Entry by Matice Moore
Pedro and Tuburico were both kind and warm as they stood in front of a map of Guatemala in the dining room of our Antigua residence, the 16 or so of us affiliated with the Changemaker cohort all sitting around a long table in heavy finely crafted chairs. Once we did a quick introduction of the whole group, Pedro (or maybe Tuburico) began to talk. He described the current relationship between the indigenous people of K’iche’, the land, and the government, pausing only so that Carrie, the staff member from Sister Parish, could translate to English how he described lawmaker’s lack of respect for the interests, will, and livelihood of the people, and the literal exploitation of their ancestral lands by numerous mining companies.
When they both finished we were full of questions about how they managed to organize more than 11,000 people, and other aspects of the struggle to protect the land. However, Carrie indicated that we were almost out of time and our session was intended to be more of an exchange. Tuburico’s (or maybe Pedro’s) question to us was about whether or not we’d ever heard about the situation in Guatemala and whether or not we knew of similar struggles. The conversation then shifted to us speaking in tight paragraphs about shady land deals and displacement in San Francisco, Oakland, Arizona Cambodia, Korea, Ghana, and Kentucky, punctuated with the space Carrie needed to now translate to Spanish.
We would only know Pedro and Tuburico for today’s presentation and the two meals they shared with us, but this moment of comparing similar experiences felt deeper in some ways than some of our previous stops at projects. Earlier in the trip, at the House of the Migrant, a number of us struggled to stay awake through a translated presentation from the director (or the organization’s coordinator?) in the humid tropical heat of the late afternoon.
Which by day 7 of this trip, leads me to wonder about the quality and purpose of the immersive education experience. Two nights ago it was explained to us that the intention of the Changemaker program is to build a theology from the ground up and to increase our ability to form new narratives that challenge those that dominate and oppress. And while I would not describe all of our encounters with communities and projects in Guatemala as short-lived or superficial, I’m writing this post on only the 2nd time we’ve stayed in the same city for two nights in a row. On this day, I watched a cohort member move closer to an exhaustion-induced break down, and removed myself from the afternoon presentation of yet another group to take care of my own depleted energy and bodily issues. When I stepped back in at the end of a talk about government corruption, I realized I was catching the tail end of what was important and necessary work, but that these were more people who’s names I would not remember, and faces I probably couldn’t recognize now, a few hours later, if I passed them on the street.
I do not yet know how my personal theology and justice practice could ease the suffering of anyone here in Guatemala. Saying that we’ve made no deep connections to the people here would be dishonest, but those experiences have been marginal when compared to the number of brief presentations and numerous site visits that have dominated these 7 days. I am anxious that my presence here to be a passive learner does nothing to address the existing power structures, but rather perpetuates the neoliberal operations of most higher education institutions. Brilliant organizers like Pedro and Tuburico show up in a 90min presentation as living text books rather than full human beings. In these precious few moments of un-programmed reflection time, I’m moved to remember a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel, Paradise:
“You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn – by practice and careful contemplations – the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God-carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it.”
I am left wondering if the heart of so many spiritual traditions is learning how to be and express love, what does it mean for me and my own complicated relationship to power and privilege to have so many relatively brief encounters where I get the gist of the content but forget who was Pedro and which one was Tuburico? As the carousel of presentations flesh out my skeletal understanding immigration and central America, I do not know if my own exhaustion and frustration with being over scheduled and over-talked-at will obscure my ability to connect to and reflect on what I’m beginning to discern as the true questions I want to move closer to answering as we continue through this experience. In the margins of our big chunks of presentation time or travel, I am learning and practicing love by showing care for others so that we can stay as present as possible. But for me to move love from the margin to the center of this experience, to extend it beyond on our group to the people we came to meet, I need reflection time and relationship building to be considered serious aspects of the learning experience. I am left with these questions: how can I better relate to another’s struggle? How might I earn the privilege to love and serve the most marginalized and exploited of the world through the lens of Guatemala?