Some call it “coexistence,” some describe it as an “experience of faith,” and some insist that it defies translation. Either way, the Spanish term “convivir,” which Director of Quaker Affairs Walter Sullivan personally takes to mean “radical hospitality,” is the philosophical backbone of Mexico City-based nonprofit Casa de los Amigos’ mission.
At its core, the Casa de los Amigos, affectionately nicknamed La Casa, “is a center for peace and international understanding,” Sullivan explains. It was established as a Quaker home and guest house in 1956 by the Quaker community in Mexico, and “its work continues to be rooted in Quaker values.”
This semester’s Friend in Residence? None other than the executive director of La Casa, M. Antonio López Galicia. Such is the centrality of “convivir” to La Casa’s work that it was the focus of the second of two on-campus public talks he gave on Friday, October 26: “Radical Hospitality Across Culture: Migration, the Border, and the Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City.”
With junior Victoria Merino translating, López spoke at length about the Casa, emphasizing the sense of camaraderie and community the institution fosters among “the people it helps.”
“Something that is done at La Casa is getting everyone to sit down at the same table—this means the refugees themselves, the volunteers, people who come in to visit, workers, anyone who’s around La Casa,” he says. “[This is done with] the idea that sharing a meal provides a space for everyone to feel like they have a space and really betters the relationships everyone, as human beings, has with each other.”
The sight of López in front of a Stokes Hall podium, speaking to a rapt audience, represented the fulfillment of one of Sullivan’s long-held dreams: to highlight the worldwide ubiquity of Quakerism.
“The Quaker Affairs office has wanted for a number of years to invite Quakers from outside North America to participate as Friends in Residence to give community members a greater appreciation of the global diversity of the Religious Society of Friends,” he says.
Organized by Sullivan and co-sponsored by the Quaker Affairs office and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC), the “Radical Hospitality” talk was part of the Center for Religion and Spiritual Life’s annual Religion and Spiritual Life Week, a five-day-long series of lectures on everything from thanatology to Talmudic study. In a year (and an era) when issues of migration and immigration are at the forefront of the global political conversation, the questions implicit in La Casa’s work—“How do we welcome other people and talk about challenging issues across cultural and philosophical difference?” and “What are the impacts of conditions on the U.S./Mexican border?”—are more pertinent than ever, as Sullivan knows all too well.
“[While] the process of inviting Dr. Antonio López to campus preceded the election of Mr. Trump,” he says, “his presence on campus is a particular gift at this time during this country’s current political polarization.”
La Casa, which touts itself as a “community of peace, fellowship, fun, reflection, and action,” has put its money where its mouth is for more than 60 years now, “promot[ing] peace with justice, foster[ing] understanding between groups and individuals, and support[ing] the human dignity of every person through its programs, community space, and social and cultural activities,” in the words of Sullivan. In practice, this takes the form of providing food, shelter, and emotional support to people in need of help—refugees, asylum seekers, etc.—for a period of up to six months, though, Lopez notes, that is something of a soft limit. And in recent years, in response to Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration into the U.S., it has shifted its focus nearly exclusively to migrant and immigrant populations.
“Something that’s really interesting about La Casa and the reason why it’s contextually important is because of everything that’s been happening with the caravan, people that have been moving across borders,” he says. “…It’s important to remember, in times when governments are talking about building more walls and cutting people further and further away from borders and creating more borders, that there are other possibilities and opportunities to interact with the way that things are going in a different way. La Casa offers this different opportunity to really interact with refugees in a different way and to tear down these walls.”
Thanks to College-sponsored summer internships, many Haverford students have been involved in tearing down those walls, in both literal and figurative senses, in the 10 years since Haverford and La Casa first partnered. Lev Greenstein ’20, an anthropology major, was one of them. Looking to sharpen his Spanish-language skills and explore his interest in issues of social justice the summer after his freshman year, he flew out to Mexico City that May for a two-month-long photography internship.
“More than anything,” he said at the time, “I appreciate the workers here, the guests here, and the community members here who have continually impressed upon me their breathtaking humanity and made my work mean something.”
Similarly, Sullivan believes that the Haverford community, as well as the world at large, can look to La Casa for a model of humanitarianism in action.
“La Casa has a unique opportunity to nurture a multicultural international community dedicated to peace and understanding at a time when the world is under great economic and political stress and there is a renewed spirit of division and conflict,” he says. “Friends on Haverford’s campus may have much to learn from the experience and wisdom of the La Casa staff.”
Photos by Sarah Jennings ’21 and Alexandra Iglesia ’21