[This post could just have easily been titled “On How to Alienate Friends and Family after an Intense and Prolonged Cross-Cultural Poverty Experience.” Enjoy. ] 


The first time I opened my closet, I almost threw up. 

 The first time I purchased items at Target, I only made it to the parking lot before reversing and returning my bounty, sheepishly avoiding the salesclerk who had rung me up no more than three minutes prior. 

My parent’s adorable house. 

The first time my mom attempted to hang an American Flag in front of her white picket fence, I screamed about the injustices those white, spotless stars concealed, I alluded to the blood of Guatemalans, Sandinistas, and why-we’re-at-it Iraqis stacked red on top of white on top of red until both of our eyes spilled raw, blue tears. 

Reverse culture shock is not a new phenomenon for our hot, flat, crowded world, but when I returned from a semester abroad that I only-somewhat-tongue-in-cheek refer to as the Poverty Tour of Central America, it was new for me. 

Between the feather thin pages of my travel Bible, I recently rediscovered a note I’d written to myself during my first days stateside. 

Not harsh at all…

“If I really lived in solidarity with the poor, I wouldn’t be able to stand my lifestyle.” 

It’s a word we deliberated over constantly in my four months abroad: Solidarity.

How do we live and act in solidarity with the poor?

When I returned, this was the question festering on my heart. 

It was a classic case, really. Strictly by the book. I was disgusted at the vast quantity of clothes that had been hanging idle and useless, unused in my closet for the last four months. Sneakers I’d had since 8th grade, my prom dress from high school, a smattering of brightly colored tank tops, workout clothes, old t-shirts, a collection of shorts ranging from cutoffs to the infamous “short shorts.” It didn’t help that shorts weren’t even socially acceptable in Costa Rica. In the 90° California summer heat, I still could not bring myself to wear shorts. I vowed I wouldn’t buy clothes for at least a year.

I cringed at my friends’ discarded Starbucks cups, their iPods, laptops, and multiple pairs of Sevens jeans.

My first day back at school, we went to the mall. And, yes, I should have seen it coming. As I sat on the velvet covered bench in the GAP fitting room watching my friend model jean skirt after jean skirt, she transformed from my bouncy, enthusiastic, well-meaning friend into a materialistic, selfish princess that I could barely even stand to look at. I’d rant about the church’s hypocrisy and judgment, then judge my friends and family with evident disgust, harsher than any Bible-thumper I’d ever seen. I was a new kind of judgmental Christian, tolerant of anyone and anything except for white, middle class American Christians.

My immediate answer to the solidarity question was this: to reduce my injustice footprint and judge everyone else who didn’t. 

I had come back with so many goals: stay informed, meet Spanish speakers, use public transportation, avoid buying clothes, shop organic, buy local, befriend people of a lower socio-economic standing. But I didn’t exactly return to the ghetto, and I found it pretty difficult to find poor people in my hometown in Northern California; although I can’t say that I looked very hard. I never took the bus or found a Spanish speaking church. I was forced to buy new clothes because I couldn’t squeeze my newly acquired love handles into any of my old pants. Damn rice and beans.

I was angry, but that was all that was different. I bought clothes, angrily. I went to church, angrily. I drove my car, angrily. I used my iPod and laptop, angrily.

I thought solidarity with the poor meant that I wasn’t allowed to be happy. That I wasn’t allowed to feel blessed or thankful. That I wasn’t allowed to acknowledge the gifts so freely given to me. I thought my happiness negated their pain. I thought guilt was the only appropriate and all-consuming response to poverty.

But it wasn’t just malls and Mochachinos and materialism that I was rejecting; I was rejecting joy. I was rejecting relationship. I was rejecting God and growth and a whole world of opportunity and connection and possibility.

And I judged everyone who wasn’t angry with me.

Today, nearly six years later, I’m pained by how I acted. It’s not the anger that I grieve. I am grateful for a heart that is discontent with the status quo and rages against injustice. What I am sorry for are the times I raged against my parents, my friends, and my classmates in my attempts at “solidarity with the poor.”

I am sorry for the times the anger turned hurtful, attacking, accusing, malicious.

I am sorry to the people I judged. I am sorry to the friends I alienated. I am sorry to the parents I lashed out at. (And mom, I am sorry for ever bringing up Cuba.)

There is a better answer to this question of solidarity that for me turned so bitter. Check back tomorrow to find out what I discovered about living and acting in solidarity with the poor. (How’s that for suspense?)


2 thoughts on “¿Solidaridad?

  1. Well, since I commented on "tomorrow's" post first, it was really interesting to read this one and see where those thoughts stemmed from.I'm currently doing an exegetical paper on social justice, and my passion for the topics grows, even as my willingness to continue writing about it wanes. I think there's no better example of living in solidarity with the poor than Jesus.Love your thoughts here. Keep up the great writing!

  2. Aly Lewis says:

    I agree that Jesus is the best example. Although part of my anger/being paralyzed came from the clash of the two Jesus' I saw depicted around me: 1. The Jesus-is-your-best-friend-who-loves-you-and-that's-all-you-need (you know, the one who sympathizes with my need to feel successful, beautiful, fashionable, and well-liked) and 2. The sell-all-you-have-to-give-to-the-poor-and-become-a-revolutionary-not-unlike-Che-Guevara Jesus I (thought) I had no example of what it looks like to live as a middle class suburban Christian in solidarity with the poor. Still trying to figure it out exactly and beginning to understand that maybe Jesus loves both the rich and the poor…Are you looking at a special passage in the Bible for your paper? I'd love to hear your thoughts…(unless that would put you over the poverty rhetoric edge)

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