Best of Erin — Grime

March 4, 2008, 10:30 am; posted by
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Originally published October 2, 2007.

Clifford Avenue points west and downtown towards the gorge in Rochester — you can follow it with your eyes and end up staring uncertainly at the skyscraper-ish buildings rising nobly out of the city. They attempt to shake off the grease of the neighborhoods and stretch their tinted windows up to the sky, where the tint is enough that free air is all that matters. Miles upon miles of sky do a great deal for the skyscrapers, and for those who dwell inside.

But outside those windows is a whole other world that I have just come to know. A world within the city where uncertainty is life, where — despite Latino ascendancy — the Latino neighborhoods still rotate aimlessly around a center of poverty, crime, and fear. It is part of any city, the suburbanite might say, so what can we do?

I am as guilty as any suburbanite, even though I’ve never lived in any sort of housing development or suburb, of having this thought run rampant around my mind, twisting any compassion or motivation I might have for those who live their lives in the urban rut. Even in 2002, when I was blessed enough to have the city of the third world brought to my immediate attention — in an Iquitos marketplace, the immediate is all there is: sights, smells, tastes — even then, I do not think I really understood what the grime of the city is.

To me, then, it was sheer culture. Iquitos, Peru was distant even when I dug my toes into the black selva dirt. Certainly, the culture was amazing and I have since realized how much it really was my first love, but that does not take away from the fact that the cities have always been places that I feared. Too loud, too many people, too many problems that could never be solved.

Last weekend, nothing really spectacular happened, at least not by most standards. I hung out at a Salvation Army (a ‘Salvo,’ as I have called them for a long while) with 40 or 50 kids, played fútbol for upwards of three hours, proved that Houghton has not improved my ability to swing my hips to Latin music at all, and chatted in unmistakably poor Spanish as much as I could. I understood about 60 percent of a sermon and took communion with people from more countries than I ever have at the same time.

How disorganized my love for Latino culture has been.

I feel that I can only clarify this statement by saying that the grime of the city has officially taken up residence on my knees — and it is only by embracing this culture and all its needs that I can truly love it, truly pray for it, and truly be in it and of it (someday!).

Grime is unpleasant and ugly and socially unacceptable, but it is there. And those who live with it are just as qualified as any suburbanite to receive God’s love and ours.


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