Annie Boyd: Walking with the Salvadorans
by Mark Chmiel
In class we are currently reading Like Grains of Wheat: A Spirituality of Solidarity by Marie Dennis and Margaret Swedish. The authors interview scores of North Americans who had their eyes opened by their relationships with Central Americans since the early 1980s.
Here’s a passage from early in the book:
The stories of solidarity that impacted the lives of thousands of North American people of faith are profound and complex, yet with something quite simply in common. They began often with a small gesture of accompaniment, a decision to walk, for however a short time, with a people, a community, whether in a war zone, a refugee camp, a town under siege, or a village of displaced persons or refugees seeking safety in the United States.
What these stories initiated, however, was a journey far different from anything that had been anticipated, a journey into the real world and its painful reality, a journey into themselves within that world, a journey into a faith that for many had become cut off and isolated, detached from the conditions of real human beings. They discovered this faith vividly alive in the hopes and aspirations of the poor. They found themselves on a journey that stretched them, pulled them, stripped them, and liberated them. [page 21]
I just wish my students could meet Annie Boyd, who recently sent me the following letter.
I hope this finds you well in the midst of a new semester. Thank you so much for finding me on Facebook and for your message. I really appreciate it! I’m so glad to hear that you and Laura connected once she returned to SLU. She was definitely a fantastic student this past summer.
I must be honest, I’ve been meaning to write you for months now…even before meeting Laura. I first heard about The Book of Mev here in El Salvador, four years ago when I was a student at the Casa program. Some of my fellow students were from SLU and were awaiting its release. Luckily, someone sent it down. While I was in the States for the holidays, I finally bought it. Reading The Book of Mev was an experience of healing and empowerment for me. I felt so connected to you and Mev while reading it here in El Salvador, which is such a meaningful place for the both of you. I was comforted and felt more hope in life by the love you and Mev invested in one another. Mev’s poetry and photography inspired me to not be so shy, and to do ‘dare [myself to] invade their lives, steal this moment…’
In February, your book accompanied me while I accompanied a group of Salvadoran families on a journey through parts of Guatemala and southern Mexico. The families are a part of an organization called COFAMIDE, their loved ones have disappeared or have died while migrating North. We visited with migrant shelters, NGOs, church groups and other people who are advocating on behalf of Central American migrants and against the human rights violations occurring in the areas. The family members looked for those who are missing while participating in marches, press conferences, meetings, and demonstrations. I was invited to be the group’s photographer…and I faced many moments of challenge… to be present in such a way- that with hope, captures the essence of a moment, the experience. I definitely felt Mev’s presence with me… in Chiapas …(where I learned she spent time) and other places where people’s stories of injustice and resilience need to be told and seen. At times during the journey, I felt in the middle of nowhere but on the edge of cliff. It was a very liminal state- very much in present reality- but at the same time- completely present in a terrible nightmare of crime, distrust, violence, and darkness. And this finite reality grows day after day just as 500-700 Salvadorans alone leave their country every day. What do we do about this….? How do you stop or at least, lessen such abuse and violence?
During the trip, we spent much of our time driving…I would look out the window and ponder my almost unanswerable questions, and read, read, read The Book of Mev, I found encouragement in your writings, in your stories..in the life you and Mev lived. Despite feeling emotionally overwhelmed from the heaviness of the complexity of the issues at hand and in my daily work as a social worker; I felt a push to be resilient, to endure the reality, to not become harden from it, to hold myself accountable- to hold others to the same accord, to do my best…to hope the best I can, to be as present as I can, to take care of myself so I may be available to care for others, to celebrate life, to live from a source of gratitude, to love the best I can…these insights of consolation and energy came from reading of the dedicated, creative, hopeful, faithful, love-fill life you and Mev lived.
Through and through, your book and stories continue to make an impact on me and are a source of meaning.
Thank you Mark. Truly, thank you.
I will be sure to make it to St. Louis sometime when I’m back in the States. I’d love to meet up!
Much joy and gratitude to you,