There are many ways a person can steal someone’s innocence. From the age of 4 forward, I lived in constant fear due to the omnipresent wrath of a stepmother prone to violent rages.
My sexual innocence was stolen at the age of 7 by her boyfriend, an amoral, violent pedophile who permanently marked my body with mental and physical scars. Neither of these “jewels” were my natural parents, but they controlled my life for years until I fled their house of horrors at the age of 16. I literally ran to the police that scary night when I escaped by breaking out a basement window from my metaphoric “prison,” which allowed me to dash for freedom.
On a profoundly more disturbing scale, we have witnessed the Catholic Church’s worldwide ethical breach and active culpability in protecting pedophile priests, a shameful legacy that ensured that untold thousands of additional children would become victims. The callous violations of their trusting innocence and budding spiritual beliefs are particularly heinous to me. How do you have faith in anything after suffering that destructive double-play of immorality?
Disturbing stories of adult violations upon the innocent are far too frequent; however, the quickest end to childhood dreams occurs for those born into abject poverty. Mahatma Gandhi said it well: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” This condition sadly exists throughout the world as “recent estimates for global poverty are that 9.2 percent of the world, or 689 million people live in extreme poverty — with an income of less than $1.90 or less a day,” according to the World Bank.
I was born in Pocatello in July, which probably explains my dislike for winter. I never enjoyed the season even while building snow forts, nor during college ski classes, although I literally found the classy future mother of my children lying on her back at Pebble Creek during a college ski class; someone had to help the poor girl to regain her feet and the rest we parlayed into history.
Escaping winter has become rather essential for me to maintain my “sanity,” and I’m working part time these days, but luckily have the resources to scamper when snow starts flying.
To that end, I have become attached to Chiapas, the poorest region in Mexico, and more specifically the town of San Cristobal de las Casas.
“San Cris” has become my second home, and I just made a 10-year reservation during Idaho’s winter months at the posada where I like to stay (a Spanish-style boarding house with interior patios and gardens). The place is the most cosmopolitan town I have ever known and has a moderate year-round temperature due to its 7,218 feet elevation — it never snows there!
The city of San Cristobal has a population of approximately 200,000 people. There are 500 eateries, including a French restaurant and three French bakeries. It also has gourmet Italian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean food and fabulous Mexican fare, plus over 50 coffee shops. It’s impossible to know all of the restaurants in the city, and people have migrated from many countries, bringing an international mix to a town that still retains a small-town energy of welcome.
Mayans populate Chiapas and are an exotic addition to the San Cristobal landscape. Many have moved from remote communities in search of opportunity, but they mostly live in outlying impoverished neighborhoods. The Indigenous women wear brilliantly colored, hand-made clothing, while men frequently sport garb that takes one back centuries in time.
Beggars are common throughout San Cristobal due to the intense poverty, and families often travel considerable distances from isolated jungle communities to sell wares to the Mexican and foreign tourists flocking the picturesque city. A large central market forms and disbands nightly in San Cristobal in the central zocalo (stone plaza). It isn’t legal to market goods there during the day, but the Indigenous people array talented creations on blankets for potential buyers to peruse on typically chilly nights.
There are drawbacks to living in San Cristobal. The colonial, narrow streets weren’t designed for cars, and the sidewalks are made from cobble stones worn glassy-smooth. The dry stones can be slick and downright dangerous during the rainy season in May and June (a good time for golfing in Idaho). Like most of Mexico, the community has significant issues with water purity, but that’s another story.
Ultimately, the factor I find most troubling when I reside in San Cristobal is the face of poverty. Being profoundly poor, many Mayan children work the streets selling whatever they can to bring money home to their struggling families. It isn’t legal, but the government looks the other way regarding child labor violations due to the intense poverty that exists in a region that is ironically rich in natural resources. The children run business enterprises at tender ages when kids in the United States are still learning how to tie their shoes.
I escaped the abuse and “poverty” of my childhood, including overcoming feelings of inferiority, but it took years and plenty of education to get there. However, Indigenous children in Chiapas have little chance of improving their lot in life.
Adult Mayans lack education, and send their children out upon the streets to peddle goods to garner tortilla money. Most Indigenous children receive less than four years of education, and their parents obtain money from tourists who find it difficult to resist the kids’ sweet “innocence.” I don’t say this in judgment because the pressing need originates from economic desperation and the parents’ lack of education.
San Cristobal was the center for the Zapatista uprising that started in 1994 in response to the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Indigenous people attempted to break away from Mexico which had exploited the rich resources of the region while doing little to improve their living conditions. That violent movement was eventually settled by a peaceful accord, and the government agreed to make small monthly payments to the Mayan people.
Lengthy lines of Indigenous people still gather at banks throughout San Cristobal to receive their monthly payments of less than $50. I regularly see wandering lines of over one hundred people patiently waiting in pensive silence at numerous banks for critical survival money.
It would be good if conditions could be improved for the Mayans. The need is greater than any one person’s ability, but there is one thing that can help to change the situation — education, especially for children as positive change begins with small steps.
That is why Operation Chiapas (the subject of a prior column) has been initiated to bring used laptops to San Cristobal this fall. They will be programmed to educate the children in their isolated mountain communities. We are focusing upon laptops for easier transport, but can use compact desk tops if they are in good condition. The computers can be delivered to the Idaho State Journal office in Pocatello until mid-October, or I will gather them if you need assistance (call me at 208-234-9292). We do have the capacity to repair damaged computers
Saeid Rezai at Galaxy Computers in Pocatello has generously volunteered to “wipe” your donated computers clean for free. He is licensed and ethically required to protect the confidentiality of your data. Galaxy Computers is located at 1424 Yellowstone Ave. You can leave the laptops with Saeid, and your information will be properly removed before we transport them to Mexico’s border.
Never underestimate the value of education. My father’s death was attributed to disability from military service and losing him when I was 11 was the most painful loss I have ever experienced. However, at that time, the U.S. government provided survivor’s benefits that helped me to obtain my education. Without that help, I wouldn’t have been able to afford college which changed the course of my life.
Poverty destroys opportunity and promise, and thereby does considerable “violence.” But contemplate the wise words of Desmond Tutu. “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Powerful words indeed — please consider donating your used computers to the Operation Chiapas initiative. Your charity could positively impact the future of an “innocent” child struggling somewhere deep in the highlands of Chiapas.