This was my second time attending the Summer Conference of BPFNA ~ Bautista por la Paz, which was held in Misión Mazahua, San Felipe del Progreso, México from July 17-22, 2017. There were many international entities represented in the conference program, but the three that challenged me the most were the seminaries. The moment that impacted me most was when the Seminario Bautista de México showed a YouTube video of La Patronas, a group of Mexican women who make food out of their own resources to help feed those immigrants that ride the cargo train called “The Beast.”
I grew up with my own Patrona. After my father passed away, when I was around 5 years old, my older brothers and my mother emigrated from Guatemala to Chiapas, Mexico. My mother always has been a hardworking woman, and she gained the respect of the wealthy Mexican businesswomen of the town. I recall, as a child, seeing many Central and South Americans immigrants riding the Mexican cargo train. Many of them stay in this small town to make enough money to go to el Norte (USA). My mom worked for “la tortillería,” the factory that makes tortillas, which was owned by the wealthy women in town. Because she gained their favor, she was the first one to acquire fresh tortillas, which she packed in lunch boxes for these immigrants. At the end of the week, these workers paid my mother for the food. Whenever there was a new, lost immigrant in town, the locals sent him or her right away to my house, because they knew that either my mother was going to feed them or give them a small room, where they could stay temporarily.
These childhood memories were sparked while attending this workshop—in a way, I had forgotten what it was like to be around these people. I went to high school in Ohio and went on to work on my education, and I forgot that there were people still riding The Beast. I felt like I left this life behind. I did not have to worry about it anymore. The sad truth is that immigrants have been and will continue to ride The Beast across Mexico to the USA. Once again, I am called to pay attention to their needs and concerns, even though this time I feel completely removed from their context.
Eleazar Perez facilitated a workshop for the Seminario Intercultural Máyense in Chiapas, Mexico. When he saw me in the workshop, Eleazar decided that I was going to be his official translator. He said, “I want to flow in my presentation, and you are going to help me with that.” I said, “OK, what choice are you given me?.” He smiled at me. He began to passionately give his talk. Eleazar was not afraid to challenge the status quo. He clearly articulated to us that he does many presentations, but he is often frustrated with his audience because they either do not get his message, or they do not act on it. He threw his notes to the floor to show us that sometimes he does not want to do it anymore because he does not see any constructive results. He was saying, “I am giving up.” At the same time, he picked up his notes and began to challenge the space we were in. He said, “these haciendas were used to enslave our indigenous people. Our people came to build these haciendas, and they were never compensated for their hard labor.” The haciendas usually had a grocery store. So the little that the indigenous people were paid, they were forced to give back by buying things from the hacienda. Thus, they were either left in more debt or with nothing to take home to their families. As an act of resistance, his people destroyed these haciendas, because it reminded them of the oppression that their ancestors lived.
In Eleazar’s interpretation of Peter denying Jesus three times, he was able to identify with Peter’s fear. He said that when the seminary approached him to give presentations in different places around the world, he was so excited because he was going to travel. But he did not know all the dangers and challenges that he was going to face. So he identified with Peter, because Peter promised Jesus that he was going to defend him, but fear overtook him. Eleazar said, “but we have to overcome the fear that continuously divided us and fragmented us. The fear creates haciendas around us, and we are divided globally living inside of our own haciendas.”
In Jesus’ crucifixion, Eleazar saw “the women being in solidarity with the suffering Christ.” No one else was around him, but his mother and the women. They were in tune with his suffering—no one else. Not even Peter. What he challenged was that we need to be like these women—they were in solidarity with the suffering Christ, we also need to be in solidarity with those who suffer, who are marginalized and oppressed.
Humans are the residue of the good and evil of creation. It gives me peace of mind now that I accept this duality in all of us. No longer will I be unsettled in not understanding these two parts of people. It is what it is. The first step to restoring the image and likeness of God in humans is accepting that there are children of light and children of darkness. The second step is to follow Eleazar’s- and Christ’s- call to live in solidarity with those who suffer. “Una mano extendida” is the slogan of FIBAC, the third seminary I encountered at Peace Camp. The slogan means “a hand that offers solidarity to live in the conviction that life matters.” To live a life that is worthwhile, filled with justice and compassion. To embrace justice and reject ungodliness is to live life with una mano extendida.