Edith Avila Olea

One of my favorite parts of being Mexican is the notion or tradition of family. Our family extends far beyond our immediate family members. In my world, family includes our grandparents and the lifelong friends of our parents.

Family includes our godparents and our church friends. Family includes your neighbors and the neighbors back in our small rural towns in Mexico. I think you get my point — family, in a very traditional Mexican way, is a very wide net.

Growing up in this culture, my way of thinking was shaped in collectivist traditions. It’s not my family, it’s our family. It’s not my experience, it’s our experiences. It’s not my home, it’s our home. Even today, all of our family’s decisions are based on the greatest benefit to us all.


I bring this perspective to my work. It’s not about my success, it’s about our success.

I never thought of this part of my culture as different. It was just the way I grew up. Reflecting on this gift, I see how it has deeply influenced my practice of solidarity, especially through this pandemic. It’s not about my health, it’s about our health.

Yet for some believers, even Latino Catholics, this is not the case.

Today, one can argue that the traditional way of Latino culture is being impacted and shaped for many families by the individualistic American culture. Add to that the insurmountable misinformation propaganda efforts, it’s created a wave of confusion, pain and anger for many Catholics and Christians.

Truth is, some aren’t even seeing the need to practice solidarity anymore.

There is so much pain and fear that people are not or cannot worry about their neighbor. With almost 39 million jobs lost, families are fearful for their future. Working with our social service providers on the ground, we’re seeing the increasing need for food and financial assistance.

As an immigrant, I thoroughly understand the fear that comes from an uncertain future. In fact, I can identify with this emotion all too well, especially in my current wait for the Supreme Court decision for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Immigrants waiting for a nonexistent immigration line, DACA recipients, temporary protected status holders and others know what it’s like for an executive order to change your world with the stroke of a pen.


Waiting is hard. Waiting is especially hard when it’s dependent on something that’s out of our control, like a Supreme Court decision or a devastating virus. Waiting is hard when it means our future plans are on hold or canceled. Waiting is hard when the outcome is uncertain no matter how “good” you are now.

If I learned anything from my wait as an immigrant, it is that waiting can become a cry of despair or a period of hope. Let’s make this wait a moment for hope to grow.

When I start growing restless of being at home or not being able to see my family, I think about how the pandemic is impacting my community. When one of us is hurting, we’re all hurting.

It’s not about my own health, it’s about the health of my community. It’s the fact that black and Latino communities are literally dying disproportionately from COVID-19.

I choose to stay home because I cannot bear being responsible for spreading the virus to a community that is at risk, even if unintentionally. On the contrary, it’s my responsibility as a Christian to protect the vulnerable.

Choosing to practice solidarity is not a game of politics. Living solidarity requires self-sacrifice as Christ sacrificed himself for us on the cross. Let us remember the commandment that Jesus left us, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39).


Edith Avila Olea is associate director of justice and peace for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication.