by Carlos Martinez | Santa Clara University – Class of 2015

Carlos installing insulation to the house his Santa Clara University group helped rebuild in New Orleans.

My recent immersion trip to New Orleans, in which we worked on rebuilding a house devastated by Hurricane Katrina, was my first immersion experience as well as my first trip to the South. In our group’s pre-trip meetings, the actual word ‘solidarity’ was never touched upon, which I believe was ultimately for the best. I think that if I had been asked to define ‘solidarity’ before going to New Orleans, I would have struggled and not been able to provide an accurate depiction of the complexity behind the word. I strongly believe that ‘solidarity’ is not a word that can simply be defined, but rather must be experienced and reflected upon afterwards in order to fully understand its meaning and depth.

Looking back on my immersion experience now, I see now that the concept of ‘solidarity’ is a complex one. For me, the foundation of ‘solidarity’ with another community is made up of a mutual respect and understanding between the two communities, along with an overarching unified theme of wanting to learn about the other. Going from a private Jesuit university in California to a destroyed house in New Orleans was not only humbling, but also forced me to realize that there were some experiences the New Orleans community had that I would never be able to relate to. I understood that what they went through because of Hurricane Katrina was life changing, and while I could not relate to their situation beyond that, I made sure to find out as much about their experiences as possible. Though intimidating at first, as I was not completely certain sufferers of Katrina would want to speak to an outsider, I thought the least I could was put myself out there and let them know that I was there to listen to them.

Ultimately, I believe this was the best decision I made during my immersion experience. I learned that while it is true that there are some experiences that I cannot relate to, that does not mean there is no possibility for a connection or understanding between communities. Rather, I now firmly believe that ‘solidarity’ means finding strength by sharing different experiences among communities in order to establish one unified community. Two different communities will never have exactly all of the same characteristics, which is in many ways the very aspect that makes solidarity so beautiful, in that it draws the strengths from each community to support the other’s weaker areas. Now I know to not look at differences in others as intimidating, but rather as an opportunity to improve my understanding and respect of them, and vice versa. This mysterious connection as a result of differences is what solidarity means to me.

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