By Annalise Deal
This month, I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 Boston College students who travelled to Latin America through the Arrupe International Immersion Program. My group of fifteen and I travelled to Puebla, Mexico to participate in a week of service and various immersive activities. We met a lot of people and gathered countless impactful stories along the way, but the story that has stuck with me the most was that of my host mother, Adelfa. For two nights, myself and two other girls stayed with her in her home in the village of Tecuanipan, outside of Puebla city. This is her story.
Born into a family of nine children Adelfa and many of her siblings have struggled with chronic heart failure since they were young. Due to a lack of affordable health care, they have been unable to receive formal treatment. So despite an effort to change their diets, at age 50, she has already lost three of her siblings, and one is currently not doing well. Also due to their poverty growing up, she never finished elementary school because her parents could not afford uniforms or transportation to get her there. She recently finished elementary and middle school at the adult night school in Tecuanipan center. This year, she took a painting class there, and next semester she plans to take basket weaving.
She and her husband Aceuencio have two sons: Edgar and Ivan. Before having Ivan, they lost their first baby, likely because of inadequate neonatal care. Their second son, Ivan, was born with multiple brain tumors, which were removed right after he was born. However, as Adelfa said, “su cabeza no funciona” (“his head doesn’t work”) so he was never able to go to school. Now he has a job in Cholula and seems to be doing alright. Their third son, Edgar, migrated to the U.S. six years ago, when he was only 20. He currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a line cook. Adelfa hasn’t seen him since he left, and when I asked if she has ever considered visiting him she clapped and said “que deportarme así!” (“they would deport me just like that!”) She then tried to convince one of us to move to Brooklyn to find her son and marry him, so that she could have grandchildren and a daughter-in-law who would be willing to move back to Mexico.
Now, Adelfa lives a quiet life with her husband, son, and nephew, in a simple house with a dirt courtyard and a detached kitchen. The have a mule, a horse, countless bunnies and chickens, four adorable dogs, two cats and some doves. Despite all of the tragedy they have gone through as a family Adelfa clings to her Christian faith. Every time we tried to say “gracias,” she would respond, “No, gracias a Dios” (thanks to God). She prays often, loves her bible, and is guided in everything she does by the promise of eternal life which she believes awaits her. Her strength and resilience to come through such a troubled life, and still be so full of joy and constantly cracking jokes was remarkable.
Before we left, our head coordinator Margaret often reminded us of the word “acompañarse” which means to accompany; it is the essence of solidarity. That word is made up of the Spanish words “con pan” or, “with bread,” which comes from the story of the Last Supper. Jesus, in his life and ministry, often showed the power of sharing bread, and this trip really brought that idea to life for me. It is one thing to know what poverty is, or have an intellectual understanding of the immigration crisis. It is a different thing entirely to sit at a small plastic table late at night, laughing together, drinking warm milk and eating fresh, bright pink pan dulce.
I will carry Adelfa’s story with me as I move forward in my college career and beyond, attempting to make some difference in the world. I will remember how she broke bread with us, and in doing so, formed an emotional and spiritual bond that transcends geographic distance. Although our week in Tecuanipan did not reverse the seemingly insurmountable problems the people there face, sharing meals with them reminded us of the value and power of community, which knows no borders.