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Cuernavaca 2011: The Violence of Love

February 28, 2011

February 28, 2011 – Cuernavaca Service-Learning Trip Presentation

Sometimes words like “inspirational” and “life-changing” just don’t do justice for the true impact of an event upon someone’s life.  Such is the case for the participants in the 2011 Service Learning Trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico.  Eight Dominican University students had the opportunity to see Mexico in an intimate way and to reevaluate their ideas about poverty, education, opportunity, community, and priorities in life.  They were accompanied by Mack Olson, a high school senior, and DU staff Madonna Thelon, Jessica Mackinnon, and Ann Hillman.  I was lucky enough to hear about their experiences at a wonderful presentation called “The Violence of Love.”  This phrase comes from a saying of Oscar Romero, an amazing social justice advocate and priest from El Salvador: 

“The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, it is the violence of love.”

How cool is that?  Violent love – certainly an oxymoron, but true when lived out through active, effective social change.

The group from Dominican University stayed at the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development, which is abbreviated to “the CCIDD.”  They were able to meet Dominican sisters and to learn about the world around them through observation, immersion, and reflection.

These activities may give you an idea of what they experienced while in Cuernavaca:

Cuernavaca Quest – Teams of students explored colorful marketplaces and searched for items that a customer might buy while on a budget.  They discovered that meat is a rarity in the diet of low-income people because a piece of meat might cost a week’s wages!

La Estacion – This was the little village where they built bathrooms for two homes.  Actually, “La Estacion” means “the station,” and it is called this because the area actually was a train station at one time.  The students were directly immersed in the poverty, grunge, and unsanitary conditions of low-income people and their families.  Children played soccer and teen mothers carried their children through the cluttered streets lined with cinderblock, wood, and cardboard houses.  Running water is a rarity, making bathing and sanitation a true privilege.  Even so, the students saw smiles and willing help all around them in La Estacion.  These people had joy in their lives despite the desolation of their homes.

Mariachi Mass – Talk about experiencing the culture!  Check out the adorable picture of Megan with a Mariachi band.

Immigration Stories— At the presentation, one of the students declared that before the trip she thought she knew everything about immigration but was proven horribly wrong.  Every story about crossing the border is equally terrifying and heartbreaking.  Imagine crawling through the sewers for hours in an attempt to reach America, like one of the men who told his story.  For the opponents of immigration, I encourage you to think about the living and working conditions around you.  If you think employment is bad here, just imagine trying to find a job where the minimum wage might be $5 a week.

Artisans—These people sounded really awesome.  A group of artisans who were determined to make a living through their art created a little market for the students and told their stories about living and working in Mexico.  Isidro was one indigenous artisan who exuded humility, simplicity, and gratitude through his blessed smile. 

Botanical Garden – Despite the darkness of poverty and the pressures of life, Mexico was discovered to be absolutely beautiful, and full of color, life, and culture.  Here is a picture of the group at the Gardens.

Discussions about family values and expectations offered eye-opening insights into the lives of the people of Mexico.  In Mexico, education is free, but people must purchase uniforms and books.  Teachers often have at least one other job, so they are tired by the time they get to the classroom.  Additionally, a lack of teachers may cause some classes to be taught by recordings, which certainly does not create an ideal classroom environment.  With this in mind, education is not valued the same way it is in most of the USA.  Families often expect their children to work in order to bring in money for the family, but sometimes all the children can do is sell little items on the streets.  Children are not only seen as blessings to the family (family planning is not as strict as it is here), but also as potential sources of income, for the more members a family has, the more workers it has.  Even if one child can be given an education, imagine the feelings of that one child who has the opportunity to go to school while the rest of his or her family works difficult jobs. 

Because of their close observation of poverty and inequality, many of the students expressed anger about the conditions in Mexico.  Streams of speech about “corrupt government,” “militarism” “the gap between the rich and the poor,” and “no shoes for children” poured forth.  The searing injustice of the world enraged them, apparent in their biting tones and serious eyes.  Where was the “violent love” they hoped to preach?  Did the trip give them hope, or just anger?

Whereas my own preconceptions about Cuernavaca had been turned upside down by hearing these stories, I wondered what the people of La Estacion and the country of Mexico thought about the visiting Americans.  I was surprised to see smiles appear on all of the presenting students’ faces and to hear them use words like “grateful, generous, happy, curious, helpful, active, welcoming, humble, and eager” to describe the men, women, and especially the children of Cuernavaca.  It seems that the greatest lessons to be learned from the Cuernavaca service learning trip are not anger against poverty or violence against political injustice, but rather compassionate, perseverant striving toward social change.  These are not words of lofty idealism, I can promise you that.  Rather they are words of permanent commitment to justice in this lifetime.  Each of the students used this opportunity to kindle the fire of justice in her heart.  I truly believe this fire will spread through the violence of love in their lives.

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