The Lavalla200> East Harlem Community is currently composed of Martha Eugenia Martínez of Mexico and Brothers Luis Fernando Veja of Paraguay and James McKnight of the United States.
Its beginning is linked to the Juan Diego community, which from 2016 became a community within the Project of International Communities for a New Beginning, project born from the General Conference of 2013.
East Harlem is a neighborhood in the Manhattan District of New York. Also known as Spanish Harlem, it is an area steeped in history, characterized by a wide cultural diversity.
Below you can read a testimony of Martha Eugenia Martínez, member of the community since October 2017.
“If you wish to offer some years of your life to the service of the Marist mission beyond the borders of your province or your country, I encourage you to step forward and make known your availability” these are words of Brother Emili Turú in his letter The Dance of the Mission.
The Spirit guides all wishes of all Marist thought the initiative Lavalla200. We think it is a call to welcome a new way of sharing life in community, growing internationally and interculturally and that our relationships as brothers and lay people are the heart of our mission and are in the centre of the new beginning of the Marist.
In East Harlem, NYC, we share life with undocumented Hispanic American immigrants. The house has become a place of family. At present we accompany specially women with Latin origin in risk of being deported or waiting to get their residence permit. We offer them spiritual and emotional support, sharing life through fraternal and simple dialogue and prayer. We promote some training and educational activities such as English lessons and handicrafts. We share with these families some meaningful moments like the Day of the Dead and Christmas Day. We collaborate with different institutions and parishes to learn and get to know the reality through their experience. We try to integrate families of different Latin countries in order to find the richness of diversity.
I think that our way of doing mission has very precise challenges: show the face of an “all-loving” God, the face of fraternity, to be creative and simple in the mission, in other words, to show the martial face of the Church.
The feast of the Epiphany has enlightened these three months of experience in NYC. God has appeared as an unforeseen reality that I was not expecting. This has been a time for insertion and learning in the neighbourhood of East Harlem. I am learning to live in a new community with the brothers Jim and Luis; I am trying to learn English like a child and walk on the streets at -7ºC, specially this last month.
I have lived a path of faith. It was not easy for me to accept this new mission. I had different thoughts from God. I saw myself in Africa or Amazonas, but when God calls, himself helps us to open our heart. As the Magi, I am also discovering lights that help me to move forward and guide me to new places, to the peripheries, as Pope Francis says.
These people are here “on the other side”, as they say, with their families and children, most of them illegally , with dreams and fears. When we talk to them it is easy to discover the face of a fragile God. Now I remembered something said at the Chapter: We search you Jesus, like Mary, in the caravans of life and the turmoil of our cities (Lk 2, 41-49), in the multitude of displaced people who are searching a better future for their children.
The search of reasons to carry on is undeniable among the migrants. Every day they wake up looking for a small light that guides them and, as well as the Magi were not stopped by the uncertainty of the search nor the precariousness of the road, nor the perplexity, they also were able to get on the road to the unknown.
I would like you to meet some of these people who have helped me to welcome the mission that God has given to me. They have responded to three questions: How did you get here? What is your great dream? What is your biggest fear? If you could ask someone for something… what would you ask him or her? What have the Marists contributed to you?
A very cheerful and helpful person, who has taught me to share life and find the $0.99 shops. She is ISABEL.
“I immigrate on the 20th March 1999.I was 20 years old. I crossed the border through the desert and I had to transfer b y bus. I arrived in Arizona, later Las Vegas and finally New York. It was a really harsh journey; go through the drainage system and the desert. I thought that I probably I would not reach my destiny because I was running out of water, but another woman shared it with me”.
I give thanks to God that I arrived safely despite all the bad things I experienced with the first “coyote” and some abusive men. I remember that the police of Mexico arrived if not I would have been raped. They took all my money and didn’t have anything to eat. God placed good people in my journey and that is how I reached NY. The country has given me many good things and others not so good. I appreciate being here and being able to tell my story. Now, I live with my husband Igancio and we have four children.
My biggest wish is to obtain my residence permit so I can go to Mexico and visit my parents and buy them a small house. I am afraid I will not see my parents again or be deported someday. I would like someone to help me get my residence or my working permit, or that someone bring my parents so I can see them again.
From the Marists I have learned to be more spiritual and share more with the others. I like to share and pray.
A very discreet, generous woman, who has taught me to be available and to get to know the Museum of the “Barrio”. She is RUFINA and this is her story.
” I arrived in NY on the 28th February 1998; I was 18 years old. I came here because my father sent me to know the country. I crossed the border illegally on the side of Agua Prieta, Sonora, through the desert of Arizona. I tried it a few times and they sent me back, till I finally got it and came to NY. Here I met people very different from me, different skin colour, different faces, their hair, their language (such as Chinese or Italian)… I had to learn to live in the cold weather and snow. Although I had some relatives here I felt lonely because I had left my mother and my brothers. After a long time, I met my husband, I got married and now I have four children, aged between 11 and 19.
My biggest wish is that my sons go to university and have a job, a house and be happy. That would be my biggest happiness. My biggest fear is to be separated from my sons. I have no documents to be in this country; so far I have a working permit ( and I am waiting to get the renovation). I would like somebody to help me with my residence permit so I could go to Puebla and see my father and my sisters. I would like to go to University and learn English. I would like to help more people that need my help. From the Marists I learnt to live as a family.
If simplicity had a name that would be ANGÉLICA. She is a really hard-working person, able to reach fatigue for her children. She has taught me that simplicity opens hearts and knitting to relieve stress.
” I am from Loja, Ecuador. I arrived in USA on 25th July 2013. We went through the border of Peru and Bolivia and from there we took an airplane to Mexico City. Then we travelled by bus until we got to the border of Arizona, where we crossed the desert, we walked for four days among the mountains and we reached Phoenix. When we got there it was very difficult because we were hungry and cold. I remember we were all get, then we were piled into a van and we travelled like that for two days till we got to Los Angeles. Now I live in NY with my two girls and two boys.
I arrived here with a goal, to work and gather money to get my family ahead. In my country there are few opportunities. This is my biggest wish. My fear is to be separated from my children; I don’t have a working permit and now it is very difficult.
If I had to ask somebody for something, I would ask them to let us work in peace because all the money we earn here, remains here.
Since I met the Marists I felt like family because they have given me a lot of spiritual support. I give thanks to God for sending here the Marists”.
I hear these types of testimonies constantly. I thank God for this people that surround me and for guiding me surprisingly through so many ups and downs. I also give thanks for the star people that have enlightened my way, and the signals that have been guiding me. Pope Francis said at the Christmas homily: God invites us to take care of the hope, and go hand in hand with Mary.
I invite you to send a message of hope to these women who frequent our community: in Facebook Comunidad Marista East Harlem. Let’s ask for each other so that our gifts go to our brothers and sisters who need it most.
Once I said that ” one day faith, happiness and myself will sit together and have a coffee in a street of Manhattan”. The appointment is still standing!