that my family is here today.

Nelid Rios Morales, Sociology, BMC ’24

This photography expresses my heritage, my ethnicity, and my culture. It tells me a story about two women who continue to enjoy their culture while also enduring hardship. That is to say, they are missing their wonderful Mexico. I saw them donning the colors of the Mexican flag with joy. Most significantly, in Mexico, wearing traditional clothing is a source of pride. They are walking in memory of loved ones who have died. This photograph also depicts the beauty of Mexico among these lovely women, particularly those with long braids. Overall, this shot encourages me to embrace my heritage and never forget the color of my national flag.

This photograph relates to the lesson since we learn during the semester that when Mexicans migrate, they bring their traditions with them to feel more at home. It also fosters a feeling of community in which they are able to communicate with and be around people who understand them, as well as a sense of belonging. Continuing to celebrate their customs teaches their children about their heritage and life in Mexico. Throughout the procession, you can see how immigrants became prominent as a result of their clothing, dances, and painting, which made them stick out. We learn in class that continuing to celebrate their traditions helps them feel less homesick and, more significantly, helps them create a new home for themselves.

Personally, this photo depicts where I came from because, despite being born in the United States, I identify as Mexican rather than American. I grew up celebrating my parents’ customs, and it made me happy to be able to continue doing so even though I am far away from home. I felt at home during the procession since I was surrounded by people who looked like me and spoke my language. They put me at ease and made me feel at ease. Being a part of this tradition allows me to feel more connected to my heritage and learn more. These women in
the photograph represented a person who is brown and a female, much like myself. This has
taught me to be strong and proud of my roots, and to always embrace my culture no matter
where I am. It also makes me feel more connected to my family.

Sophia Herzberg, Psychology, BMC ’24

This photo, taken by Professor Montes, depicts the beautiful altar in the church on our trip into South Philadelphia. In class, we watched a video about The Day of The Dead and learned that the day originated from the Mayans before it was transformed through the influence of Catholicism by Spanish colonialism, merging Aztec gods and goddesses with the higher beings from Spanish Catholicism. The significance of the altar is to create a space where the dead can visit and connect with the people who come to it.

I chose the photograph of the altar as a means of expressing a personal admiration that I have for the sentiments of The Day of a The Dead. The colorful decorations and beautiful
symbols remind us that death is a natural process of life which should be celebrated and not feared, and when you are reminded of death you celebrate life harder.

In our Mexican-American sociology class we have learned about how Mexican-Americans will re-create traditions in the United States for the purpose of feeling more connected with Mexico in a foreign place. The celebration of The Day of The Dead in South Philly is an example of this. Unfortunately, we have also learned that death is something that is especially relevant to Mexican-Immigration into the United States. Ever since the Mexican-American border has experienced a rise in militarization with the establishment of detention centers and border wall construction as an effort to promote deterrence, as a consequence there has been an increase of deaths at the border. The Day of The Dead celebration makes the festivities of the holiday extra meaningful because of this fact. Furthermore, the fact that Mexican-Immigrants are celebrating a holiday in the United States, a country that doesn’t want them there, makes the celebration of The Day of The Dead a powerful symbol of resistance.

Becky Yu, Sociology, BMC ’24

On October 30th, 2021, the Mexican-American Communities (SOCL B235) class went into the South Philadelphia neighborhood to visit, hear stories from migrants who work and live in the area, and celebrate Dia de Muertos. The parade was a part of South Philly’s Dia de Muertos celebration that led everyone into a parking lot, where there were many vendors, food, and lots of music and dancing. As the daughter of Chinese migrants, my parents moved to a predominantly white community to find work, so we were never able to celebrate our festivals, and I always felt embarrassed when my classmates would ask me about them.

This photograph speaks loudly to me; I see generations of migrants who are not afraid to be themselves, children who will grow up in an environment where they are able to learn about their culture, and that the Mexican migrants have found their community in South Philly.

As we have learned in the course, to make the U.S. feel like home to them, they need to
build community, they become transnational families, and that nostalgia products are more
available to migrants. By building community, it means that it will take longer, if at all, for
migrants to assimilate into American society; because they become transnational families, they
are still connected to Mexico; and with that connection, they are able to purchase nostalgia
products, which are products that remind the migrants of home that are unavailable in the U.S.
One of the films that we watched in class was Adelante, which is based in Norristown, PA; we
saw that Mexican migrants attended St. Patrick’s, which was originally a church for the Irish.
However, when the population began to decline, there was an increase of Mexican migrants who began to attend, resulting in a church for Spanish speakers, as the priest had learned Spanish for the service. Additionally, the church became a place for the migrants to celebrate their recreation of festivals and cultural events, such as Quinceañaras, Weddings, and Posadas. Which relates to the photograph, as we can see the South Philly migrants celebrating Dia de Muertos, and be assumed that they also celebrate the other events.

In some ways, seeing the photograph and going into South Philadelphia on October 30th,
made me feel at home. Despite being Chinese-American, not being from an area with a large
Mexican population, and growing up in a predominantly white community, this was the first time where I truly saw a culture outside of American society being celebrated in the U.S., which also meant that I was unable to celebrate my own cultural roots, but because I was also embarrassed about it, I felt disconnected to my own culture. When I see this photograph, it means that older second-generation immigrants, like myself, will see the younger second-generation grow up in a space where their culture is celebrated and not criticized. It feels safe knowing that the younger generation will remain connected to their roots and that they will grow up in the community.

Amy Reyes, Undeclared, BMC ’25

In this photo, I can be seen in the background watching the people in the parade walking past me as we walked together to our final destination. Although you can’t see it, I’m admiring the floats that were beautifully created and the people who were dressed up to take part in the tradition. As this time, I remember feeling at home for the first time since I came to Philadelphia for college. I was overwhelmed with emotions of nostalgia and homesickness for a tradition that I didn’t even practice in Texas with my family. However, since I learned in class what Mexican-American families went through to get to where I am, I was emotional at the thought that we (all of the people at the parade) had the same thoughts and feelings that day: pride and happiness.

This picture connects back to our readings, films, and discussions in class as the sentiment that was there that day included knowing the pain and sacrifices made by our people. Without this class, I would’ve remained oblivious to the real lives of Mexican-American
communities. I only knew what I had seen from my family: my mother immigrated to Texas from San Luis Potosi via visa and ended up staying. My father immigrated to Maryland first at the age of 15 by crossing via a train and met and married my mom in Texas. My parents were lucky. My paternal grandfather immigrated to the U.S. under Reagan’s presidency and gained citizenship that he was able to help give to my dad and mom. My parents never really had to worry about being deported and were able to do things that other undocumented immigrants couldn’t.

If I hadn’t taken this class, I wouldn’t even know that IRCA and Reagan were responsible for the legality of my parents. I wouldn’t have known about the Braceros program and how my great-great maternal grandfather was a bracero. I wouldn’t have realized that the change and security in the Mexican-U.S. border was not normal. I wouldn’t have realized that the U.S. government was knowingly leaving undocumented immigrants to die in the desert as they tried to cross to form a better life for themselves and their family. I wouldn’t have known what my people have gone through and what they are currently going through. I was very emotional on this Dia de los Muertos trip because I knew about the pain and sacrifices everyone at that parade went through.

Personally, this photo means a new motivation to learn about my roots. A need to learn everything that there is to know about my culture and its traditions. It wasn’t my first time attending a traditional parade for our practices, however, it was my first traditional event without my parents. I was alone without any family around me and overwhelming emotions of pride and nostalgia. I might’ve not been born in Mexico/El Salvador or have experienced first-hand what its like to be in a new country without support from any family or friends, however, the pride and sadness that I feel towards both countries and my family is enough to push me to learn about my roots and practices. I am proud to be Mexican and Salvadorian.


Amanda Ramos, Undeclared, BMC ’24

It was very hard just to choose one photo because many were very lovely in different ways in my opinion. One that I just thought was pretty cool was this image on the left. I really liked how the photographer caught these two ladies in the air holding hands. Looks like a they were really happy and enjoying this day especially with the crowd in the back. This also looks like a representation of the world of the dead celebrating the day of the dead, which I found really cool.

However, the image that I will like to discuss in this response paper is the one with the three lovely ladies on the right, who were attending the street festival. All three seem to be enjoying as they have pretty smiles on their faces and hugging each other. This picture overall speaks to me and the films, reading and with our discussions in class by showing a happy community that is celebrating an important day.

Realizing during this trip, that this day celebrates so much more than honoring your ancestors. It allows us to celebrate family as a community because even though there were many different people who probably don’t know each other but yet still come together, enjoy each others presence and joy. Throughout this semester, I learned a lot about Mexican culture and the history of how they migrated to the U.S; and coming to an end to this class, I learned how community is such an important aspect overall and anywhere in the world but Mexicans have pursued that by working hard and bring their homes to a different country, where they created and build history

Julia Eaton, Sociology, BMC ’24

Julia completed an alternative assignment and reflected about the documentary “Adelante”

The film, Adelante, provided insight into the lives of immigrants as they migrate to the
United States for the first time. This documentary was shot in Norristown, so we were able to
complement the knowledge we gained from our readings with the personal stories from a town
very near to Bryn Mawr. It was quite beneficial to get to hear and view from a local perspective
how migration impacts not only the immigrants themselves, but also the communities they enter.

Adelante offered a new emotional element, and additional feeling onto the textual information
we have gathered from our class texts. After digesting many stories of hardship and challenges as Mexicans move into the USA, it was quite refreshing to witness a community welcoming these individuals with open arms. Quite often, the rigidity of the Catholic Church is viewed as exclusionary, and unfriendly. This screening directly opposed this viewpoint, as we see Irish American Catholics working with Mexican migrants to build a comfortable and safe space in Norristown. As we watched throughout Adelante, accepting the Mexican families into their church was an act that benefitted all involved. The Mexican families brought their culture with them, and ultimately positively influenced the Irish American community by teaching them new traditions and values. The bond between the Mexican migrants and the American locals strengthened through their equal devotion to their faith and religion. This relationship originated on a commitment to the greater church organization, and the common belief to love your neighbor.

Loving your neighbor and building a community with them requires substantial action on
the both ends of the relationship. The immigrants were brave and vulnerable in sharing the
cultural events and meaningful practices that they brought with them from Mexico. The
Norristown natives responded with an open mindedness towards Mexican culture, and a
willingness to recreate the valuable elements that might make their town feel more comfortable
and safe for their new neighbors. Adelante demonstrates this genuine and mutual commitment to creating community through hard work and shared values of love and respect. We even watched a wedding that symbolized this unification of both the Mexican and American cultures and traditions.

This documentary was very impactful. Seeing the feeling and emotion that is connected
to migration is much more powerful than simply reading a story in text. Most importantly, all of
the themes of family, culture, and values were solidified in this film. Adelante successfully
portrayed the hard work and various factors that go into establishing an integrated and safe
community for people from different cultures and backgrounds. We witnessed the passion and
determination that was essential in developing Norristown into an accepting and comfortable
home for Mexican migrants and Irish American locals.

Paige Schaefer, Computer Science, BMC ’23

Paige completed an alternative assignment and reflected about the documentary “Adelante”

The film “Adelante” follows the activities of St. Patrick’s Church in Norristown, PA portraying the lives of a vast group of church goers. The film explores the lives of an Irish priest, young Mexican immigrants and older Irish members of the church who have immigrant ancestors. The film shows how different communities in Norristown have made mutual adjustments to create bonds of understanding. We see how Americans of Irish descent accept and embrace a new group of immigrants. We also see the Mexican immigrants establish new lives in a foreign country, laying down roots in a place without their own family and support networks. These two groups form relations and intertwine their lives. We see how celebrations from both Irish descent and Mexican descent both are celebrated by each group through the church in an atmosphere of collaboration.

Something valuable to note in this film is the relationship between the two groups of worshippers of the St. Patrick’s Church. There is a mutualistic relationship between the two groups where each group benefits from each other. In the beginning of the film, we see the number of individuals who attend the predominantly Irish catholic church slowly diminishing until the large influx of Mexican migrants start to attend the church. The Mexican migrants help the church to remain popular and have large attendances at events. The Mexican migrants bring life and flourishment to the church. As the film goes on, we see how Mexican migrants benefit from the church and form a community in Norristown. The church creates a space for migrants to celebrate their religious practices in a safe space as well as be a place where migrants can take classes to help themselves assimilate into their new life in America. We see how daily church masses are programed in Spanish and English creating a blend of the two groups.

I believe the relationship between the Irish American church goers and the Mexican migrants in Norristown provide a framework for how all of America should interact with Mexican migrants. Many of the Irish worshippers talk of their ancestors and their ancestors’ struggles migrating to America many years ago. I think the Irish church goers experiencing many similarities between their families and the Mexican migrants cause for the harmony to have such a strong bond between the two groups. Many individuals in America have preconceived notions about Mexican migrants, either of them being criminals or how they will steal jobs from Americans. Mexican migrants don’t want to inhabit the United States, they are here because there is no other way for them to support themselves and their families in Mexico. Key American values are that our identity is a “melting pot” but this melting pot only applies to European immigrants who immigrated to America fifty years ago or later. I think those who do not support Mexican migration need to take a step back and understand why Mexicans are immigrating to the United States. These reasons are very similar to why the ancestors of current Americans migrated. Through this step back and realization a harmony can start to be established and developed.