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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.

Following Smith’s arrest, Bishop James E. Dorff, of the San Antonio Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, released the statement: “I do not condone nor recommend breaking the law and she is aware of that, but I appreciate the depth, compassion, and sense of commitment she has to seeking some kind of just immigration reform.” Dorff, Smith says, later agreed to her new appointment to the streets living with the poor and marginalized — an appointment she expects to last at least three years.

“Lorenza appeared within our inner circle and conversations at a very important time for us. Back in November 2010, it was the beginning of our escalation, of having undocumented youth come out of the shadows,” said Felipe Vargas, a DREAM activist arrested alongside Smith at the senator’s office. “There were these huge changes happening in the risk youth were willing to take, and from the very beginning Lorenza was clear she was there in solidarity, real solidarity. She was willing to take risks, too.

“I mean, look at what she was willing to do,” Vargas said. “If we were going to go to jail, she was going to jail with us. If we were willing to starve ourselves, so was she. And while we were scared and nervous, she was like this piece of stone that was solid, cool, collected,” he said.

While her supporters and friends don’t question her sense of mission, many worry about Smith’s new path. “You can imagine what a lot of people probably think of a person who gives away their vehicle, who puts on burlap or canvas like a mendicant wandering monk, and goes and lives on the streets,” Feagins said. “The worry I have with her strategy is that it’s only going to last as long as people still acknowledge her as a rational part of the clerical community. But this is a radical step she’s taking, and before too long, I’m worried, they might just see her as another street person. … I introduced her to those DREAM Act folks. I feel like, in a way, that maybe I even set her on the road somewhat to where she is right now.”

Claudia Sanchez, another student and activist arrested with Smith during the DREAM Act push, spoke of Smith with admiration, but said she’s worried about her health and safety living on the streets. “She’s risking herself, putting herself on the line. I’m worried for her, it can be dangerous, especially for a woman.”

For her part, Smith admits to feeling the pressure of being pulled in many directions. “I’m still finding where exactly I’m going to dedicate my time, my energy,” she says.

Last month, Smith trekked across the expanse of the U.S./Mexico border, starting at dawn near Brownsville’s Boca Chica Beach, where the Rio Grande meets the waters of the Gulf. For 10 days, she traveled along both sides of the border, hopping busses and hitching rides with friends and family. After spending a short time in Juárez, she caught a ride back to San Antonio in time for a protest outside the Grand Hyatt for downtown hotel workers (See “Hyatt protests escalate,” July 27, 2011).

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