A Personal Spring Break Journey

May 9, 2016
Nestor Pimienta and Gaby Chavez
HDS students Nestor Pimienta and Gaby Chavez traveled to Mexico over spring break for a study trip. / Courtesy photo

When MDiv candidate Gaby Chavez visited Mexico on a student-organized study trek, she took a brief moment to send her mother the picture she had just taken with former Mexican president Felipe Calderon.

Then she tried not to cry.

Chavez received a lengthy, pride-filled reply from her mother. To Chavez and her family, the moment was more than just a meeting or photo opportunity—it was an affirmation of the journey and sacrifices her family made for a better life.

“I realized how privileged I was in my education at HDS, that it brought me to the point that my mother, who grew up in a war-stricken El Salvador (my family escaped the Civil War), could see me having opportunities that she could have never imagined,” she said. “It was an odd moment of realization of the crazy position I was in at the time, but also the realization that this opportunity could have never happened without my parents and the sacrifices they had made for me to get to this point. My education and my accomplishments are all for them.”

Gaby Chavez and Felipe Calderon
Gaby Chavez with former Mexican president Felipe Calderon / Courtesy photo

Chavez, as well as fellow MDiv candidate Nestor Pimienta, joined with about a dozen other students from Harvard Business School, the Graduate School of Education, and the Kennedy School, on a self-funded trip to Mexico during spring break. The purpose was to get an inside look at the way the Mexican government, corporations, and other organizations really do business.

According to Pimienta, the group met with the heads of political parties, media companies, and corporations for candid conversations.

“It’s a place where there’s really no transparency,” Pimienta explained. “I wanted to understand how they negotiate. I wanted to understand how they did anything in a place where it’s so dangerous to do anything.”

For Chavez, who wants to work with immigrant communities after earning her degree, her HDS education helped her process and reflect on the meetings the group took part in while in Mexico.

“I feel like being from the Divinity School allowed me to focus on the human aspects of the different issues the people we met with faced and trying to understand what motivates and inspires people,” she said.

Like Chavez, the trip also had personal significance for Pimienta.

Pimienta’s parents left Mexico and moved to the United States to start a new home about a year before he was born.

Nestor Pimienta and Mexican congress
Nestor Pimienta meeting with members of the Mexican congress. / Courtesy photo

“I don’t think I envisioned—or I don’t think my parents envisioned—that I would go back to Mexico and meet with the heads of all these political parties, and senators, and congress members. It was important for me, and for my parents, that I could tell them I appreciate their sacrifices. They left their home for me, and this is a testament to their sacrifice that I’m here at Divinity School and doing this,” he said.

He recalled telling his parents about a certificate of recognition he received from the Mexican government while on the trip. It was particularly significant because the Mexican congressman who presented him the honor was from the same state his parents had left years earlier.

“I told my mom and dad. They were happy for me. I think my mom cried,” he said. “It was almost like everything came full circle.”

by Michael Naughton