November 15, 2023
By: Sofía Mulholland Cerkvenik

A Road and A Wall

A Road and A Wall - Photo

We can’t control how we enter this world. We can’t choose where we are born, or who births us.

And yet so many of us take great pride in where we are from — maybe that means where we were born, or where we grew up. I am grateful for both of those places. I was born in Lima, Perú, adopted as a baby, and grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. From the very beginning, my worldview was a wide one, because I was raised with the knowledge that I was from two very separate places and that was something to celebrate.

My childhood was spent in Saint Paul, and as an adult I have made my way back. When I think of Saint Paul, I think of going to school with my sisters, crunchy fall leaves and freezing Halloween nights, snow days and tornado drills, and endless summers spent swimming in Minnesota lakes.

I am so glad to have spent time in my birth country. Studying abroad, traveling, and working in Perú has been a gift. When I think of Lima, I think of cloudy winter days and a blue-green ocean. I think of chicha morada (warm purple corn drinks) and buying snacks on the Metro line. I think of running on the coast in the sunshine of summertime, watching people surf, and fruit vendors sell.

When I think of my hometown of Saint Paul, I can’t help but think of the highway. Less than a mile from where I grew up, I-94 cuts across the Rondo neighborhood. In the 1950s and 60s, the construction of I-94 split the vibrant Rondo neighborhood in two. According to the MN Historical Society, one in eight African Americans in St.Paul lost their home to the new I-94. A tale as old as time, this story has repeated itself across the United States — governments using modern infrastructure to divide diverse communities. 

Thirty years later, my parents and community members kept the neighborhood’s memory alive through stories. They helped us understand that we were living next to a community that had gone through immense challenge and change.

When I think of my birth city of Lima, I can’t help but think of the wall. 

In the capital city of Perú, el Muro de la Vergüenza, or Wall of Shame, is a physical barrier between the districts of La Molina and Villa Maria del Triunfo. These two districts share a hill on the east side of the city. The wall provides a stark contrast between the districts of La Molina and Surco, with a high socioeconomic status, and the districts of San Juan de Miraflores and Villa María del Triunfo, with a low one. Houses with sprawling lawns, swimming pools, and paved streets are set apart from homes made with sheets of metal and wood, dirt roads and no running water. The Wall has been a subject of books, movies, and community conversation. 

While some argue that the wall is a right for private property owners, many see the wall as an enforcement of class divide.

El Muro de la Vergüenza (American Quarterly, 2022)

To add another layer to the story, the housing on the hills intercepts the lomas, or fog oases. This beautiful and rare plant formation can be found in Perú and northern Chile. In the foggy winter months, the coastal deserts are covered in rich vegetation including many endemic species. The natural landscape and communities have suffered as instances of invasion and land trafficking have occurred in the area, urbanization continues to swell the population, and climate change disrupts the fragile ecosystem.

Lomas de Pamplona in San Juan de Miraflores (

Lomas de Paraiso (

We can’t control how we enter this world. We can’t choose where we are born, or who births us. And yet so many of us take great pride in where we are from. 

In the recent year I have been glad to see efforts to improve the infrastructure that is dividing the communities I love. The bridge that crossed I-94 near my home went under construction and is back in operation with larger sidewalks to try to facilitate more pedestrian movement from both sides of the highway. This year, parts of the Wall of Shame were destroyed in Lima following an order from the Constitutional Court. 

There are local efforts to conserve the lomas in Perú, including community groups educating the public on the importance of the plant formations and advocating for local government to protect the land. Additionally, the construction of protective pathways and fog catchers to provide as much water as possible to the plants.  Despite these changes, the division and damage still remain.

We can’t control how we enter this world; what side of the highway or the wall we exist on. I grew up being taught that I was connected to these different places, and that I should be proud. I care about climate change because I care about myself and I care about you. This is my climate story. We are all connected. Right?

So it was confusing to me to learn and see ways that modern infrastructure is dividing people instead of connecting us. Historically and contemporarily, we as people have access to so much knowledge and so many tools that should be able to help us collaborate and create a healthy world. 

But I have learned that there are far too many examples of self-betrayal — actions that ultimately hurt others and ourselves. What if we use modern technology and prior knowledge to take care of our planet, instead of dividing us? To best care for the planet, I am excited to learn, grow, and act. I am excited to be able to facilitate learning, growth, and actions with my students. Why don’t we all do that together?

Sofía Cerkvenik

Sofía Cerkvenik is a social studies educator and sports equity activist in Saint Paul. Sofía was adopted from Lima, Perú and grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She received her B.A. in History with a minor in Asian Languages and Literatures and her M.Ed in Social Studies with an emphasis on Social Justice at the University of Minnesota. Sofía believes that exploring various windows and mirrors in the classroom is imperative to establish greater understanding, empathy, and action among students. Sofía has had an opportunity to do just that through various study abroad experiences including the US Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program, participating once in Dalian, China and once in Changchun, China, as a Fulbright Research Scholar in 2022, and this winter as a COP28 delegate.

Sofía is a Climate Generation Window Into COP delegate for COP28. To learn more, we encourage you to meet the full delegation and subscribe to the Window Into COP digest.