Saturday, June 9, 2012

Colonia 89

When I was in high school,
I took a trip 
to Ensenada, Mexico.

It was not Spring Break.
I did not stay at a sweet resort.
I stayed in a place called Colonia 89.

Here hundreds of families
lived in a cobbled-together

Freezing in winter,
sweating in summer,
living in huts of discarded junk.

While there, I helped build
a two-seater outhouse
and played some soccer.

Other people held Bible
studies, but I was glad
to just build something.

When I came home to
Fullerton, I remember 
experiencing "culture shock."

After being in a place as poor
as Colonia 89, I felt guilty
for living in such affluence.

By American standards,
I was middle class. 
By Colonia 89 standards,

I lived like a foolish king,
reigning over my stupid
empire of grass and stucco.

At the time, I remember
being confused.  Why could 
some have so much,

And others so little?  And why was
I born as one with so much,
while another boy

Was born in a cobbled-
together shantytown?
It was profoundly unfair.

Terms like "extreme poverty"
remain abstract until you
visit a place like Colonia 89,

And then they become
uncomfortably real.
As a high schooler,

I didn't understand much
about immigration policy
and global capitalism

And the history of conquest
and wars and revolutions
and industrialists and agribusiness

And terms like "repatriation"
and the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo
and how in the 1930s

Hundreds of thousands of
Mexican Americans were illegally
deported so whites could 

Have their jobs.  
I didn't understand that stuff.
I still don't.

What I do understand is this:
I have what I have not because
I worked harder than some poor person.

I have what I have because of
circumstance and dumb luck.

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