Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Specific audiences

In order to make an effective change, one must be dedicated to a specific community in order to ensure that one’s message is heard and is enacted. We see this drive to focus on a specific recipient in Danticat’s short stories where a physical representation is seen as the best means of posterity and where advice is passed down through daughters. We also see this in Lucas’ Landmarking: City, Church and Jesuit Urban Strategy, where he highlights the determination of the Jesuits and their pointed mission to a specific group of people.

Edwidge Danticat’s characters recognize the need to direct their drive for legacy to those around them and to their families. In “Seeing Things Simply,” both Catherine and Princesse have a particular audience in mind as they go about their painting. Catherine states from the outset that her representations of life in Haiti are specifically designed for those in Europe. Princesse, her model, sees this as a point of relief because her community would be shocked by her posing nude: “She had a body like all the others who lived here except she was willing to be naked. But after she was dead and buried, she wouldn’t care who saw her body. It would be up to Catherine and God to decide that. As long as Catherine never showed anyone in Ville Rose the portraits, she would be content” (Danticat 130). Because Princesse does not want to cause shame to her family, she takes comfort in knowing that only outsiders will see her portraits. Princesse’s being different and her exposing herself to the world would be seen in a negative light in a culture that is so conservative. On the other hand, Princesse soon realizes this need to shed light on her life when she recognizes the importance of passing down her views to others. Admiring Catherine’s talents, Princesse states, “It struck Princesse that this is why she wanted to make pictures, to have something to leave behind even after she was gone, something that showed what she had observed in a way that no one else had and no one else would after her” (Danticat 140). Princesse changes her views of the portraits in that she realizes that they will enable her experiences and her thoughts to be transferred to those in her community – they will allow others around her, who may not share in her thoughts, to come into contact with her perception of their small city. Although Princesse was consoled in that her portraits would be shown only to outsiders, she recognizes that her message should be shared with those who are directly in contact with her in order that her experiences may be passed down to future generations. We also see this need to express one’s thoughts in the story of “New York Day Women,” in which a daughter, Suzette, follows her mother throughout the city, recalling all of the advice that her mother has given her over the years. The story’s form is that of a piece of a conversation from the narrator’s mother in bold and then Suzette’s reaction to it. This form effectively demonstrates that the narrator has listened to her mother over the years and has taken into account all of the things that she has said. Her mother’s intended audience, her daughter, has been reached because Suzette can recall many statements that her mother has made and shows that she has learned from them: “Would you get up and give an old lady like me your subway seat? In this state of mind, I bet you don’t even give up your seat to a pregnant lady? / My mother, who is often right about that. Sometimes I get up and give my seat. Other times, I don’t. It all depends on how pregnant the woman is and whether or not she is with her boyfriend or husband and whether or not he is sitting down” (Danticat 146). Suzette’s mother has dedicated her message to her daughter, in the hopes that she will listen; which she obviously has been doing. By taking note of her mother’s assertions, Suzette has ensured that her mother’s memory will live on because she will be able to share these pieces with her descendants, thus passing down the Haitian traditions and customs regarding mannerisms. Indicating a specific audience of one’s words and representations enables a person’s message to be taken seriously and to be shared with others in order to reveal a particular rendering of life.

Lucas, in his essay, saw this same dedication to specificity in the work of the Jesuits in their founding their first communities. The Jesuits showed a particular interest in cities: “They did not claim St. Peter’s with its relics nor the far-removed Lateran with its history, but the living center of a great city as their sacred place of encounter…There, in ‘the free breadth of a divine world.’ They had set up landmarks, signs that God is to be found and worshiped not on a holy mountain but at the ordinary cross-roads of human experience” (Lucas 2), and, “From its beginnings, the Society of Jesus has willingly participated in the Church’s ongoing dialogue with urban culture” (Lucas 3). The Jesuits dedicated their mission towards the cities specifically, in order to serve those whom they perceived to be the most in need. They believed that their message and their aid in the cities would enable the most individuals to be helped. We can see this dedication to ensuring that they reach the cities in the example of Latin America, where the Jesuits were so resolute that they refused to yield their mission because others were discouraging: “The Jesuits determined to focus their early efforts in the viceregency on four major cities: Lima, Caracas, Quito, and Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca Empire…For the next eighty years, the canons protested loudly every time the Jesuits expanded their college or rebuilt after an earthquake” (Lucas 9-11). The Jesuits were unwavering in their endeavors even though they were not welcomed in the area. The Jesuits believed that it was essential to preach to these cities and to provide them relief. This determination can also be seen in their visits to “The Bowery in New York City’s Lower East Side” (Lucas 18). This area was the home to many poverty-stricken immigrant communities, including the Irish, the Italians, and the Puerto Ricans. Plagued by prostitution, AIDS, violence, drugs, and more, the area was in desperate need of institutions that would take the children out of this harmful environment (Lucas 18). Archbishop Michael Corrigan, Father Nicholas Russo, and Father Walter Janer all worked to establish schools and after-school programs that addressed the needs of the children: “The goal of the school was clear: to move immigrant children out of danger and into the cultural mainstream…[W]hat was needed was an institution that would help at least some young people to break out of the neighborhood’s vicious topography…Nativity gives them a chance to navigate the dangerous urban shoals and move into the mainstream, a chance to discover the landmarks of values, discipline, and community, a chance to transform the evil genius of their neighborhood into a new and shining city” (Lucas 19-21). The Jesuits recognized the need for guidance in the urban, run-down areas of the cities, and addressed these needs however they could by establishing schools and by establishing their presence as a source of relief to the communities.

We need this similar dedication at Loyola. The Year of the City provides an incentive to make ourselves a prominent institution in the city, ready to aid those who are in need. Loyola’s service opportunities enable students to share the Jesuit ideals of education and of justice through action. Human contact is crucial to making Loyola’s presence known in the Baltimore communities that truly need assistance. By sending the students out to these areas, we are saying that we, like the Jesuits, are ready to administer to their needs through action and undying dedication.