Why do I live in African villages?

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Santa Clara University


Whenever someone asks me my opinion about some policy matter confronting the U.S. or the world, like the recent controversy over the W.T.O., I almost always preface my remarks by saying, "From the viewpoint of an African villager..." Social justice, to me, means taking the view of African villagers, for they remain the "wretched of the earth." Learning to appreciate the world through this lense took some time. I am the product of a Jesuit high school, Colegio San Ignacio in Puerto Rico, and college, Georgetown University, and let’s see, how many years times fifty-two weeks makes.... a lot of Sunday Jesuit sermons. (Many penned by the former academic vice-president of Santa Clara, Father Charles Beirne.) So I feel comfortable in thinking that Jesuit education gave me, among other things, a vision of a just society, and a desire to contribute to its realization. There was a lot of inculcation in Jesuit education, and a little bit of incantation, but the learning mostly happened through personal example in tiny, powerful, incidents. One that sticks to my mind is a rainy afternoon in eight grade, and involves le père Ferrand, the dreaded French teacher. As we stood outside the classroom, I was doing what any twelve year-old might be doing, slashing a broadleafed tropical plant with a stick, very methodically ripping it to shreds. Père Ferrand came walking along. We dreaded him because he only spoke French in class, which none of us knew. (One story that circulates involves him repeatedly shouting, the first day of class, for a young student to Coupe l’appareil!, Turn off the projector!, which, to our Spanish-speaking ears sounded awfully like Escupe la pared!, Spit on the wall!) Well, Father Ferrand came walking along, and as he passed me he stopped, looked, and commented in English: "Don’t you know Mr. Kevane, that’s not very nice. Plants have feelings too." I never slashed a plant again.