Until I start field work, I go each day to an office at the Center for Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) to read journal articles, contact possible leads, and prepare discussion guides. Surprisingly, the house where I live is across the street from where I work. The sisters and I joke about my long commute through traffic (I sometimes have to wait for a car before I cross) and the many terrains I traverse (I go down stairs, across the street, and back up stairs). Yet as I reflect on who passes the day in each location, the juxtaposition strikes me as heavily ironic.
On the one side are the sisters. Of the six of them, three are pre-novices. They are not yet full novices because none of the three had an opportunity to finish their education. For each sister, the reasons are different: family pressure to stay home (especially as a female), limited resources for school fees, illness, or a need to work at an early age. Two of the sisters never finished elementary school and the other finished middle school but did not enter high school. Here, the congregation supports them as they complete their studies through what is called educación abierta for adults who return to their studies.
On the other side of the street is CIESAS. The center offers only post-graduate degrees and unites some of the most skilled academics to research in the field of social anthropology. My advisor flies almost once a week to Mexico City and presents findings to top government officials. Many of the people in my office study poverty and education in Mexico – studying the situation of the families of the sisters across the street.
Crossing the street again, five of the six sisters have family who live in the US and migrated because of economic need.
Across the street in CIESAS, my advisor works on a joint project on migration with Georgetown University in the US.
Back with the sisters, the daily routine is centered on prayer and worship and a constant celebration of God’s goodness. The chapel room sits right next to the door, so that the sisters can visit it before they leave the house and as soon as they come back.
On the CIESAS side of the street, most of the people I work with are skeptical of organized religion. They imagine that the sisters are traditional and constantly emphasize sin – which they don’t think sounds very fun.
The two sides of the street don’t have much contact with each other but they do notice each other. When I explained to my counterparts at work where I live, they said that they had seen the sisters coming and going occasionally. When I told the sisters about my short commute to work, they said they had always wondered went on in that building, particularly as there is a guard at the door all day long.
I exist on both sides of the street. And I wonder what it means for me and for others to bridge those few steps. Who lives across the street from you?