2.19.2008

Older and Wiser

It’s not every month that National Geographic makes me cry. The February issue’s article, "Mexico’s Other Border,” did.

I lived for a few months along that border. Three months in Tapachula, four months in Motozintla, separated by three months in Oaxaca, a little farther north.

Near the beginning of my stay, when I first became aware of the complications of the southern border crossing, the ten year old daughter of a Mexican family I stayed with told me the bad joke, “Salieron de Guatemala, vuelven a Guatepeor.” I hadn’t thought about how this other border had similar issues as the US-Mexican border. She already knew that people were trying to sneak across into Mexico because life was even harder just south of her city.

Later, while I was living in Motozintla, one of the Mexican agronomists who worked with the parish-organized cooperative of organic coffee farmers was arrested and beaten by the police on some pretext of drugs. After a few days, he was freed because the bishop intervened. I don’t know the details of the negotiations. But we were all frightened by the incident. It wasn’t the only one. Other local grass-roots leaders had worse stories to tell.

Part of me just cringes when I think of how lucky I was in that year. About how many stupid and careless and dangerous situations I got myself into. But I was young, idealistic and naïve then. Really naïve.

Now I turn to face the same situation as an older woman. More realistic. More afraid.

But once you’ve been in a place of misery, you never forget. Although some people try very hard. Others dedicate themselves to doing something about it.

How will I do something about it? How do I face the frightening realities without cringing? What responsibility does my lucky self still have? Since I escaped robbery, rape, death, with my intelligence, my mental health, my physical health intact, how will I use them to serve other people who have not been so lucky?

I was given, by the grace of God, the opportunity to be touched by that experience. It helps me to remember that I don’t have to solve all the problems of the world, but I can focus on the issues that are related to this experience.

I left Mexico to go back to college, to finish my degree. I said to myself at the time, I can’t throw this opportunity away. I have to take advantage of my opportunities so that I can become a better ally, a better advocate.

18 years later, I may finally be ready. How? Where? I don’t know.

In the meantime, I got that degree. I learned to think about the situation of very poor people and their governments from various angles. I worked with very poor families native to my own country. I had my own children. I got grounded in a faith tradition and a marriage.

Lately, I have been serving as a translator/interpreter for the monolingual Spanish-speaking parents at my children’s fancy private school. It’s the least I can do.

I should ask my friend Kat how I could volunteer with CARECEN. I should look into what organizations for Latin American immigrants are here in SSF and surrounding communities.

Here’s what I can offer:
I can do any level of office work, from project management to budget development to data entry to taking the garbage out.
I can cook, sew, shop, drive, babysit.
I can accompany people to office visits.
I can read, write and speak English and Spanish.
I can pray.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Soo Eun said...

You forgot one thing else you (we) can offer:

Friendship

It's so simple. This is why diversity is the think I keep hammering back to.

2/20/2008 5:28 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Allison, friendship is a good thing to offer. I can certainly offer friendliness. And respect. And kindness.

But I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that true friendships across more than one social barrier (say race AND class) are,
not impossible,
not unworthy of trying for,
but rare.

Simply because, in my experience, someone in the relationship is going to feel uncomfortable so much of the time, for one reason or another. Not intentionally but in fact.

Let me be clear that, for me, this falls in the category of sad but true. It takes a major uniting force to hold two people together long enough for a true friendship to form if they don't start with some simple commonalities.

Does your experience show you differently?

2/20/2008 11:21 PM  

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