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Social Justice Immersion in Laredo

June 25, 2012

By Sky C.

Participating in a recent trip to Laredo, Texas, was very enlightening in a number of ways and it very much deepened my understanding of the meaning of Mercy and the work that is being done by the Sisters of Mercy around the world.

As a counselor at Mercy High School, San Francisco, I think the community in Laredo is ideal for our students and faculty to visit. The up-close-and-personal level of exposure to profound social justice issues that directly pertain to issues in the lives of so many of our students (immigration, health, etc.) was incredible.

A few highlights for me from this trip included getting a chance to be immersed in the life of Mercy sisters, observing the incredible work of promotoras de salud (health promoters), and witnessing the complexities of the plight of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

We saw how Sister Rosemary and Sister Maria Luisa were recognized in Laredo as valued leaders, thanks to their daily example of generous spirit and commitment to serving the community. They work with and provide invaluable support to battered women and children, families torn apart by immigration laws, victims of human trafficking, and sick and dying people who lack the resources to pay for healthcare. Additionally, the sisters work with the bishop, the mayor, immigration officials and border patrol, local community leaders and politicians, as well as housecleaners, nurses, dentists and teachers. They connect with people from every walk of life in Laredo and bring the community together in a way that I doubt would be happening without their leadership. This willingness of the sisters to face life’s most painful wounds with light and love, every day, is a great thing for our students to see.

At one point during our visit, a colleague and I accompanied a promotora de salud on her house-call to a middle-aged man with diabetes. The patient lived in a worn house that held 14 family members from three or four generations. In the room where we sat together, a teenage girl lay asleep on her bed behind us for the first 20 minutes, and about seven family members of all ages trickled through the room as they went about their day.

The most moving part of this experience was seeing the incredibly high level of care and respect with which the promotora treated the patient, and seeing how moved he was by her kind care. When she asked him if he felt he’d been treated well by everyone in the clinic, he started to tear up, talking about the gift that her visits have been in his life, how much healthier he is now, and how he is looking forward to returning to work soon, thanks to the support from the clinic. He talked humbly but with dignity about being unable to afford the $10 dollar contribution that the clinic asks for, and she accommodated for that with tremendous respect for him and his family’s situation.

When we left, she talked about how much she cares about each and every one of her patients and her happiness to have a job that she loves so very much. She also shared her own immigration story, including how dangerous it is for her to visit her family in Mexico now and the challenges that puts on her relationships. I thought about how valuable it would be for our students — so many of whom want to be nurses — to have this experience of visiting patients with her. I could see it completely altering some of their life paths to see that nursing can be such an enormously satisfying profession when you are in a position to serve disadvantaged people who are in such grave need of your help.

Our students at Mercy High School come largely from immigrant families; they are first- or second-generation US citizens who have been raised with privileges that their family members paid highly for. I can imagine that for many of them, coming to Laredo would bring about a deepening in their identity development, in their relationships with their family members and the larger community, and in their commitment to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. This is the kind of growth that I wish we could give to all of our students, and I’m grateful that we can give it at least to the group of students who choose to visit Laredo each year. They will leave forever changed, as have I.

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