LMU sponsors eight or nine "alternative breaks" every year. These global service trips are designed to immerse students in social justice issues in order to better form them according to the Jesuit mission of forming men and women for others.
I applied to go to India over this past Christmas break. The two-week trip centered on interfaith dialogue, which is what I (perhaps) hope to study in grad school. What I learned later from the Center for Service and Action is that 50 senior women applied for this trip, i.e. I wasn't placed on it. Rather, I was placed as a co-leader to the East LA trip.
I openly shared with my group how initially disappointed I was. Rather than solidify my passion for ecumenism, I was going into gang territory. I imagined telephone poles, baggy jeans and spray paint instead of colors, chants, and prayer. I became more disappointed when I found that all but one of the participants initially placed on our trip had canceled (shout-out to Trevor! Ain't you the lucky one!). Who wants to go to East LA? A week-long service immersion 30 minutes from LMU? I didn't blame them. Instead, I psyched myself up with wishy-washy expectations--yay, I get to practice my Spanish. Yay, I will learn about conflict resolution. Yay, the pressure of leading is totally off because virtually all the participants knew more about Dolores Mission, where we spent a week, then I did. I resigned to a low-key and fun trip.
I haven't the words to express what happened to me in East LA. The closest I can get is to say that my heart is broken.
I'd never felt that before. No one and nothing has ever entered me that deeply and then crumpled me. Because I can't seem to process this feeling in blog form, I'm reverting to my journal entry after visiting Skid Row and Juvenile Hall:
My heart is broken. By the young men...the boys...of juvenile hall. I can't stop to think about it too long without crying, shivering, hurting for them.
They all wore ragged gray sweatshirts, loose navy sweats, gang tattoos, buzz cuts. Victims of a system with no escape. What I remember most--what hurts the most--is their eyes. No longer were they sexy Mexican/Chicano bad boys, nervous and smiley at the prospect of talking with a 21-year-old college gringa. That was my stereotyping, my imagination. No, they were terrified children, huddled in the sterile dark, the cold lights of the linoleum room, searching, begging for the good of the world. Is there any?, they often wonder. I desire more than anything to bring it to them.
"God will forgive me no matter what, right?"
Dear Roberto, José , and Ezekiel,
You have pierced my soul. I am in awe of you. I thank you. I pray for you at court today, Eze, though I have little faith to offer. My heart is broken for you, and I never want to forget that. I want to heal it with love. I will fight to remain afloat for your sake, to bring sunshine into fear, so that broken hearts may still rise.
I wrote that post while bawling. My amazing group huddled around me. Emmy rubbed my shoulders and said, "Okay, your heart is broken. How are you invited to rebuild it?"
This story does not end sadly. At least, mine doesn't. Deseo mas que todo que los muchachos de juvy se sientan lo mismo.