When I first got to Colorado I thought I was going to insanely miss the state I’ve grown up in-California. I love it there so much; the agriculture, the mountains, the hills, the beaches, the cities, the PEOPLE…everything! But coming here made me realize how maybe I shouldn’t be so biased about California. Every day that I drive to work I look to the west and see these beautiful mountains, and so much green whenever there aren’t buildings. I think I came at a perfect time because even though there have been hot some days, it doesn’t compare to the heat I would have endured if I was back home where it has been hitting high 90’s.
Now, I’m not just talking about aesthetics or the weather here, but the people as well. As much as I miss my friends and family everyone I have met have contributed to making me feel right at home and have taught me things they don’t even realize I value so much. At the Loretto Community, I have gotten a more well-rounded view of what the sisters here do. I’ve learned that the nun stereotype is SUCH a stereotype, they don’t have to wear a veil or habit anymore, in fact they haven’t had to since like the 70’s! They are like normal people, they aren’t praying all the time, but actually get out and practice their faith with the community. Although some of the sisters here are semi-retired they still find ways to get involved and as their mission says, they “work for justice and act for peace because the Gospel urges” them. On the days that I’m here, I eat lunch and dinner with some of them. I’ve learned about what they did before they settled down here, about their families, and just about their personalities in general. Some of them have a great sense of humor and like making the rest of us laugh. Overall, being around such wonderful women who have done amazing things makes me feel awe. One of the sisters I talked to yesterday she was telling me about how she was rare in the public education system because there aren’t a lot of religious men or women teaching outside of private schools. I hadn’t made that connection until she mentioned it. I had always gone to public schools before I got to Saint Mary’s, so I hadn’t even thought about that fact. That’s pretty admirable on her part. I’ve also spoken to other sisters who have enjoyed being in Latin America and have even picked up Spanish. I love that! I think it’s awesome when people actively learn a language, not just because they want to add it to their resume, but because they genuinely want to communicate and understand another culture.
It’s crazy how different cultures are. Coming here I hadn’t felt so foreign, even though I was born in California, and even though I speak English. I thought that after going to Saint Mary’s (a dominantly White school) I would have gotten used to feeling so…it’s hard to describe the feeling…but I guess just uncomfortable. It is a complicated feeling because I know people aren’t racist, no one dislikes me because I am brown skinned and grew up with a Mexican culture. It’s just hard to explain. But anyway coming here I’ve been surprised to find how little some people know about my culture. Something so simple to me, like tacos, is different to people here! I’ve tried to sort of make it a game to teach some of the people here about the traditions and foods that I’ve grown up doing and eating. So tacos…I’ve asked some people what they think tacos consist of. Typically I’ve gotten tortilla (yes), some sort of meat or protein (yes), salsa (yes), but then comes the most wrong ingredient: CHEESE. I don’t know how tacos have evolved to contain cheese! Any taco that has a tortilla, meat, and salsa should not have cheese. I like to call those Taco Bell tacos. Real Mexican tacos don’t have cheese or lettuce, they have onion, cilantro, and lime, that’s it. Anyway, through that random tangent on tacos what I’m saying is that it’s been something else being like the only Latina around here. At least at Saint Mary’s I had some people who totally got where I’m coming from. Being here has taken me out of my comfort zone completely, but that’s okay. I’m learning!
As I was telling one of the guests (Ben) at the Catholic Worker I have been involved in social justice events, and community service, but never with that population of people. I’ve learned about the food deserts in the area, like Oakland. I’ve learned about socio-economic struggles. I’ve learned about oppression, racism, and microagressions. I’ve helped teach ESL to those who wanted to learn English. I’ve spent time with older populations of people in Berkeley. I’ve known all my life about people who don’t have a place to call home, and it’s always made me so sad to think about it, which might be a reason I’ve stayed away from homeless shelters or food banks. It’s just not fair. How could there be so many people who don’t have basic necessities? Talking to Ben he told me me about how there’s a camping ban in Denver. He told me of how homeless people aren’t even allowed to sleep in the streets anymore. The point of it was to try to make people seek out shelters, but the problem with that is that they’re all full. He told me of how he is part of Denver Homeless Out Loud, http://denverhomelessoutloud.org/ , because he doesn’t believe this ban is benefiting the homeless population in Denver. Before moving in to the house, he was part of that population too, but even then was working to try to help others. That’s so admirable. And all the people that work there, Marcus, Kristen, Sarah, none of them get paid to be there. They all recognize the crappy things people go through and to me it seems like they’ve made it a point in their lives to simply be there with everyone else. The Catholic Worker is not a homeless shelter, it’s truly a home. Everyone works together to make things happen. Like this past week, it’s been stressful for them and Rob and Amanda (who came from another Catholic Worker until they find another place) to be working on construction in the kitchen. It was only going to be the roof, and more things started coming up. The electrical lines looked like they might be a problem, there was a point where the phone line got disconnected. Once we were done scraping and we were getting ready for dry wall the package we got was already half dry (meaning useless). But throughout all these hiccups everyone made it happen! They all knew it had to be done and worked around the unplanned events. I haven’t been there since Wednesday, but I am sure once I go back on Monday they will be right on track.
Another thing I recently learned is that the Catholic Worker house isn’t part of a 501(c) meaning if people donate , it won’t show up on their taxes like it does for the Salvation Army or other organizations. I’ve learned this makes it difficult to get people to sponsor anything. In high school I was president of a club called Renaissance that rewarded students for “academic excellence” and the only reason some of the restaurants or businesses would donate to us would be because it was tax exempt. But I guess that’s the point of the Catholic Worker, it’s not something you give to because it benefits you it’s so it benefits others.
Even though the Catholic Worker in Denver isn’t a 501(c) doesn’t mean they don’t get donation though. They do, but it’s not really enough. This is where “dumpstering”/ “dumpster diving” comes into play at the house. Apparently every Sunday night Marcus and I don’t know who else, goes in the truck to snag some food, or whatever else they can find. At first, it seems kind of gross right? Food that comes from trash! But guess what people, it’s not even really trash. It’s just stuff that stores didn’t sell, stuff that didn’t fit, stuff that “expired”. Most of it is alright condition. You all wouldn’t believe what treasures they’ve found. Anything from strawberries, to shampoo, to cookies, all packaged and sealed. It is ridiculous. So much stuff gets wasted, so much food. There are so many people going hungry and stores are throwing food away instead of giving it away. It makes no sense to me. They really aren’t liable for it once they give it away, so what gives? I watched the documentary called Dive and ugh, I just couldn’t believe it. But at least at the house we are saving money and saving the food that could have just rotted away in a dumpster. The only problem with that is that it’s kind of a pain having to go through all the food to make sure it’s okay. We don’t want people getting sick. And from the times I’ve been there, I haven’t gotten sick so I think they’re doing a good job of checking things.
Okay I should finish this up 🙂 In these (almost) two weeks I have been here I have learned how to live simply. I haven’t eaten out since like last Saturday, but that was only because Steven offered to buy me this Greek sandwich thing that I had never tried. It was delicious! I actually haven’t bought anything since I first got here, only used money on gas…that’s all I’ve needed. I’ve become more conscious of how my time should be spent here. Not alone or on my computer, but with people and just talking. I love getting to know people better, it’s made my time better here. Teaching others more about my culture has also been fun. Last week I taught Steven how to make tacos de papa (potato tacos), and pepino con chile (cucumber with powdered chile, salt and lime). So far I’ve gotten a huge sense of community everywhere, at the Loretto Community, at the Catholic Worker and of course with my host family. It’s beautiful.