We asked members of our community to share what moves them to do justice work. This month Mari Castellanos, Policy Advocate for Domestic Issues, reflects on her childhood during the Cuban Revolution and how the example of her parents in that dangerous time helped define her Call.
Justice without Love is Empty Rhetoric
I suspect my lifelong commitment to justice is rooted in faith, family and revolution.
I grew up in a working class, devotedly Catholic family in Havana, Cuba. My father was a gentle, loving, faithful man, who sat on his rocking chair in the front porch to pray his rosary, just because it was too hot to stay indoors. He apparently didn’t care that in such a machista culture that was considered a rather unmanly thing to do.
My Dad was a peaceful man in an increasingly violent environment. As a salesman of medical products, he had access to free medicines and vaccines. He often came home late at night, after taking medicines to many who had no means to acquire them. Similarly, I remember him giving polio vaccine shots to many, many neighborhood children. I “assisted” him by swabbing the arms of the recipients with alcohol.
My Mother, the home grown intellectual, had read both Jesus and Marx. As a young woman she had been courted by a boy who, much later, would be the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations representing the Castro government. Without the benefit of a theological education, she had made many of the connections that were put forth by Latin American liberation theologians. Those she passed on to me at an early age.
The Cuban revolution brought chaos into my orderly childhood. There were bombs going off every evening, homes like mine being searched by the police in the middle of the night, and people arrested and imprisoned without a scrap of evidence of wrongdoing. After the revolution’s triumph a period of peace gave us hope for justice. But, sadly, those who overthrew the dictatorship became dictators themselves and the cycle of violence was renewed.
My parents remained faithful through it all. They loved me enough to send me away. The lessons I learned from them taught me all I ever needed to make the connections between faith and justice. Though I never saw my father again, the memory of all those late nights giving children their vaccine shots, or procuring medicine for those who couldn’t afford it, continued to teach me that talk of justice without love is empty rhetoric.
As an adolescent I heard the words: “If you want peace, work for justice.” I want a world where bombs don’t go off at night and where all children receive their vaccinations. I work for justice.