Friday, March 29, 2013

San Jose, Community: Tuesday

By Freddy and Anthony

[As part of the San Jose immersion, students participate in a "Homeless Simulation" in an effort to learn as close to first hand as possible what a day in the life of a homeless individual in San Jose is like. This program is facilitated by Sacred Heart Community Service each year. The students are given a list of tasks that Sacred Heart staff have established as regular events in the lives of their homeless clients.]

We started off our day with Carol telling us not to shower or “do hygiene” and that we were gonna be homeless from 9 to 3. I’m pretty sure everybody was nervous in some way about how the day would go, not really knowing if we’d offend the people we met somehow, or even worse, if they’d just
ignore us all together.

When we arrived at Sacred Heart, Carol gave us a bin to choose “new” clothes from and only gave us minimal instructions and then literally kicked us out. We split up into groups of two: Barbara and Nova; Mark and I; Anthony and Michelle; Rawley and Andrea; Lauren, Heidi and Sachin.

Mark and I first checked off applying for a job by going to Southern Lumber Co. right next to Sacred Heart and then a small Mexican restaurant down the street. The lumber store had applications but no openings, and the Mexican restaurant had no applications and no openings and both were minimum wage.

Since Carol told us to not have breakfast too we had to figure out a place we could go to get a free meal. Our directions said to go to the Little Orchard Shelter, which the restaurant owner told us was only a mile down the street. When we got there though, they wouldn’t give us food because we weren’t in their program but we could sleep there for the night, so we were at least able to check off another item. But a new friend of ours, Peta Pete (“you won’t forget it”) came in the clutch and told
us that St. Anthony’s Cathedral (actually called St. Joseph’s) on San Fernando and Market served hot lunches around noon. We start walking out of Little Orchard after making a couple friends and hearing a couple stories and run into some old friends, Anthony and Michelle. We told them that Little Orchard didn’t have food and so from then on we joined forces and embarked on an epic journey to San Fernando and Market. On our expedition we took detours to ask for jobs at Geico, GameStop, McDonald’s, SubWay, and Mark at a Credit Union in his one of a kind outfit, a Jean
jacket, a women’s bucket hat and a garbage bag of cans and bottles.

As we collected bottles along the way,  we had dreams of Jack in the Box tacos filled our heads. We ultimately got $3.60 for our troubles at a local scrap metal shop, which I have no doubt in my mind was the most valuable $3.60 I have ever seen come out of an ATM.

One of the checklist items was to get a free ride from a bus driver, which was even harder for a group of four people on a busy Tuesday afternoon. Walking down Monterey, we decided that we’re going to ask the next bus where it goes and just bite the bullet and ask for a ride. Right away, a bus stopped next to us. I went up to its doors and asked the driver if the bus goes to San Fernando and
Market. He said it stopped a block short. Michelle asks the driver if the four of us could have a ride for free. And the nice guy almost has no choice but to tell us to hop on. We ended up all sitting together in the back after a couple stops and started reliving our adventures through the scrap yard, dumpsters, and our taco dreams.

Next to us, a man named Bill in his early thirties with glasses and wearing jeans, a button-up shirt, and pullover sweater seemed fairly interested in our conversation and asked what our stop was. We told him we’re going to get some food from the cathedral downtown. Apparently, he had the same stop for a doctor’s appointment at a nearby hospital. We started talking about all the services for homeless in San Jose and about our immersion program with Sacred Heart. He told us that he was actually homeless once in Contra Costa and on his first night he was so tired and just wanted to lie down so bad that he jumped into an empty dumpster to sleep. But 10 minutes later the cops showed up and told him to get his hands up and get out of the dumpster. They told him that neighbors reported him and he had to go somewhere else. He was so tired and desperate that he asked them if they could take him to jail for at least the night so that he could at least lie down, but since he hadn’t done anything illegal they couldn’t help him.

He was homeless for only a month, but he talked about how lucky we were to have each other, that our situation was only temporary and that the worst part by far for him was the loneliness he felt and the isolation he felt during that month. He ultimately decided that he wanted to help us out, and he offered to house us for the night. We told him that we could just sleep at the Little Orchard Shelter for the night, and he decided he at least wanted to accompany us to the cathedral and show us the way around. His story touched all of us and we kept talking to him more on the way to the church, but as we would later find out all of us were thinking the same thing: Oh crap, he misunderstood, he thinks were a quartet of actually homeless teenagers with nowhere to go and not in an immersion trip as
we told him.

When we got off the bus we thanked the bus driver like a hundred times for the free ride and all five of us walked to the church. Bill found out for us that they served lunch in a half hour at 1:30. We stood there for a second and then he finally asked us “What are you going to do after this?” A mutual feeling filled all of us because we didn’t want to lie to this incredibly nice man but also did not want
to make him feel deceived or betrayed. Mark ripped the proverbial band-aid off for us and told Bill that we were going back to school and then just restated everything he earlier said about our immersion trip and why were doing it. His face halted for a second and then the most honest expression of relief filled his face as he told us how happy he was that he didn’t have to worry about us. He was so genuinely happy for us, moving entirely past the misunderstanding of the situation and directly to how much he cared about us. As he was about to go he asks us to pray for him as we are about to go to bed that night, to which Mark asks about what specifically and he responds, “Strength.” Strength to move forward because even though he had food and a roof over his head now he was still alone and the loneliness was by far the worst part of it all. Our hearts reached out to Bill and Mark showed great initiative and started a pretty emotional 4-stop hug train. He left for his doctor’s appointment and we walked around the church thinking about this great person we’d just met which somehow led to us going on a tour where we learned how the windows were made red in the cathedral by being oxidized with a lot of gold. We then made our way back to Sacred Heart.

The rest of the day, all I could think about was Bill and how crazy it was that someone in his situation, who had been through hard times would just reach out to four people he had never met before and be so open about his past, his present, and about the strength he needed in his future. The fact that the man who was homeless was reaching out to us to help us in whatever way he could really sent the message home of community across to me more than anything I’ve ever done in my life.

LA: Fragile Futures

Fragile Futures

Sitting at the table with the kindergarteners coloring today I thought of Josh’s story. Josh was 14 when he started “gang banging” and another homie we talked to today was 7 when he started. That’s only a few years older than the sweet faces sitting next to me at the lunch table. While Josh talked I was reminded of how fragile we as humans are. Little Josh watched his step dad shoot up, watched him beat his mother and was kicked out of his house. In search of a family he found himself in a gang, full of resentment and anger, hurt, wounded and left yearning for love, acceptance and a home.

The kindergarteners at Asencion Catholic school, Josh when he was nine, myself and every other kid I know, all have these same needs. The need for love, safety, affection, security, family and a sense of home. And by some random luck I landed in shoes that afforded me the privilege that made having those things a little easier. As a white, middle class woman I was born into a set of advantages that have allowed me to get where I am today. The color of my skin, the place I was born and my parents background provided me with the ability to navigate the system, to receive a quality education, to make choices and demand my rights, to avoid being targeted by law enforcement and to have the resources and support I needed when life got rocky.

The thing is we are all fragile. Josh was so vulnerable when his world was crumbling around him. There was a point where my world was crumbling too. Addiction ran rampant in my family and somedays I wondered if it would tear us apart. But we had the resources to work through it. The money when someone needed to go to rehab, the prescriptions from doctors that we could afford that made those addictions legal, the family and friends to fill in when others couldn’t be there, the access to therapy to help us through it. Dysfunction is not exclusive to those who are less privileged, it just hits harder when there are not the resources and the masks to remedy or simply bandaid the situation.

Josh spent 29 years in prison starting when he was 16. When he was my age he had 22 years left ahead of him. He thought about if he would get to go outside and exercise that day, if he would survive the wrath of the “organizations” or gangs that existed inside the prison. He thought about missing his family. The unfair claim that put him there.

I worry about what graduation will be like. The year I will be spending in El Salvador next year. When and where Ill meet my future husband. What my kids will look like. How my life will play out. But in the last few days I have come to understand how privileged I am to have a future that is unknown and full of possibility. In Boyle Heights, in LA and across the globe so many kids do not have the privilege of wondering what their future will look like. Today another homie said “I never knew if I would make it to 16”. They talk about prison sentences of 10-30 years as if they are somewhat normal. We read a passage from Tattoos on the Heart that talked about homies who commit suicide by walking into enemy territory rather than putting a gun to their head. And we were again reminded of the concerns of so many 14 year olds- “will I die or will I go to jail”.

The fragility of human beings is so much more obvious in this context when rather than so many privileges providing stepping stones to success, they are fighting against the barriers society places in front of them day after day. Schools with less resources, parents who struggle to get good paying jobs, skin color that leave the police all too aware of their actions- they are fragile and have no safety nets. Safety nets become gangs, drugs and violence when the world is not on your side. As I sat with the kindergarteners today I felt both heart broken and hopeful. Heart broken at the reality they are fighting against. Yet hopeful that a school with a high success rate may be their out. Then we returned to Homeboy silkscreen and another homie told us about how some of his family calls him a sell out for leaving the gangs and again I was reminded of how fragile we all are.

We are all grasping for something. The homie at the silk screen and the kids and teachers at Asencion have focused that grasp on their faith. And something about it seems to work.

We are fragile and we need something more. We are searching for meaning, for love and for light. The homies and these young kindergarteners might not be able to find it in the people around them, their circumstances, the barriers they are facing- but so many of them seem to find it in God. Despite all the questions I and so many have- faith gives something to these people. To the homies, the teachers at Asencion, the families who are a part of Delores Mission and work through Christain Base Communities to meet the needs of their community. Their faith drives them and gets them out of bed in the morning. There is a sense of oneness in our need for something more in this community. People know we can not do it alone and there is no attempt to fake that we can. They don’t have the masks to cover it up and fake it so instead they turn to God to hold them. It is the most beautiful, strongest faith I have ever seen and so inspiring amidst such deep suffering.

So many of them don’t have a future of “it will get better” to hold onto like I do on rough days. But they do not deny that they need something, that they are fragile and vulnerable. So instead they place their faith in God- despite all the reasons to believe things WONT improve- they hold onto a hope that it will, that God, like Father G, is in their corner. Is suffering with them, going to immigration marches with them, in the midst of gang violence with them- and will love them unconditionally, protect them and help them find their way to that “it will get better” they have never even been able to dream about.

~Michelle Maddex

LA: Homeboys

Ryan Selewicz

(names changed)

We had just parked on an industrial side street in East Los Angeles. This was my
group’s next stop after a day working with students at a local Catholic elementary
school. The buildings on each side of the street had beautiful graffiti-esque murals
and the street itself was in desperate need of repaving. We looked for the Homeboy
Industries sign and when we found it, we walked towards the building we knew
must be their silk screen shop.

The Homeboy Industries silk screen shop is part of the non profit organization
founded by Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. that provides jobs for former gang members.

We were greeted by a man named Anthony. He introduced himself as a Sales
Manager at Homeboy Industries’ silk screening business. He started by telling us his

Anthony was pulled into a gang at the age of seven by his father’s side of the family.
Hearing this after spending a day with children at an elementary school really
brought this to life for me. I struggled to imagine one of the second graders I had
just been playing with out on the blacktop, participating in gang activity. Anthony
told us that had his first child at the age of fifteen and became a heavy drug user.
After spending four years in prison, Anthony realized he needed a change in his life.
His mom, who had met Fr. Greg while he was in prison, referred him to Homeboy

Anthony told us about how his job acts as a lifeline for him just as it does for all of
his colleagues by keeping them away from the harmful practices and people they
were once associated with, as well as providing a new family and the resources to
live a positive life. He shared with us that many of his former fellow gang members
were not supportive of the fact that he had left the gang to work at Homeboy, but
that it really doesn’t matter anymore. He has a new community.

Since our tour was during normal business hours, the shop was in the middle of
production. Anthony told us they’ve been known to fill an order for 3000 shirts
in half a day. They work together like a family. We made our way over to the silk
screen machines and were so excited to see that the shirts they were working on
were for “SCU Sustainability.” I already knew what Homebody Industries does
and that many organizations at Santa Clara University use them to print shirts, but
meeting the people who do the silk screening, seeing them in action, and hearing
about how this job has made such a difference for them and their families was
really powerful. I always see students wearing these shirts on campus. I’m excited
because now I know that whenever I wear one of my shirts or see somebody else
wearing a shirt from a Search retreat, or other on campus organization, I will
remember the stories from Anthony and the other homies, and how much their jobs
mean to them.

San Jose: Food Justice

Today we learned about food injustice and how difficult it can be for people in
poverty to find healthy food options. We went out into the community and surveyed
different food places, which mainly consisted of convenience stores. Seeing the
limited food options and the prices of healthy food versus unhealthy food was

definitely an eye opener. We were each given two dollars for lunch. We were aware
that unhealthy food options are cheaper and easier than produce and other healthy
options, but being put in this position made it much more clear to us. With limited
money, we found the realistic options were fast food or food from convenience
stores. Tomorrow we will be learning more about the importance of providing
healthy food options and the injustices around food in this community.

Borderlinks: Wednesday March 27, 2013

Wednesday March 27, 2013

Today we started off our day with a presentation from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). This is the first time that we heard from the “other” side of the immigration issue. The presentation broke down the different fields and aspects that make up HSI. We got more in to detail about the laws surrounding immigration as well as weapon/drug smuggling. As a group, we felt a bit uncomfortable with the language being used, especially since we’ve been learning about terminology and the power of language.

After the presentation, we went to the University of Arizona to visit the exhibit, “A World Separated by Borders”. It was a photo gallery depicting different aspects of migrating across the border. The gallery showed a very realistic view of what occurs daily and the emotions that many migrants feel/experience. One photo that struck us depicted a migrant showing off a tattoo of his baby girl that he is separated from. This photo really humanized what it means to be a migrant because we were able to put a face to it and a face to the issues that we have been learning about and discussing.

We then walked over to another part of campus where there was a sculpture, including a part of the old border wall. The sculpture had two metal people on both sides of the wall, pushing off of it. We were told that, when this was at the actual border, all four figures would be on the US side and then switched over to the Mexico side, periodically. It was very striking to us that all the four figures were on one side, we originally thought that two were on one side and the other two were on the other side. It was also very striking to see the sculpture on the university campus, signifying how prominent the issue is to the community.

We had the opportunity to see a documentary titled Two Americans which showed both sides of the immigration issue, specifically in Phoenix. The documentary was very eye opening and emotional. It led us, as a group, to question how we can get involved and contribute. It made us reflect on the laws, like SB1070, and how one group in power can really make all the decisions or affect the greater community.

We ended the day with making pupusas with Martha, a Salvadorian migrant. It was a great bonding experience for all of us and it lightened our emotionally draining week.

Borderlinks: Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
            We started off our day by reuniting the group (since we had spent the night in three separate home stays . We headed to the Sierra Club in Tucson to meet with Dan Millis to learn about the harmful effects that the militarization of the border has had on the border and its various ecosystems. From there, we went to the desert lands near Arivaca. Here, ready with trash bags and gloves and coated with sunscreen and packed with water, we went on a desert walk to pick up the belongings that migrants had abandoned along the migrant trail. We walked under 88 degree weather and after some ten minutes of walking, we began to see objects: water bottles, clothes, backpacks, backpacks, and more backpacks. The road began more rugged and as we walked on further, being scratched and coming close to falling onto edgy rocks, we came across underwear, bras, toothbrushes, Colgate toothpaste, and ruminants of what once used to be deodorant. We came across shoes, boots mostly, bent and without soles. Upon reaching a place where Dan suggested we stop, the large group began to pick up the articles that immigrants had left behind. There were more backpacks, clothes, many with brands worn by school children in the US. They were colorless, bleached by the sun and coated with dry layers of dirt. Under a thorny bush, we pulled a corner of the backpack only to find three or four backpacks more. There was also a Minnie Mouse diaper and a plastic pink hair clip small enough to belong to a child. We had walked less than half an hour and yet most of us were exhausted and thirsty.
            We returned to our air conditioned white vans carrying bags full of what had been the most vital possessions to the immigrants on that trail. In reality, we will never know what the people who travel these lands face. Our short-lived trip through that trail was evidence to us that the desert is unforgiving and what these migrants face is beyond explanation. We have a new found level of respect for the immigrants who come to this country looking for a better life.

New Orleans: Group with homeowners

A picture from today with the whole crew and Leroy and Leona who are the homeowners: