In mid-September, GRLSWIRL traveled to Tijuana, Mexico to bring our Skate Mentorship Program south of the border. Our mission was to create a safe space for women to feel empowered, and to show them the value of sisterhood and community through skateboarding.
On our first day, we visited Secundaria Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, a Middle School in Playa de Tijuana. The moment we walked through the doors we were welcomed with warm hugs and smiles. Within minutes of being there, the entire school gathered in the common outdoor area and celebrated their Independence Day. There were students performing music, dance routines, as well as a young boy trotting around on his horse in traditional Charro garb displaying the Mexican flag while all the students sang the Mexican Anthem and other songs of pride. Once the boy and his horse completed their routine, to our surprise, the head of the school asked all of GRLSWIRL to come forward to be introduced as their guest of honor for the day. It was an extremely special moment to say the least. We were humbled to meet everyone and share this special day with them.
After the celebration, we were brought to a classroom where we would soon meet all of the girls that had signed up to skate with us. As the girls filed in the classroom we could see excitement in their eyes mixed with a bit of shyness and nervousness. Each girl knew they were there to try skating, but we knew that this day was about so much more than that. It was about showing them the power of sisterhood and the ability to break down the walls they had built up in their heads about what they could and could not do. To break the ice, we began the day by asking the girls what they aspire to be when they grow up. A few brave girls shared they have interested in soccer, dance, and one even wanted to be a wrestler. Once we had heard and recognized all of the girls’ aspirations and had an understanding of possible hardships around achieving these goals, it was our turn to share that most of us had the same feelings toward skating, as well as the other goals in our lives. But with the support we give each other through sisterhood, we have not only become great skaters, we have achieved other personal goals that make us who we are today.
Sisterhood is what we preach and to do so we lead by example. We came to Tijuana to exemplify the spirit that exists at the core of GRLSWIRL, and the best way to show this is to teach girls how to lift each other up and support each other while skating. To begin the skate lesson, we grouped the girls in pairs. Here each girl had the opportunity to practice skating, and also assist in skating. It was amazing to witness the patience, determination and all-around fun the girls had. At the end of our group lesson each girl demonstrated what she had learned on her skateboard for everyone to see. We were all able to cheer the girls on and offer them our support.
After the lesson we circled up with the girls to talk about their experience. We listened, we laughed, we cried. Each girl had a unique perspective to share about how skateboarding affected their life that day. One girl shared that her parents don’t always support her when she wants to try new things and that today she got to feel the excitement in trying something brand new. Another girl shared her story about how her father who had died when she was younger, used to skate, and that skating with us and having other girl friends to skate with was the first time she felt close to him since his passing. And then there was a girl who said that she didn’t know a lot of these other girls prior to today and was grateful to have done this because she didn’t know that she could have so much fun with other girls. Hearing these girls talk made all of us extremely emotional, and extremely blessed to have been given the opportunity to make a difference in these girls lives.
On Day Two we returned to Espacio Migrante, the migrant shelter we had visited on our first trip to Tijuana in February, 2019. The families and children at this specific shelter have traveled from all over in efforts to seek asylum in the US, most of them having traveled far from Honduras. Since our first trip, the leader of the shelter embraced skateboarding as an activity for the children. She let us know that it helps kids with productivity and gives them a sense of belonging. We were happy to notice that some of the skateboards we had donated to the shelter previously were still there and getting a lot of use.
Our skate lesson differed from that of the girls in the middle school as most of the children were under the age of 8, with some even being infants. We brought new boards and taught the basics as best we could. Our main mission with these little kids was to help them just feel like kids again and have fun. Within moments, the kids were rolling on their bellies, kick pushing and creating fun racing games with one another.
Since returning to Venice Beach we’ve received an abundance of messages from both groups saying that they’ve kept up the skating and the positive influence that its made in their lives. It is amazing to see what something as simple as a piece of wood with wheels can do for a child’s life. All of us in GRLSWIRL felt this sense of freedom, accomplishment and empowerment when we started to skate and so beautiful to be able to share that with others. We approach our mentorships with a purpose to teach these children and change their lives but in the end it’s also changing our lives just as much. Working with these children has shown us our privilege in what we have physically and emotionally. Their smiles and courage taught us how much strength there is in a smile. Listening to the middle school girls talk about the issues they face day to day opens our eyes to the realities beyond our front door. Our goal in these mentorships is to create a safe space for girls and children to be themselves, to learn and express. We left achieving this and are excited to see them progress and excel in life.
It was an incredible experience and we couldn’t have done it without the support of so many people. With OLD PAL as our sponsor we were able to bring three Grlswirl community volunteers for the first time, one TJ local volunteer/location producer, Libertad and an amazing content team, Maria and Ethan. And we cant forget Chris Ramos, a local from South Bay, CA, who surprised us with the news that he had collected over fifty full skate decks for us to donate to the kids. We cannot thank OLD PAL and Chris enough for their support, and wouldn’t have had the experience we did without our amazing team: Libertad, Mini, Ash, Penny, Maria, Ethan, Lucy, Lindsey, Myriah, Monroe and Tobi.