For many years, La Limonada has been divided into eleven distinct colonias, or neighborhoods. Lemonade International’s two academies are in Lourdes I and Lourdes II, respectively. Other colonias have names like Lomas del Edén (Hills of Eden), El Esfuerzo (The Effort), Buena Vista (Good View), 15 de Agosto (August 15), and 5 de Octubre (October 5).
There are decades-old stories behind these names, and the lines of demarcation between colonias, while not visible on any map or to any outsider’s eye, are for that reason no less real.
In fact, unlike the porous boundaries between neighborhoods in cities in the United States – even between so-called “good” and “bad” areas – the lines between the neighborhoods of La Limonada are simply not to be crossed under any circumstances. Each colonia is controlled by a pandilla, a youth street gang, and they aren’t in the habit of forgiving trespassers.
On Sunday night, just before we arrived in La Limonada for the first time on Monday morning, there was a shooting in front of one of Lemonade International’s academies. It was part of a skirmish between pandillas representing neighboring colonias. This kind of thing happens somewhat regularly, invariably putting everyone on edge and leading many parents to keep their kids home from school. This shooting, as it happened, was a case of mistaken identity; gang members in pursuit of a particular enemy mistakenly shot at an innocent passerby in the leg.
Considering all of this, today was an historic day. The designated presidents of five of La Limonada’s colonias – including two who have a reputation for downright hating each other – came together for an unprecedented meeting in hopes of collaborating on ways to better serve their communities and to seek the common good of La Limonada as a whole. The meeting was convened by a small group of university students of industrial design who were given the assignment by a professor acquainted with a Lemonade International staff member.
As the meeting got underway, the 26 of us broke the ice by going around the room, each sharing our name and one positive attribute about ourselves, as well as the names and attributes of each previous person. There was a bit of awkward forgetfulness and a lot of laughter, but we were all surprised at how many names and positive attributes we could remember about others – most of whom we’d just met. And this set the stage for what came next.
We were divided into a handful of groups, and each group was assigned a concept to draw on a sheet of butcher paper. My group, which included one of the colonia presidents (pictured with me below), was asked to depict in pictures what comes to mind when we think of “agents of change.” We drew stick figures of a leader in conversation with the people of the community. We drew a person looking forward, not stuck in the past. We drew hands coming together, forging bonds of friendship and trust. And we drew a picture of a man washing someone else’s feet. That last one, the president explained to everyone, represented what we can learn from the example of Jesus, who humbled himself and became a servant.
The university students who convened the gathering plan to put together a book that details the history of La Limonada based on the combined and synthesized accounts of these colonia presidents. This is particularly exciting to the staff of Lemonade International, since nothing of its kind exists, and because those who can remember La Limonada’s early days are getting up in years.
The lines of demarcation between the colonias still exist, but today steps were taken to unite these communities that have so much in common, in hopes that together they can accomplish more to change La Limonada than they ever could apart.
What I didn’t mention until now is that this meeting took place at one of Lemonade International’s academies, and that Tita has been the key link making this kind of gathering possible. Through child sponsorship, scholarships, micro-finance, vocational training, and more, Lemonade International is directly impacting the lives of hundreds of individual people for the better.
But as a group of faithful, courageous Christians, the organization is doing something more – making a way for sworn enemies with decades of enmity behind them and between them to come together, to look each other in the eye, to say each other’s names, to praise each other’s attributes, to laugh, to fidget, and certainly not least, to dream of a common future in which, God only knows, colonia presidents may even stoop to wash each other’s feet.
[Photos by Scott Bennett]