By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director
Sometimes, the smallest gift can be the most meaningful, especially when it connects people separated by thousands of miles.
This is the story behind a $384 check McKinley Elementary School families presented to SJSU for university work with the villagers of Arrazola, Oaxaca, Mexico.
“They have posted this on Facebook, including their statement that they did this out of love because we are family,” said Department of Health Science Chair Kathleen Roe.
What bonds these three groups? An intercambio, or exchange, involving Arrazola, McKinley, and SJSU’s Department of Health Science.
The exchange takes SJSU faculty and students to Arrazola for service learning, and brings the people of Arrazola to the United States, where they meet McKinley families.
McKinley, like Arrazola, is a service learning site for the health science department. The McKinley families presented the funds, raised through food sales, at a recent workshop sponsored by SJSU.
The relationship between Arrazola and McKinley, home to many first-generation Americans, is also based on a shared understanding of the challenges facing immigrants.
The people of Arrazola have embarked on a village-wide effort to turn their native craft, an exquisite form of wood sculpture known as alebrije, into a means of economic support.
Alebrije takes the form of fantastical, colorful animals in many shapes and sizes, from tiny earrings to large coffee table pieces.
Arrazola’s goal is to keep families intact by alleviating the pressure to move north for work. When they visit San Jose, artisans sell alebrije to raise money and learn about the U.S. market.
They also speak to McKinley students about the importance of art and expression in Mexican life, their efforts to create a sustainable local economy through alebrije sales, and their commitment to re-forestation to be environmentally sustainable and preserve their natural resources.
Their message has found a receptive audience. Though the McKinley families crafted a $384 check, the final total was $409, after people at the workshop gave an additional $25 cash.