by Jeffrey Mu ’24
Bellarmine has a long-standing tradition of hosting an annual Solidarity Dinner, in a fundraiser to support our sister community, Agua Escondida. Decades of civil war have rendered the society of El Salvador vulnerable to disease, famine, and natural disasters, exacerbated by the military presence in the area. The chief goal of the event is to make money – no doubt about that. But this annual tradition has continued on in Bellarmine’s legacy of immersion trips, often to the areas in or around Agua Escondida. And for the community there, students’ visits are always warmly welcomed.
Last Thursday on the 20th, the Solidarity dinner began in the cafeteria, the first time the space has been used for this event since the pandemic began. As advertised, students and faculty whose experiences at immersion trips and in particular, Agua Escondida, can speak on behalf of their experiences, and the interactions they had with those less fortunate than us. As Mrs. Portillo and Mr. Portillo noted, speaking about their years volunteering and the people they met, immersing themselves into the local conditions was a harsh reminder of the “privilege of the Bellarmine community, and our small sphere of the Silicon Valley. Because we all grew up in this privilege, it’s often hard to envision how the other half lives.”
The truth is, poverty and discrimination lie where we least and most expect it. And this truth seemed more and more applicable as the night went on, and I talked to the organizers of the event and their backgrounds. Maestro Briceno, a first-generation immigrant from Mexico detailed his experiences to me, expressed through personal conversation as well as the Justice Summit reflection a few weeks back. In both the harsh conditions of his childhood in Mexico and the Silicon Valley workplace, implicit discrimination still existed, and it’s a reality that many face today.
Concluding the reflections and speeches on their personal experiences, Mr. Ferrari invited the masses to dine, much to the delight of the hungry students in the back row. For dinner: a simple plate of rice, beans, chips, and salsa, wrapped in a plain tortilla. It was a reminder of how little those in need in Agua Escondida could afford, and an invitation for the Bellarmine community to dine in solidarity with the community. From getting your table called to sitting down with the food, the options reflected shared humbleness and humility, both of which were expressed throughout the evening.
After spotless plates were thrown away, and everyone returned to their seats, the final part of the evening began: a virtual conversation between Maritza, the representative of the Agua Escondida community and Mr. Ferrari, with Mr. Kniffin, and Ms. Pagura translating. The most memorable part of the conversation revolved around Bellarmine’s faithful immersion program, held year round. For students and faculty alike who get to visit the community and build homes, host conversations, and play with the children, Maritza noticed that the smiles of the children of Agua Escondida “changed from down, to up, as soon as they saw the students. The immersion program is not only a way for students to serve, but they get to change the lives of the children they work with.” It’s a tradition that has its roots far back in Bellarmine’s years. And with the solidarity dinner to raise funds? These are distinctly Bellarmine events, and they will continue for years to come.
Jeffrey Mu is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bell Online. Check out his articles on this website documenting student life and the Bellarmine experience.