“This is my voice. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” Shane Koyczan has some incredible spoken word poetry, but this is perhaps the most inspiring and thought provoking. I watch this spoken word performance on a near monthly basis. At times it’s a source of great comfort, to know there are others who use their voice in a similar way as mine. Other times it’s a cause of discomfort, as I’m forced to reflect about why and how my voice has gone silent at critical moments. But one thing is for certain, today, I am at last comfortable sharing a very personal piece of work that does say “This is my voice. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
I went to a Jesuit university called Loyola Marymount. Entering LMU, I had no idea how much the choice would truly change my life (cue cliche violin music). At LMU, my curiosity was engaged. My first day at the university was spent not on it’s beautiful bluff overlooking Marina Del Rey and the Pacific Ocean, but rather navigating the streets of Boyle Heights, Watts, and Pico Union. I met Greg Boyle, a mentor who founded Homeboy Industries. Greg was the first man that taught me how valuable stories can be. I sat in this tiny conference room, hanging on his every word. I laughed. I cried. And I left with a more nuanced and complex point of view on the men and women, former gang members often covered in tattoos, I silently had judged when walking through the doors of Homeboy an hour prior. My eyes were opened in an incredible way that day, and there was no turning back.
I also met Pam Rector, the Director of the Center for Service and Action and a woman who became my “Los Angeles mother.” Pam challenged me from the beginning. She’s the person who nudged me out of my comfort zone after I adamantly told her I wasn’t interested in traveling outside of the United States. Period. Pam disagreed and relentlessly encouraged me to travel. 35 countries and years of my life spent in foreign countries later, Pam can say I told you so. Pam and Greg helped me to be brave enough to pursue the process that has been finding my voice, and I’m grateful still to them both for the ways they guided me along and still do.
Mere weeks after that first day, I was in a van throttling down to Tijuana at 5 am on a Sunday morning to do a service project. The details of where exactly we were going and who I would meet were murky. But one thing was for certain: I was surrounded by students older than me that inspired me and being led on this mysterious journey by a staff member in my freshman residence hall named Ted, a guy who is as close a friend and mentor today as he was back then. They all challenged me to think about what my college experience would truly be about. Have fun they urged, but at the end of the day, what is it that will nourish you? Hours later, lost amidst the flurry of Spanish words I couldn’t yet understand (I didn’t really learn Spanish until I moved to South America in 2006) and cement yet to be mixed, I found myself startled by how easily I came to feel at home amongst the men and women from both sides of the border who had come out to work that day. A refrain played out through my head “this is the community I want to be a part of.” Kinship I discovered, had very little to do with fancy words and everything to do with intentionality and love. Today, I’m still a part of that community, and the friends I have made in Tijuana are incredible.
Experiences like these, which were numerous during college, shaped my curiosity and formed the very bedrock of the man I am today. And as my curiosity became my guiding light, I found myself exploring every crevice of the world, from neighborhoods in LA that were new to me, to the streets of Guayaquil, Belfast, and so many more places around the world.
A little over a year ago, I was asked to be the keynote at The National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. I would open the conference with my talk, Greg Boyle would close it with one of his. No pressure.
Then, a couple months ago, I got to give something of a keynote to incoming freshman for their orientation at Loyola Marymount. At the root of it all, “what does it truly mean to go a Jesuit university?” was my prompt. LMU shaped me into the curious, compassionate, travel and relationship obsessed person that was motivated to start this very blog. We say time and again that for this blog- we write about what excites us, which is simple strategies to enable people to travel more affordably, because that leads to what we are passionate about…the ability to encounter the stories of other people as you travel. LMU didn’t just teach me a trade, it educated me in solidarity and it sent me out on a quest to see the world in stories more than stats.
For a few months now, I have sat on this video, too timid to share it. But I was reminded of the famous Marianne Williamson quote that “it is our light, not our darkness that scares us.” And so little by little, I shared a bit of my light. It started with making the video publicly searchable on Youtube, even if I told no one about. Then I shared it with a few trusted friends. And then one day I logged onto Facebook and got a surprise as pleasant as it was frightening: Ana and 14 of your friends have shared this link: A link to my video. Little by little, messages over Facebook and email made their way to me about how beautiful and inspiring the video was. It touched a nerve with a lot of people and I am humbled by the stories people have opened up to me with as a result of the video. And so today, I share it with all of you.
As we reach the end of this I’d encourage you to check out Tattoos on the Heart, a book written by Father Greg (or the fairly recent documentary about him called G-Dog). He’s who has most informed and inspired my obsession for storytelling and his book manages to bring his incredible stories to life in a way that amazes me still. It’s a must read.
Finally, a plug: I’m available for keynotes. I’d love if you could share this video or post with anyone who might be able to use my services. I’ve spoken to high school and college groups, church groups and more! I can speak about social justice, the power of travel, almost anything to do with either of those two categories! If you’re interested, get in touch with me.
I hope you all share your own gifts with the world. I’m reminded of countless stories I’ve been fortunate to encounter on the road, and I wonder if I do justice to the incredible men and women who live them when I fail to tell them as fully as I can to as many people as I can. Tell the stories that form your heart, scary though it may be to do so, you won’t regret it. What’s more- I think the true price of travel has as much to do with this truth as it does with dollars: We are tasked with bringing home some of the goodness we encounter in the world and to share it with our own beloved community.
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