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Methodist pastor opts for life of protest on the street

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Lorenza Andrade-Smith at the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville on her trek along the U.S./Mexico border last month.

“That was hard, it was a hard time for the family,” she says. “I mean, my mother would ask me that, since I’m part of the clerical, ‘Is your brother going to hell?’ That was a rough thing to handle.” While she identifies as Christian (an effort aimed at “truly imitating Christ” guides her advocacy, she says), Smith, in her public prayers amid actions and local protests, encourages others to “follow their own faith tradition.” Her own son converted to Islam two years ago.

Prior to entering the St. Paul School of Theology in 2005, Andrade served as a U.S. Air Force air-traffic controller, where she met her husband. Though she’s still married, Smith and her husband haven’t lived together since she joined the seminary, she says. She moved to San Antonio two years ago when she finished at St. Paul, becoming Westlawn United Methodist Church’s first-ever woman pastor.

“There’s a lot about Lorenza that’s unique. She’s radical, with a fearlessness that is much bigger than her little short stature,” said Rev. John Feagins, who leads UTSA’s United Methodist Church. Last year, Feagins invited Smith to meet a group of local students gearing up for a loud and public fight to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for those brought into the country as children if they attend college or join the military. A presentation Smith had given at the university on a project she was involved with in the Arizona desert, walking the desolate migrant trails from the border to leave water along the way, put Smith in Feagins’ mind, he said.

“I was impressed with where she stood on the issue. She’s a personal friend and somebody who I knew would care about what was happening,” Feagins said. “I knew then that she was willing to be radical, and I knew those kids needed help from somebody like her because they were preparing to take some pretty radical steps.”

Smith and a score of local DREAM Act students ignited a firestorm in November. After repeated protests and pleadings for an audience with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, seen then as the swing vote standing in the way of the DREAM Act’s passage, Smith and seven local students embarked on a debilitating 30-day hunger strike in protest (See “Escalation in DREAM fight leads to 16 arrests,” December 1, 2010). During a sit-in at the Senator’s office, Smith was arrested along with 15 other activists, including former San Antonio Councilwoman Maria Berriozábal.

“I never really knew her until we met in that jail cell,” Berriozábal said. “She made an impression on all of us. Since then, I’ve continued to be impressed with her quest for justice.”

While the others left their jail cells the next day, Smith escalated, refusing to make bond until a vote on the legislation while adopting a complete fast — refusing water and food.

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