The Chronicles of the Los Angeles Immersion

Los Angeles, CA

One week after returning from our Los Angeles Collaborative Winter Immersion, I find today to be a great day to look back and reflect on the week, and to be able to take a day by day look at what we were able to accomplish, see, and learn from the different people and organizations that we were able to visit and work with during that time. For myself, personally, there were three overarching values that everyone I interacted exhibited in such a great way: Passion, Patience, and Perseverance. I'll take you a on a day by day journey to show you how each of the people we worked with was able to be such great stewards of service, as well as give you a overview of the things we did on this trip.

Before I start with my daily recollection, I just want to point out that the time before my trip to Los Angeles wasn't marked with the utmost determination to make a difference and to be very open to all ideas. The weeks before going on this trip was a time for me to learn to be a more open person and to be accepting of different ideas, people, and ways of life. I must admit, that even on the six hour plane ride from Honolulu to Los Angeles, I still had hesitations and a sense of uncertainty as to what was to come. However, as soon as I landed in Los Angeles with the others from Chaminade, and once I got to meet the other students from the University of Dayton and St. Mary's University, all fears of uncertainty and hesitation melted away, and I was assured that the week was going to be a great one.

The first day of the immersion was a bit of a travel day for us, since the day was spent mostly on the Hawaiian Airlines Jet which was transporting us from the Sunny Skies of Honolulu to the Smoggy Skies of Los Angeles. Even though that Saturday was a bit of a inactive day for us, it was filled with many firsts for me. This trip marked the first time on a trip without family or parents, it was the first time I went to Southern California, and it was the first time I met students from the US Mainland. After landing at LAX at about 3 in the afternoon, we made our way to the Alamo Rental Car Station, where we met our other advisor from St. Mary's University in Texas, Mr. Chris Cantu. Immediately after meeting Chris, we met Arturo and Luke, who were from St. Mary's as well. After the forty mile drive to our Villa in Duarte, CA, we met the other students from St. Mary's (Katherine and Claudia) and the students from UD (Grace, Megan, Frances, and Libby.) The rest of the night was filled with getting to know everyone, and having time to bond and build relationships with the others.
A View of Los Angeles from the Skies
Sunday, the second day of the immersion was a day full of exploration and culture shock, for me at least. After having breakfast at our Villa, we had a facilitated discussion on the differences between our three universities, and it was eye-opening to see some of the cultural differences our universities shared. Afterwards, drove a little over twenty miles to Downtown Los Angeles, where we were able to have Mass at La Placita Parish, which was the only Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles for a number of years in the 19th century. During the Noon Spanish Mass, I felt a sense of awe and inspiration, to be surrounded by so many from all walks of life and economic status, and although I was unable to speak Spanish or understand most of the Mass, I felt humbled to see how many people came to Church to ask for God's Blessings. After the wonderful Mass, we were able to take some time to explore Olvera Street, the Open Markets in Los Angeles, and for the first time, have some really authentic Mexican food. After exploring the Historical Spanish District at Olvera Street, we drove to the West Hills, California, where we were hosted by the Marianists who were retired, or worked in the adjourning Chaminade High School. We had a great dinner, where some of us tried venison for the first time. After spending a few hours conversing and dining with the Marianists, we had to head back to our residence, although many of us didn't want to leave. We got back to our Villa in Duarte, where we had some time for Spiritual Reflection in preparation for the week of service and new experiences ahead.
Los Angeles Immersion Students After Mass at La Placita Parish
2012 Los Angeles Immersion Students and Advisors with Marianists from West Hills, CA
Monday was our first day of service and actually going out into the community to see first-hand the experiences that people have gone through and have been in to become a success. We drove to Downtown Los Angeles, in the Chinatown District to have lunch at a Vietnamese Restaurant, called Pho 87. The owners of the Restaurant, who are Catholic Parishioners at one of the Marianist Parishes in the area, were gracious to cook us a meal, free of charge, even though they didn't know a single word of English. After the wonderful meal, we headed to St. Ann's Parish, where we met Phoung, a Vietnamese Immigrant who faced tremendous difficulties to get to the United States. Phoung left Vietnam to escape persecution by the North Vietnamese, and left his family in order to get to the United States. I remember PhoungPhoung risked being imprisoned or getting killed during his journey for an education and to build a better life. Now, Phoung gives back by having his own Vietnamese Youth Group at his Parish where he helps Vietnamese Youth build better relationships with their families, and with God. Phoung is also petitioning for his family to be able to immigrate here to the United States, and I admire his persistence and patience, as the process takes ten to twelve years to complete. Phoung is, in my opinion, a modern day hero. After our discussion with Phoung, our group headed back into Downtown Los Angeles, more specifically Skid Row, where we spent the evening preparing and serving a meal to the Hungry at the Union Rescue Mission. I was greatly surprised when I found out that the people whom we were working with were actual members of the program, and I was personally uplifted to see how much passion they had for their work. When I entered the Kitchen of the Union Rescue Mission, I was surprised to see how clean the area was, as most soup kitchens have the general connotation of being dirty. I also was gladdened by the positive, welcoming attitude that all of the Chefs had, as they were vibrant and full of energy. When talking to one of the Chefs, he said something that struck as all: "As long as everyone who comes through this line gets fed, I can go to bed rest assured that I have done my job." That really struck me as to how dedicated these men and women were to getting their work done. I also was lucky to be given the chance to speak with a youth probation officer who volunteers her Mondays and Wednesdays at the Rescue Mission. She told us of the challenges she faces with the youth of the city, and that she loves to do her job. This type of passion that everyday people had towards their work truly amazes me and makes me want to be a better person.

Los Angeles Immersion Students and Advisors Group Picture on Union Rescue Mission Rooftop

Immersion Students with Phoung outside of St. Ann's Parish
Tuesday, the fourth day of our immersion to Los Angeles was a whirlwind of an experience. After morning prayer and reflection, we departed for Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation program in the world. We were able to receive a tour of the facilities and the various programs that made up Homeboy Industries, by our tour guide, Elena, who was a former gang member and Methamphetamine user. She told us her story, and how she was in prison for half of her life. She told us that she wanted to change her life around, so she came to  Homeboy Industries to take that first step towards a new life, and a second chance. Homeboy Industries offers a variety of services to its clients, such as counseling, case management, education, employment services, twelve-step meetings, legal services, mental health services, tattoo removal services, and solar panel installation training to former gang members. Homeboy Industries also has a high school for former teenage gang members who need to get their high school diploma. Homeboy also has five businesses which it runs, called Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe and Catering, Homeboy Merchandise, and Homeboy Silkscreen. One of the things that was emphasized about Homeboy Industries was that you need to be a former gang member in order to qualify for their services. Homeboy was founded by Fr. Gregory Boyle, who is a Jesuit Priest in Los Angeles. We were privileged to see Fr. Greg while he was in a meeting at his office when we visited the facilities last week Tuesday. After the tour at Homeboy Industries, we had lunch at Homegirl Cafe, where there was a plethora of great food to partake in. We visited the gift store, got a few things to take back home with us, and then departed. One of the things that struck me at Homeboy Industries was the fact that Homeboy doesn't go out recruiting for new members. Gang members must make the commitment to want to to change, and once they do, Homeboy Industries welcomes them with open arms. Homeboy also does a good job of providing all of the essential services under one roof, so there really is no excuse to make that change for a better life once you're committed. I was taken aback at how much dedication the staff at Homeboy Industries has at doing the good work that they do, especially Fr. Greg and the people who work behind the scenes to make Homeboy Industries an success. We then drove to Mount St. Mary's College, a All-Girls Catholic College adjacent to USC. We spoke to one of the Resident Ministers there, Kristin Firestone, who used to work at Chaminade High School in West Hills. She spoke to us about her experiences growing up in the West Hills area of Los Angeles, and her experiences with her faith and where it got her today. Kristin personally inspired me to look deeper into my faith and find my calling as to what God wants me to be, and how he wants me to fulfill his mission. Now, I find myself doing the best I can to be a better disciple of Christ.
LA Immersioners receiving a tour of Homeboy Industries
Immersioners with Kristin Firestone from Mount St. Mary's College
Wednesday, the middle day of our immersion, was undoubtedly the longest day we've had during our trip to Los Angeles. We left our Villa at 6:30am, to go to the Dolores Mission and School, outside of Boyle Heights. We had morning prayer right outside of the Mission, led by myself, Claudia, and Frances. We then made our way to the school where were given a presentation by the school principal. She told us that the school was 99 percent Hispanic, and was a Catholic Charter School. She said that there were many challenges that the school has, such as having four active gangs in the school's district. She also told us a lot about the school's mission and history. After having the presentation, we all were split up with different teachers and grade levels. I was lucky enough to be placed with Coach Beth, a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, who is the Physical Education Teacher. Afterwards, I got to be able to be a part of the after school program, where I was able to tutor a few fourth graders with Math and Grammar, which I found to be very fulfilling. I found it a blessing to be able to go and work in this school, even though it was for a day. My reason for finding this experience a blessing was because being a college student, we are usually caught up in the hustle and bustle of the real world and college. Having this experience to work and play with the little kids of the school was a chance for all of us, students and advisors to be a little kid again. I found this to be the best experience of the immersion, just because of that very chance to be taken into a virtual time machine and to be a little kid again. I was also in awe of how easily the children at the school were able to bond with us, and how easily we gelled with them. We got to know each other quite well, that by the end of the day, they were asking us if we were going to return the next day, and sadly, we had to tell them that we were not returning. It was a fairly sad moment for most of us. After sadly leaving the school, we made our way to have dinner with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where we had a talk about service. One of the things that struck me out of my conversation with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps was their philosophy that you should always take care of yourself before others, "Self-Help" as they call it. They said that if you're considering getting into service, whether it be with their organization or whatever you do, that you take care of your personal needs first, because you can only do so much for others before you start affecting yourself. That was another major ideal that I gained from this trip, and in utilizing it, I'm finding myself to be a much better person.
Right After Recess at the Dolores Mission School
Thursday was not as intense as Wednesday was, in terms of service, but it did prove to be quite a long day. We went to the Catholic Relief Worker, Los Angeles Mission, expecting to do some type of service either cleaning the area-grounds or helping to feed the hungry. Sadly, we were unable to do any service at that site, but we were able to go through the line and get food just like the hungry did, and for me that was a humbling experience. We were able to speak with one of the workers who works at the Site, and he told us a bit about the history of the Catholic Worker and their ideals. I found myself slightly taken aback at the fact that the organization was not non-profit, or for-profit, which made them a strictly grassroots organization. The organization has a rather political view of the world, in my opinion being pacifist and against war, in having some of their members participate in the "Occupy" Protests and in having their own newspaper. One of the creative programs that they offered which caught my attention was the foot treatments that they give to the homeless. I would have never thought that would have been offered as a program. I thought it was a great idea because a lot of the homeless individuals have a rough time on their feet. It slightly reminded me of Jesus washing his disciples feet at the last supper. After our time at the Catholic Relief Worker Mission, we headed to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where we were given a guided tour of the Cathedral. It was a great experience to see the massive Cathedral, an oasis of quiet in the hustle and bustle of Downtown Los Angeles, and to learn about the history and architecture of the fairly modern building. After touring the Cathedral, we headed back to our villa in Duarte, where our advisor from Chaminade, Blaise, gave us a workshop on Marianist Leadership Development. We were able to create a mission statement for our immersion, and for future immersions. The mission statement we created is as follows: "This collaborative immersion seeks to bring together students from Chaminade University, St. Mary's University, and the University of Dayton to form a stronger and more socially aware community that embodies the Marianist Charism through shared diversity, leadership, and service in the city of Los Angeles."


Group Picture Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
Friday was our sightseeing day, and it was quite the experience. We first took about an hour to find the bottom of the hiking trail to the Hollywood Sign, and once we got there, it took us about an hour to get to the top of the trail, approximately fifty feet above the Hollywood Sign, which is about 1500 feet above sea level. After taking some group pictures, we headed down, back to the cars, and headed to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles to have some delicious Chicken and Waffles, of course. After having a great meal, we took some time to walk around Hollywood Boulevard, and after getting some souvenirs, we headed back to our Villa in Duarte for an evening reflection with Fr. Jim Heft. Fr. Jim talked with us about Catholic Teaching on Social Issues, and he was able to give us an insight as to how we can use religion as an agent for positive growth and change. After our talk with Fr. Jim, we all participated in an inter-university potluck, where each of our universities made something different: For Chaminade, we brought the Local Flavors of Hawaii to LA with Chicken Katsu, University of Dayton made Buck-Eyes (Peanut Butter Cups, A bit like the Resse's ones), and St. Mary's University made Tacos with Salsa and Queso. We all participated in a night of fellowship with each other in our last evening as a group in Los Angeles.
Our Final Group Picture Above the Hollywood Sign
Saturday, for me, was one of the more bittersweet days of my life. We packed all of our things, and dropped Libby off at the airport, then the rest of us had breakfast at a diner in El Segundo, about ten minutes from LAX. After a great breakfast and last meal as a group, the Chaminade Group bid farewell to the students from Dayton and St. Mary's, as our flight was in the evening, and theirs was mid-morning. We said our goodbyes, and the Chaminade immersioners headed off to Santa Monica to take in some of the sights there. We were able to ride the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Boardwalk, have some Cotton Candy and Pretzels, and then was able to walk up to the 3rd Street Promenade. We did a bit more exploring there, before making a final stop at a local In-N-Out Burger Restaurant, where we got to taste some food that we could only find in California. We then headed off to Los Angeles International Airport, where we boarded the plane back home to Honolulu. My emotions during this day were quite mixed, sad for missing the others, but grateful for having experienced such a great immersion in Los Angeles.
Chaminade LA Immersion Students at the Santa Monica Boardwalk
For me, personally, this immersion was not only an eye-opening experience to the social justice issues that we face, but it was also an experience of great self-growth and self-discovery. I learned so many things about the Hispanic Culture, the City of Los Angeles, the students of both St. Mary's University and the University of Dayton, the Marianist Charism, Social Justice, and Civic Engagement. It was truly a blessing to be a part of such a great experience, and to have been able to share that experience with such great people. Now, back in Honolulu and at Chaminade, the journey has only started, the battle has just begun. Now, it is time to take the lessons learned in Los Angeles, and make a difference here, not only at Chaminade, but in my community, and with others in my life. The time has come, as they say, to walk in the footsteps of Christ, and to live out the eighth day.

-Respectfully Submitted,
Anthony Selvanathan
Chaminade University of Honolulu, Class of 2015

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