Edith Avila Olea of Joliet, Ill., receives the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award during the June 10 spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review) See story to come.

The Cry of a Brown Person in the Aftermath of this Election

by Edith Avila, November 16, 2016

Like millions around this world, I’ve been going strong on the struggle bus. For me, there are several reasons as to why I have felt such darkness, but it wouldn’t be honest of me if I didn’t share that a great portion of that has come from our last election.

For years now, we, as a people, have lived through what I would call a traumatic experience due to the type of campaigns that were conducted. Like you, perhaps, I found myself in a tough spot. As a Catholic, I couldn’t comfortably support either of the candidates, and it cost me a great deal of peace.

Fast forward to the outcome of last Wednesday.

Allow me to share my experience of November 9th, the day after the election. Like any decent Catholic, I thought, I’ll go to mass to offer these negative emotions and find rest.

Until then, not a single tear had dropped. Well, I cried the entire celebration.

Two pews behind me, there was an older gentleman talking throughout the entire mass. He was celebrating our new President – elect. During the Sign of Peace, he waved, “It’s a wonderful day,” over and over again.

My reaction: sobbing tears.

After more prayer, I walked outside to overhear a conversation with the pastor and a few of his parishioners. I’m not confident in saying that they were celebrating, but they were at least talking in a positive tone, both in body and verbal language, of the outcome.

My reaction: sobbing uncontrollably in my car.

That’s when I realized that it was going to be four tough years ahead because I’m called to love, especially those who have hurt me. Of this commandment, I found myself extremely stressed.

I have never felt more isolated, more persecuted, or more betrayed in my life.

For clarification: my grave concern isn’t that Trump or Clinton hurt me; it was that my own brothers and sisters hurt me. It was after all, people who placed them as the top runners. It is the White, Evangelical Christians and Catholic vote that gives me the greatest pain and fear.

I sat in mass thinking, how can we as a Church be so divided? When did we become a one-issue Church? And why does it feel like I’m choosing a side, when I never saw myself as that person – I only saw myself as Catholic.

It’s my expectation to not fit in the world – I never thought that I would not fit in my own Church.

It’s foolish to think that we stand united when we are surrounded by advocates, church leaders, and pastors persuading people how to vote, and then celebrating the outcome.

It insinuates that we are lacking the ability to feel our brother’s and sister’s fears, pain, and being.

Thus, I find myself completely and utterly at a loss of words or a desire to fight. I don’t know how to move forward. I only know what I feel – I only know my story.

Perhaps if each of us took the time to truly hear each other’s story we would be more empathetic, we’d be more aware, sensitive, and caring. Out of my love for all my brothers and sisters, born and unborn, I’d like to share a glimpse of my story because love must triumph. My hope is that those who do not understand my grave sadness and despair might have their hearts softened hearing the story God has allowed me to live.

My story is one of both love and deprivation.

When I was a little girl, I used to avoid the sun because I didn’t want to get darker. I wanted to be white because I wanted to fit in. In fact, up until college, I worked very hard to fit in with the Anglo community. It hasn’t even been 10 years since I started learning how to love myself.

Growing up, my mother and father worked one, two, or three jobs. My grandmother became my second mom. In the beginning, my dad walked from one job to another to another. And my mother worked up until the day before most of her seven births.

I haven’t seen my grandma in nine years. I lost my grandfather in high school; I only met him twice; and could not go to the funeral. My other set of grandparents, I’ve only met twice. I have 8+ sets of uncles and aunts, 15+ cousins that I have not seen in 11 years. My mother and father haven’t hugged their own parents or siblings in 11 years. My relationship with most of my family is broken simply because we cannot see each other. We cannot relate to each other. It’s not because we don’t desire it or because we hate each other – that would be very contrary to the Latin culture, it is because they live across the border.

If you know about the current immigration system, you know that, contrary to popular opinion, it has never been easy to apply for documentation. It’s a waiting game. A waiting game filled with anxiety.

In my family, our children are all scared of the cops because we know that they may take us from our parents.

In my family, our children don’t know another homeland. We can barely speak our native language because the American culture demands that we strip ourselves of our native identity. To fit in, we are forced to learn and accept the current system of deprivation.

I lost count the number of times one of my family members has been pulled over for driving without a license. Despite the number of times, with every single phone call, my stomach falls, my heart skips a beat. I wonder when was my last interaction with them? I think of my cousins and we all sit in silence with each other. We rally because we are all we have in this country. The last time one of our uncles was pulled over was in August in Georgia. The bail was $10,000. The family and local community of us pulled our piggy banks together and rallied for him. He’s out. But now, he has a pile of increasing debt for driving with a tail light that went out during that one drive. Oh, and his children were in the car with him when it happened.

In my family, documented and undocumented, we are all scared all the time, but we say our prayers and live our lives. In my family, we are afraid to think that any of our family members in our native land may pass away because we will not be able to visit them to say goodbye. Two days after last year’s Thanksgiving, my 10-year-old niece lost her father due to the drug cartel. Three men were murdered in my hometown that night, all of which had relatives living in the U.S. None of them were able to go to the funeral.

As Catholics, we have the tradition of praying a Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe after someone passes away for the eternal rest of his/ her soul. I lost count of how many novenas we have prayed over the last three years – at least 15.

In my family, we stand by each other no matter how much we might fight from time to time because we understand that it’s us against the world.

In my town, I have met brilliant, 4.0 GPA, undocumented students; some who have discontinued their education after high school because of fear and disbelief in the system. These students see walls every day without people having to build them.

In my home parish in Georgia, there have been countless experiences of racism between the Anglo and Hispanic community. Within the last 10 years, we were forbidden to use the same microphones. Even today, we, the brown people, are still not allowed use of all their, the white people’s, equipment. For our Christ Renews His Parish retreats, we are not allowed to use the parish kitchen so our moms cook everything in their homes for the retreaters. Two years ago, the parish had a bilingual, bi-cultural Christmas party. This Hispanic community’s assignment was cleaning after the event — assigned by the pastor. Our people didn’t even attend the party, but our leaders showed up at the very end to make sure the church was clean for Sunday masses. I could go on and on and on.

I could also ask my family to make a list; every single person of all ages would have a racial experience. We have all bawled; we have all felt hopeless; we have all felt fear; All due to the color of our skin, our ethnicity, and culture.

Today, I go through seasons of great anxiety, panic attacks, severe insomnia, depression, self-doubt and (especially today) despair. People seem to always be surprised by my list of troubles. And they wonder why.

Brothers and sisters, all I ask is that you don’t dismiss the reality of today. Just because your life goes on the same doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone else. Believe me, you likely have neighbors right down the road to your home, work, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants who will be affected by your action or silence. The fear that people are living with is real and valid. Do not dismiss this anguish. Acting like it’s not important will only push us into a deeper separation and desperation.

Christian brothers and sisters, we have a moral duty to make a preferential option for the poor and marginalized. I don’t believe a utopia will ever exist, for we would have to be in heaven, but I do believe that brotherhood and community is possible today. I also believe we must strive and work towards it.

Over the last few nights, I’ve had nightmares. I’ve cried nearly every day. My heart is on my sleeve for not just my own personal fears, but for the fears of my brothers and sisters who carry heavy crosses.

I can empathize because I have experienced my own walk.

I implore you; we cannot forget that we belong to each other.

The longer that I’m here, the more I look forward to leaving this Earth. I fit less and less. I’m neither from here or there, literally. I long for my eternal home, but until then, I will be here, fully present to the cry of those who suffer from injustice.

I don’t have a solution. I don’t have all the answers. And my story is not unique. In fact, mine is the story of millions in this nation.

I only have my voice, my faith, and my life. I don’t fully know or understand my need to write this, but I felt compelled to say something because silence has never been the solution. To let others decide how the poor and marginalized will be treated is to fall to sin and prolong injustice.

If our only mission in life is to love, then love demands action. If Mother Teresa would have simply prayed for people to save each other, her life would likely not be the legacy it is today. Her love of the Lord led to action. If Blessed Archbishop Romero would’ve simply prayed for the violence to stop, he would have never faced the accusations he lived through and likely, he’d be alive. His love of the Lord, of His people, led him to be the martyr we pray through today.

The hate and division in our society cultivated in this election is offensive and personal. I cannot, will not, compromise my faith to appease such a vote. My fear is not nonsense and useless.

To share my story is to love.

I don’t have a lot. I only have my faith, the promise of heaven, and the communion of saints.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, you appeared to an afflicted Mexican nation used and abused by the Spanish, hear my cry.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, beloved by those hurting greatest in the world, hear my cry.

Blessed Romero, hero of the afflicted by violence and economic injustice, hear my cry.

Dorothy Day, defender of radical Catholicism in a culture of increasing secularism, hear my cry.

Jesus, Lord, you who converted the heart of St. Paul, convert us all daily, hear my cry.

Dios te salve, Reina y Madre de misericordia, vida, dulzura y esperanza nuestra, Dios te salve. A ti clamamos los desterrados hijos de Eva. A ti suspiramos gimiendo y llorando en este valle de lágrimas. Ea, pues, Señora, abogada nuestra: vuelve a nosotros esos tus ojos misericordiosos. Y después de este destierro, muéstranos a Jesús, fruto bendito de tu vientre. Oh clemente, oh piadosa, oh dulce Virgen María. Ruega por nosotros, Santa Madre de Dios, para que seamos dignos de las promesas de Cristo. Amen.

 

Edith Avila Olea is an active young adult Catholic. She works as the Parish Outreach and Board of Young Professionals Coordinator for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet. In 2015, she was awarded the Cardinal Bernardin’s New Leadership Award given by the United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops at the summer Bishop’s Assembly. The summer of 2013, she interned for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the Office for Human Dignity at the Diocese of Joliet.

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Freedom: A Restorative Justice Reflection

by Dr. Christie Billups

Acts 16:25-26

About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.

Prayer:

God of Freedom and Hope, try as we might, we cannot always imagine the journey of another person, and sometimes we don’t even want to.  What does it feel like to be accused falsely, arrested, tortured, and executed?  It hurts me to know that You actually endured this through Your Incarnation.  I may not know someone personally who has been confined to a 6’ x 9’ jail or prison cell, but I know and love You, and I cannot believe that this is how You would want us to treat anyone else, even those who may have made grave mistakes.  Help us to see every detained or imprisoned person as a sister, brother, daughter or son, and call us to ask ourselves and our legislators, “What is the right and just thing to do?”  For all of those serving time, for their victims, and for the family members of both, bless them with transformation, healing and grace, and ultimately, grant them true freedom one day, found only in You.  In God’s Loving Name, we pray.  AMEN

Reflection: (The words of Pope Francis interviewed in The Name of God is Mercy,  2016)

I have often said that the place where my encounter with the mercy of Jesus takes place is my sin.  When you feel his merciful embrace, when you let yourself be embraced, when you are moved – that’s when life can change, because that’s when we try to respond to the immense and unexpected gift of grace, a gift that is so overabundant it may even seem “unfair” in our eyes.  We stand before God who knows our sins, our betrayals, our denials, our wretchedness.  And yet he is there waiting for us, ready to give himself completely to us, to lift us up.

Action:

Take 30 minutes a week, and write to someone who is incarcerated.  Companions, Journeying Together, Inc., a local organization (www.cjtinc.org), is seeking individuals to start or join existing pen pal groups.  In these groups each person has their own pen pal, but can share their experiences with others.  Companions Journeying Together offers training, a post office box to use as a return address, and continuing support to answer all of your questions.  For more info contact Jana@cjtinc.org