BY JACKIE SCHMITZ
But why was I born into a home of middle-class affluence and not in a barrio a few miles across the Mexican border?
As I reflect on my first few months as a Loretto Volunteer, there seem to be two themes that have an overflowing presence in my life: collective suffering and healing through community.
Why does suffering exist? And why is it that I was born into a position of privilege?
This past weekend, I joined a group of Loretto Community members traveling to Nogales, Arizona, a binational city cut in half by the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. We traveled to be present for the SOA Watch Border Encuentro, an annual protest against destructive economic, political, and military U.S. intervention in Latin America. SOA (renamed WHINSEC) is a program run by the U.S. military to train soldiers from Latin America in counterinsurgency tactics. The program was originally created to equip soldiers to uphold democratically elected governments and prevent communist takeovers. Since its inception, SOA has trained soldiers that have gone on to stage military takeovers, assassinate political leaders, and murder citizens who oppose them, often the poorest of the poor. Yet, the long list of human rights violations committed by graduates of SOA has not stopped the U.S. from continuing its program.
On Friday night, we participated in a gathering at the Eloy Detention Center to be in solidarity with the migrants currently being detained and the families who are separated from them. The sun was setting, painting the sky with pinks and oranges behind the massive expanse of concrete buildings. As darkness emerged in the desert, we wielded glow sticks and chanted in front of the gates of Eloy. As we chanted, “¡No están solos!” (You are not alone!), we could see the silhouettes of people standing in the lit windows of the second floor. One person flicked their lights on and off, signaling they could hear us. It was a chilling sense of presence.
When I think about the migrants, the humans, being detained at Eloy, I recognize that arbitrary chance is the only thing that separates me from them. If I were born in a country full of violence, political corruption, and few economic opportunities for me or my family, I know I would be exactly where they are. Wouldn’t you?
We’ve criminalized migration. We don’t provide a legal way for the poor to migrate to this country for economic opportunity. We let those fleeing violence slip through the cracks of the system and at the same time spend millions of dollars supplying Mexico with guns. We complain about the number of people crossing our borders, and yet, we don’t recognize the ways in which we are causing the problem.
Hearing these stories of human suffering can be overwhelming, but it’s necessary to listen. Often in the work for social justice, we find ourselves in an uphill battle to ensure the rights of our fellow humans. When we lose, it means that human dignity is not recognized. That’s a heavy loss to come to terms with. How do we keep hope?
I scratched this question in my journal a few weeks ago. Underneath those words, I drew an arrow pointing to the word "community". This is the second thing I’ve noticed my life overflowing during my time as a Loretto Volunteer. Loretto has taught me the power of community and the special sacredness of intergenerational community. More searching through my journal led me to a mantra: breaking need not be a breaking apart. To me, community feels like the bond that keeps my heart from breaking apart as it tears in the presence of human suffering.
Throughout the weekend at the SOA Watch, I was inspired to be standing next to Loretto women who have spent their lives being present to human suffering as they’ve worked for justice and acted for peace. That night at Eloy, I stood next to Sister Pat McCormick, a fellow Loretto, and her friend Sister Sheila. As we were motioned to move backward by guards in an attempt to dismiss our presence, I watched Pat and Sheila take one shuffle backwards and stop. There they were, two sisters holding the line and refusing to leave⎯-a powerful image of community. And while I stood at the front of the line next to Pat and Sheila, I knew behind me in the midst of the crowd, other Lorettos were there with us even when I couldn’t see them through the darkness.
I am thankful for those like Pat and Sheila who have paved the way for me to join in at the front of the line. And, I am thankful for those who have stood among the crowd supporting me through it all, whether I could see them or not. Community takes all shapes and sizes. Community helps me as I grapple with the questions of human suffering and my own privilege. Ultimately, community is necessary for hope.
Jackie Schmitz is from Des Moines, IA and graduated from Saint Louis University in 2017 with a degree in Neuroscience and Public Health. She loves camping, hiking, and traveling. You can most likely find Jackie wearing thrift shop clothes and spending time in coffee shops. Jackie will be spending the year working with Missouri Health Care For All in St. Louis as a community organizer and advocate for healthcare accessibility.
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