Written by: Katie Dorner, Gonzaga University ’13
Last week Maria sat me down in our kitchen to braid my hair and I started thinking about why I had wanted to come to the Oakland Catholic Worker this summer. After spending a semester in El Salvador last fall, I wanted to better understand immigration issues in the US and learned that the OCW is a hospitality house for Latin American immigrants. After two months in Oakland, I leave with many incomplete thoughts and unanswered questions, but with thoughts that won’t fade soon and with questions that I refuse to stop asking.
We become caught up in causes and issues. When the topic of immigration is brought up, some may think of all of the policies they do not know or some maybe are still wondering what brings “them” to “our” country. When we pass a person on the street who is homeless, perhaps we don’t make eye contact because we convince ourselves we have somewhere to be in a hurry, but truthfully knowing that looking him in the eye would cause ourselves too much painful confusion about the neglected and forgotten in our country and our place in it all.
We fail each other in this way: the great sin of separation. We too frequently talk about the problems our country faces without acknowledging who is dealing most directly with those problems. We label people as “immigrant” and “homeless” and worry more about legal statuses and being bothered for change than seeing, even for a moment, our human sister or brother in front of us. We group people as part of the same complex issues, instead of knowing individual human beings. The “immigrant” is Maria, who braids my hair in the morning; she deserves more than a label. The “homeless” is my friend Solomon, who makes sure I have my helmet on before going for a bike ride; he too deserves more than a label.
Community begins to slowly reverse the collective wrongs of labels and exclusion. The intentional living community of the Catholic Worker has helped me to see this, but we do not need to be staying in a living community to be living as a community. We have the power to define what this word “community” means in our lives, and how our actions reflect it. Every cause or issue will always come back to people, who have been waiting too long on the outside to be invited in. When we practice true solidarity, those we invite into community with us eventually become the cause itself. My summer at the Oakland Catholic Worker has given me the opportunity to form relationships with people who will most likely not read this, but for whom this reflection is written. I will carry the memories of these friendships with me as I continue to pursue justice- remembering always that every injustice is suffered by individuals, who need relationships in their lives as much as societal change.