“Sólo le pido a Dios
Que lo injusto no me sea indiferente”
-Words to the song “Solo Le Pido A Dios” by León Gieco
A pile of books sits on the little table in my room. Some things still aren’t so different from back home. However, the titles and content betray a different place. Oscar Romero’s “The Violence of Love”, Che’s “The Motorcycle Diaries”, “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” a book on the relationship between Latin American politics and fútbol, “Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano, the Zapatista’s “Fourth Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle” in Spanish, “¡Ya Basta!” another book on the Zapatista uprising, “Our America” by José Martí, John Perkins “Confessions of an Economic Hitman”, a book on integral liberation theology, and somehow a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories all lay beside the bed in various stages of completion.
Day to day life here isn’t beaches, jungles, and traveling as some pictures might be indicating. This list of books is a better reflection of what I have been engaging in. In some way they all mirror the issues and topics we have been miring ourselves in through readings, class discussions, films, and speakers.
Its heavy stuff. We learn about the damage neoliberal policies have brought to Latin America, about liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor, about La bestia de hierro, the death train that takes Central American immigrants through Mexico in the often futile hope of finding something better in the US. We learn of the Mara gangs in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. We learn about voluntourism and the good intentions of North American short term missions that so often satisfy the desire to help but don’t actually realizing justice. We learn about how so often we fail to live out a Christian life and misunderstand the difference between justice and charity, between helping and “helping”, between tourism and learning, between volunteering and sacrificing.
I realize this might not be much of an explanation but at this point this is almost as much a place to organize my thoughts as to inform you friends and family back home of what I am doing. In the same way I use “we” to refer to myself and fellow students. I leave you to decide if you want to apply that pronoun to yourself.
Yet I’m grateful for an upbringing and education that didn’t hide these things from me. But its one thing to learn about them in an insulated, distanced manner, when its easy to hide it if you don’t want to see it, and another thing altogether to face the people and places who know these things as a part of their life and have the justification to point their finger at me and I don’t have a choice but to lower my eyes. What have I done to perpetuate the injustices I speak of? “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
In one of our discussions yesterday a teacher posed the question if we had known the challenges to our worldviews and ways of living this experience would have posed if we would have come. Everyone answered “yes” but it wasn’t the “yes” of happy North American students in the excitement of studying and creating memories in a new and exotic place. It was the “yes” of students who realize they will go back to places and people and families that will not accept the new views and ways of seeing and acting they have adopted.
And yet I am grateful. I am grateful for this learning, for seeing and hearing things on this one way street that can’t be turned around to be unseen and unheard. And I am grateful for the people back home who realize this reality, this alternative understanding, who accept a truth that we live well not only while others live in poverty but BECAUSE others live in poverty. Perhaps its not so simple as that but its simply impossible for me to deny that we live in global system of injustice. And I know that I go back home to where there will be among friends and family those who have open ears and hearts to this. My heart goes out to my classmates who won’t have this, who will have to fight to be heard, to be realized, to not be passed off as “crazy”, “brainwashed”, “unpatriotic”, maybe even “communist”.
But maybe its not a fear of things changing that stands foremost for me, but a fear of things not changing. Its easy to sit here and write with a determination and zeal to see things change as life rides this unfamiliar wave of new realities while home is so far away. But I fear too that things that are so real now could be so easily forgotten upon return. And there are things that won’t change. The love of family, the companionship of friends, the beauty and enjoyment of Creation. And these things shouldn’t change.
But I will have failed my time here if something doesn’t change. LASP defines learning as its goal and learning defined as a change in behavior. Under this definition I want to realize that I have learned when I return. For here there is so little I can do but absorb this pounding surf of new realities and wait for the time when I can change something. It is an exercise in patience. Yet the definition of patience is legitimated by a change, by action. So when I return, I pray that things can change, that fears that this will have just been an idiosyncrasy in an untroubled line of my life will be unfounded. So I entreat you reading this to have open hears and helping hands and words of advice be they caution or encouragement. Let it be dialogue and action not blocked ears and shouts to silence as I know some of my friends may face. Please, be accepting to change, be accepting to action. Indeed “it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests – war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism – and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.” – Howard Zinn
1 John 3: 16 – 18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.