Delaney Ross ’09
I finished saying my last words to the women and sank back onto the floor, tears streaming down my face. To hide my embarrassment I buried my face in the pillowcase they had given me as a good-bye gift, and the next five minutes were filled with the most intense and diverse array of emotions I’ve ever felt from one experience.
I was in Chiapas, Mexico, with twenty classmates. I had been working with the Oakwood Chiapas Project for four years, selling artisan clothing crafted by indigenous women and sending the proceeds back to them. Not only is Chiapas the poorest state in Mexico, but it is also in the middle of a revolution of change. The cooperatives we work with live in a constant struggle for human rights, economic justice, and self-governance. We were there to learn more about these efforts and to get to know the women. The days were spent sharing stories about home life and culture, and playing games and making art and singing songs with them and their children.
At our last goodbye, as each student and woman said what these days had meant to them, I was trying to think of some perfect thing to say, to capture all my feelings and all that I had learned. I realized there was simply too much to say and too much I didn’t understand yet, and I blurted something out about how thankful I was and how much I had learned and how much they meant to me.
I had come with a lot of sympathy for these women, for their poverty and suffering, but I had expected them to speak simply and quietly and, really, without much thoughtfulness — because of the severe limits to their education and life experience. Their pride, dignity, intelligence and strength struck me without warning. They took critiques of their clothing graciously and reflectively, and talked solidly about complicated political and social issues. Their persistence in working to achieve a balance of love and autonomy in their communities made them the furthest thing from pitiable. It transformed the nature of my sympathy: they were no longer women in need of charity, but instead a group of friends who were in a bad situation and were willing to accept a helping hand
I also had never fully grasped the idea of tragedy. I had seen pictures of beggars in the streets and emaciated children, but talking with these women about their lives was different. They had been able to make the best out of a horrible environment. Their determination to form a better community showed me how strong humans can be. They weren’t just victims of a cruel world, but wonderful people with enormous talent who would be incredibly successful with a reasonable chance. This is a deeper kind of tragedy, and I now have a personal connection with it. It’s given me more courage to help change tragic wrong into right, a new feeling for the importance of passion .
All of this overwhelmed me, in those last minutes we had together — with sympathy, love, admiration, sorrow, and hope. I am grateful beyond words to have experienced the sheer truth, courage, and love that these women have put into everything they do with their lives.