Student Forums
A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community

Experiential Learning as a Catholic Worker – Serving Immigrants and Refugees in Houston: Pulitzer ’16 at Casa Juan Diego

For my third co-op experience, I decided to live as a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego in Houston, Texas. This came as a big surprise to my friends, my family, and especially myself, because not only am I not Catholic, but I am also “allergic” to the city life. That being said, I admired the work and dedication Casa Juan Diego was doing in order to help newly arrived undocumented immigrants into the U.S. I completely agreed with their commitment to provide shelter, food, community, and compassion to all through their houses of hospitality, weekly food and clothing distributions, no-cost medical clinics and support in connecting with social services. And so for three months, I was willing to trade my bike in for a car, the sun for florescent lights, and my heathen Antioch ways for weekly mass and daily prayers.

Within the first ten minutes of arriving at Casa Juan Diego, I was assembling food for individuals at the door, getting diapers for individuals who were paralyzed from gun violence, and setting up a room for a Cuban woman who had just crossed the border after traveling for 3 months. I was immediately pulled into the world that is Casa Juan Diego; a non-stop opportunity to learn, observe, and act.

And now, fast forward and I feel completely comfortable taking individual’s medical histories in Spanish, I know where all the immigration social services agencies in Houston are located, the immigration officer who fixes incorrect immigration numbers recognizes my face, I can understand stories retold in Spanish about trying to escape from domestic violence, from gang violence, from kidnappings, ransoms, and dysfunctional governments. I can drop someone off at the social security office, cook a meal for 20 people, sort donations, bring someone to a prenatal appointment, and enroll a kid in school all before lunch time. I don’t know how or when this happened, but somehow I have found a rhythm in Houston.

And now, I’ve saved the best part for last. For all my co-ops, I wait until I have this feeling in my body that tells me that I am in the right place. Usually I have this major “aha” moment of confirmation. For example, when I was in Guatemala working with a small sustainability-focused organization, I found myself lying in a hammock on the roof of the house I was living in as I watched lightening dance over Lake Atitlán. Moments later, the family I was living with (the pet chicken included), made their way up and we all watched the lightening and clouds move in. In that moment, I knew I was in the right place. Here in the giant city that is Houston, a metropolis with an economy focused on oil and gas, I was even more desperate to feel this “aha” moment. To go back to my first day at Casa Juan Diego, when I finally finished packing food, diapers and medicine to the individuals who were knocking on the door, I finally got the “grand tour” of the house. When we walked out back, past the washing sinks and children’s toys, my new co-worker asked me if I wanted to see the garden. “What? You all have a garden here?” I asked incredulously. And as she unlocked the gate, I saw the most beautiful garden filled with eggplant, sweet potatoes and citrus tress. With tears in my eyes, I knew I was in the right place.

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