Book Review: The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham

Image result for the faraway brothers

npr.org

From August 2014 to May 2015, I worked as an English as a Second Language teacher in Western Kentucky. During this time, the United States experienced a crisis: a massive influx of unaccompanied minors at the southern border. In my work, most of my students were from Mexico and a smattering of other Central American countries. I was well aware of the unique plight of these children: one student rode on horseback from Guatemala, up through Mexico, suffering a broken tailbone along the way. One student ran through the river that borders Texas, while another crossed the border with his parents while still a toddler. Many of these students knew little-to-no English, and often spoke indigenous languages as opposed to Spanish.

Though these students are often here unauthorized, their individual stories speak volumes about the resilience of survival.

Enter Lauren Markham’s The Far Away Brothers, the true story of two twins: Ernesto and Raul. The twins’ story begins in violence-ridden El Salvador, where the murder rates are at an all-time high and gang activity is the norm, not the exception. Both boys grow up in a loving family, but are often sneered by their classmates and teachers. As time progresses, Ernesto catches the ire of a gang-affiliated uncle. For their own safety, both boys must flee El Salvador, and become far away brothers (a name for the millions of Salvadorian migrants to the States).

For the boys, the road is tricky. Their father puts up his property for collateral in order to pay coyotes for the boys’ passage to the border, and for a while, communication is scarce. As Ernesto and Raul pass through Mexico, they face border stops, strange homes, and random drug raids in their vehicle. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Once in the United States, the boys must enroll in school, work to send money home to their family in El Salvador, find an immigration lawyer, and present their case to a California judge. All the while, the twins struggle with American social norms, academic expectations, the plight of love (Ernesto becomes a father), and the pull of a far away homeland that is too dangerous for a return.

Regardless of your views on immigration and the unaccompanied minors crisis, The Far Away Brothers is a wonderful overview of the life many immigrants. While often we are presented with snippets from our favorite news source, Brothers shows readers the peril of leaving one’s home in search of something better, safer. For this reason, I recommend Markham’s book for anyone interested in politics, social science, and true stories of perseverance.

Words on Wednesday

Hi everyone! It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything. Life, as it is, keeps on rolling and sometimes it’s hard to throw on the brakes to post. For me, this week has been tediously long: my school district’s fall break is looming ahead within 8 school days, and I have a trip planned. It’s hard to stay focused when you’ve got endless work and vacation planned.

To break up this monotonous grind, I plan to go to Adoration this afternoon. I haven’t been able to go in the past two weeks, and I can definitely see the difference. It’s amazing how one little habit can transform your life. What’s even more amazing is when you stop that one little habit, you see what a blessing it was. Anyway, wherever you are, go to Adoration and receive a blessing this week.

Also, today is the Feast of Korean Martyrs and St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native Korean priest. Everyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for Korea in my heart. I lived there with a Korean family as an English teacher, and it’s truly one of my favorite places in the world. I consider my time in Korea as the beginning of my walk into the Catholic Church. Moreover, I have visited the country almost every year since my return four years ago.

Today, please take a moment to pray for the Korean people, that the atheism that is prominent on the peninsula would turn to conversions for the Lord. Especially pray for North Korea, that the tyranny of communism would come to an end.

kofc.org/en/columbia/detail/korea-church-martyrs.html

Martyrs of Korea and St. Andrew Kim Taegon, pray for us and the Korean people!

I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. // St. Andrew Kim Taegon

Lessons From a Ragpicker

Though I am well-acquainted with the geography and history of East Asia, I never encountered the word ragpicker in my studies or travels. This changed when I read Fr. Paul Glynn’s The Smile of a Ragpicker: The Life of Satoko Kitahara, Convert and Servant of the Slums of Tokyo

At the heart of this biography, Satoko Kitahara is born and raised by her well-to-do Japanese family. She enjoys an education, and cultivates a love of poetry and fine art. However, the Second World War decimates the Japanese landscape and morale. Satoko, who once believed that Japan was the crown of the world, now sees her fellow countrymen defeated and in despair. After the war, day-by-day she drops her sister off at a local foreign, convent school. There, Satoko meets the Mercedarian sisters and develops an interest in Christianity. Sataoko, convinced of the truth of Christ (and to her parent’s dismay), converts to Catholicism.

Because of her new-found faith, Satoko  becomes interested in the people living in the local slums (called Ants Town because the people who lived there “worked like ants”).

Ven. Satoko Kitahara // catholicherald.co.uk

She visits Ants Town to volunteer a few hours per week, but soon, she realizes this is not enough. Satoko wants to mirror Christ who took on our humanity and also became poor. Because of her strong conviction, she eventually becomes a “ragpicker,” someone who sifts through garbage for scraps to sell. Leaving behind a life of wealth, comfort, and security, Satoko plunges into Tokyo’s most destitute neighborhood, only to die penniless and of tuberculosis at the young age of 28. Today, the young woman known as the “Dorothy Day of Tokyo” is on her way to sainthood, currently bearing the title Venerable Satoko Kitahara.

After reading Smile, I was left with many convictions churning in my heart. I thought for many days about God’s mercy and the mercy I offer to others. Often, as Christians, we are quick to say that “Yes, I show mercy to those who need it the most.” After all, it’s so easy to say we are merciful. We throw some coins in the can of a homeless person, we serve an hour a month at a soup kitchen, or we go to Mass regularly. We’ve gone on mission trips to other continents, painted walls, held children for a few hours, and then headed across the ocean to our own comforts.

I say this not to disparage volunteering in soup kitchens or participating in foreign missions, but rather to cast a light on how we think about mercy. In my personal experience, I’ve found that it’s much easier to show mercy to those with whom I don’t have a close relationship. For example, when I was in college, I went on a mission trip to Texas to conduct vacation Bible schools in low-income housing communities. It was easy for me to show mercy and “love on” those kids during that week because I didn’t have the baggage associated with them and their lives. In a similar vein, it’s easy to love kids in a slum living 5,000 miles away because, whether we want to admit it or not, we will eventually go back home to our normalcy.

But, it’s hard to love those who are closest to us. Simply put: We know too much about them. When you’re spouse is insufferable, it’s hard to love and show mercy to him or her. Perhaps there’s a co-worker who grinds your last gear, and you’d rather be sick than share an office space with him. Or maybe it’s your parents, who you think don’t listen to you enough or are maybe too overbearing. It looks like a brother or sister who takes advantage of you, or the family next door that has three kids who are just too loud. In these cases, mercy is very, very difficult.

When reading about Satoko’s life in Japan, I thought about how she served as a conduit of Jesus’ mercy to Tokyo’s most destitute. It would have been easy, effortless even, for her to ignore the plight of Ants Town. After all, she was educated and lived in a comfortable home. If she wanted to do good, Satoko could have easily went to a “proper” mission and sacrificed an hour or two a week.

But, she didn’t.

Rather, Satoko was wholly invested and merciful to those in her own backyard. While others in her elite neighborhood looked down on both her work and the citizens of Ants Town, Satoko gave her physical and spiritual life up for the most poor of Tokyo. But, though she was materially poor at the end of her life, Satoko experienced the richness of the many conversions to Catholic Christianity as a result of her witness. Ultimately, she was known as a “Japanese for the Japanese.”

I ask you: Today, to whom will you show mercy? Think about where you’re from and where you live. Will you be a Californian for Californians? Maybe you’ll be a brother to your sister, or a wife to your husband. A Canadian to Canadians. One does not need to venture very far to show mercy, or even to make an impact. Like Satoko, your ministry of mercy may be next door or down the street. Our Lord does not require a journey of thousands of miles to show His mercy  to others. Today, I pray that we may take the love that Christ has given us, and pass it along to those who are closest to our hearts.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  // Luke 6:36

O Font of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself upon us. //  The Chaplet of Divine Mercy

 

Shrine Stops: Our Lady of the Island, Manorville, NY

July 24, 2017

What? Where?

The shrine of Our Lady of the Island is a semi-secluded property in Eastern Long Island, located near Manorville, New York. In addition to visit the shrine, you can enjoy the views of Long Island that are far removed from the bustling city.

Image result for our lady of the island ny

Flickr.com

Why should I visit?

Personally, I believe that a visit to this shrine should be a top priority for Catholics living in the Long Island area. You can participate in a Rosary Walk, enjoy the 80-ft statue of the Blessed Mother with the infant Jesus, and explore other nature trails. Near the welcome center, you can adore the Blessed Sacrament and tour the Mass Chapel. Even if you stop for but a moment, the Shrine is a beautiful place to enrich your Catholic faith.

More information?

www.ourladyoftheisland.com

 

Total Eclipse Weekend: Travel and Blog

Wallpaper, Background, Eclipse, Twilight

About 30 minutes ago, I arrived with my parents in Western Kentucky to witness what has been called “The Great American Eclipse.” Hopkinsville, a city about 52 miles away, will experience totality, meaning the the eclipse will achieve 100% coverage for 2-3 minutes. In the little city in which we’re staying, we will have totality, but with fewer crowds (a relief!). Also, I’ve witnessed a handful of lunar eclipses in my day. Maybe even a vague memory of a partial solar eclipse (thought I’m not sure). So, this is a very fun experience that I’ll always remember. Nature is great!

Finally, I’m strongly considering which direction my blog should take. For a long time, the niche was “happiness.” I directed my writing towards events and things that produced happiness in my life. However, since beginning the blog in April 2016, I’ve gone through many life changes. I’ve found that my blog now tends to gravitate towards my Catholic faith and the everyday life. If you have any suggestions, please comment below or message me. I want to take my writing more seriously and produce content that is beneficial for both my readers and myself.

In the meantime, catch the eclipse (and don’t forget your special viewing glasses!).

You Don’t Have To

This afternoon I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I hadn’t been since June 2001, and even then, it was a brief visit. Today,  I ducked into the Cathedral after crossing the street and fighting tight throngs of tourists. It was nice to sit in the church and take in all of the images and sights I ignored as an 11-year-old: The high ceilings, the shrines, the beautiful altar, and of course, the stained glass windows.

Twitter, Facebook, Together

pixabay.com

Around us, hundreds of tourists (many traveling in from outside of the United States), took pictures. The time spent of the photographs was often detailed, even with a high quality camera. As I knelt at my pew, I felt the urge creep up in the back of my mind.

“If you snapped a picture of the altar right now, it would look great on Instagram. Especially with the right filter. Think of the ‘likes’ you’ll get!”

As I live and breathe, the very thought crossed my mind. I don’t hide my love for social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve connected with old friends and friends I’ve never met in person. I enjoy posting photos of my travels, and I enjoy that other people enjoy the posts, too. Likes and hearts are nice.

However, I often find myself under pressure. Pressure to find a perfect Instagram filter, pressure to word a caption just right, pressure to share every event.

But, as I sat in the pew this afternoon, I mentally sat on my hands, thinking,  “You don’t have to document every single event, every single moment. It’s okay to let life fly ‘under’ the radar.”

As difficult as it was (and I struggled), I kept my phone in my purse. I didn’t take any photos at St. Patrick’s today. And the result is clear: I still feel as fulfilled and satisfied as if I had taken a photo, doctored it up with filters, and posted it on Facebook. More the same, while eating dinner at a kitschy new Korean restaurant in Manhattan Koreatown, I sat on my hands. I can eat galbi and bibimbap without posting a picture of it on Twitter. It tastes the same, and I enjoyed it without all of the pressure of “Is this lighting good enough for this picture?”

In conclusion, has this moment of clarity “cured” me? No. I have a picture of a flower and chocolate box window display in Rockefeller Plaza I’d like to post. I may, I may not. We will see. Only time and Instagram will tell.

But…

Next time, when you feel hurried or pressured to post an update or photograph of an event, remember: It’s okay. You can live life in peace, without the worry of likes and external validation.

 

On the Island of Peace: Thoughts

Every July 13th, I remember my Korean host father.

It was the day he died.

When I was a Fulbright teacher, I lived on Jeju Island, dubbed the “Hawaii of Korea” (and the namesake of this blog). One of the highlights of the Fulbright Korea English Teaching Assistantship is that for your first year, you must live with a host family. As I’ve said in past posts of past blogs, I truly hit the host family jackpot. I was seamlessly knitted into the fabric of my family, and I was welcomed into every aspect of Korean family life. Chuseok (think Thanksgiving), New Years’, Christmas, birthdays, I was present. Unlike other teaching assistants, who were sometimes pushed to the side during the year, I was blessed with a warm home.

In August 2014, as I was moving into my new apartment in Western Kentucky, I received a KakaoTalk message from my host sister saying that her father had died. I was stunned, as if a pile of bricks had hit my head. Just some 400 days earlier, my host father (whom I called Bruce), had dropped me off at the Jeju International Airport so that I could meet my connecting flight in Seoul back to the United States. While I won’t linger on the shock and aftermath in this post, you can read more about it if you click here. Today, instead, I’ll ramble for you.

I had lost family members before, sure. It hurts. For example, I still think of my paternal grandparents each and every day. But, when I found out that Bruce was gone, it was unbelievable. Young people die, but not young people that I know. That is far from fair, and not the life I planned. I imagined reunion upon reunion in Korea, and now, that is but a dream.

The family I lived with has shifted dramatically. The house I stayed in for my year is no longer occupied by my family. Last June, I stood outside of the house, wondering who lived inside.

Now, my host brother is now serving his mandatory 2-year military service. My host sister and host mother have moved to a large city, about 50 miles outside of Seoul. As for Bruce, he rests on Jeju Island: where he born, where he lived, and ultimately, where he died.

Jeju, Jeju Island, Sunrise Salary

Jeju Island, South Korea (pixabay.com)

Sometimes, when I’m using Google Maps or Naver (the Korean equivalent), I’ll use street view outside of the house. I’ll see Bruce’s truck, or my host mother’s car. Often, I’ll just smile when I see the little island on the map. It reminds me of a time of goodness and love, a time that I’ll never get back. In a way, I think that’s a very good thing. I treasure my time on the island, and with my host family, even more. Maps are good for that nostalgia.

Today, life is different. It moves on, rather we want it to or not. Sure, the home stay is empty and my host family is gone. But, in my heart, Jeju is the island of peace. It’s where I formed lifelong friendships and bonds. It’s where Bruce’s life touched mine, if but for a single moment in eternity. And for this, I am perpetually grateful.