OCTOBER 27-29, 2006
Now over fifty years ago, Ed Duckles drove around Mexico City in his banged-up truck, called “Nunca Tomo”, with a copy of the Excelsior classifieds in the backseat, the notice circled for Ignacio Mariscal #132. Buying the house was a bold move for the visionary Friends who wanted to create “a meeting place to strengthen and affirm the bonds of true [sister and] brotherhood.” This October, friends of the Casa de los Amigos traveled from near and far to celebrate a half-century of Quaker service, community, and peacemaking in Mexico. The anniversary was the Casa’s fiftieth year as a recognized civil association, a “Jubilee” watermark and a time for sharing memories, forgiveness, and renewal.
A Jubilee Celebration From October 27-29, over 120 people of all ages and backgrounds, from places as far as Uruguay and as near as our neighborhood, attended the Casa’s Jubilee Celebration. Guests included former volunteers and staff, previous Casa directors and program coordinators, Quaker workcamp alumni, Mexico City Friends Meeting members and attenders, and visiting Friends.
Gathering were fans of the Friday night Charla, Sunday potluck junkies, backpackers, members of the Casa’s former Grupo de Jovenes (youth group) representatives of Friends’ organizations, and of Mexican and international peace groups, members of other faith groups, folks from the neighborhood, at least one person who helped found the Casa de los Amigos, and as always, a number of people getting to know the Casa for the first time.
For each person who was able to attend, a dozen others wrote to tell us how much they wished they could be with us and how strongly they value the Casa. We felt their presence, alongside the spirit of all whohad come before: hundreds, thousands of people from all over Mexico and the world who have given of themselves in service at the Casa de los Amigos and laid the ground upon which we now stand.
The Jubilee Celebration included morning Worship Sharing groups, shared meals and fellowship, piñata-making, Mexican folk dancing, presentations by Mexican organizations working in peace and justice, a talk with the Casa’s former Grupo de Jovenes, and of course a talent night that (almost) brought the house down! . Members of the Casa’s reconstituted Asamblea (board) opened the Jubilee, new executive director Bridget Moix unveiled the Casa’s future program directions, and Casa co-founder Jean Duckles unveiled the new bronze plaque on the front of the Casa reading: “Centro de Paz y Entendimiento Internacional” (Center for Peace and International Understanding).
More than 45 people gathered for Meeting for Worship with the Mexican Friends Monthly Meeting on Sunday, filling the small meeting room, and an Open House that followed provided a time for relaxing and cracking open birthday piñatas for the Casa.
The Jubilee Celebration was also a time for renewing the Casa’s mission of fostering peaceful cooperation among peoples and launching new program directions for the coming year. The ongoing conflict in Oaxaca and recent electoral crisis provided the political background to our gathering, and a roundtable discussion with Mexican and international peace organizations to discuss prospects and challenges for peacebuilding in Mexico provided new ideas and insight for our future programs. During our keynote dialogue, Pablo Romo of SERAPAZA.C. (Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz) advised us to carry on and strengthen the work of the Casa as a “space for reflection and action for peace.”
Following the organized events at the Casa, on October 30th a group of 16 people visited the small community of Vicente Guerrero in the state of Tlaxcala. The Grupo Vicente Guerrero had invited the Jubilee to visit the community and tour its sustainable development projects, initiated in the 1970s through a collaboration with the Comité Juvenil de la Casa de los Amigos (CJCAM) and the local community. The remarkable community organization of Vicente Guerrero, its commitment to service and self-reliance, and the many projects that are succeeding there provide a testimony of a different, more holistic and people-centered, approach to development.
The next day, another small group traveled to San Francisco Tepeyecac, Puebla, another long-term Quaker workcamp site that hosted hundreds of volunteers in the 1960s. The project created many lifelong friendships and at least a few marriages. The pines that blanket the village’s main hill are evidence of the reforestation and well-digging that international teams of young people did forty years ago.
Our Gratitude Our deepest gratitude goes to all who participated in the Jubilee Celebration of the Casa de los Amigos and made it such a wonderful time of sharing, remembering, and renewal. As always at the Casa, the event was a success because of the people who attended. Many of those that gathered with us, through their long years of experience with the Casa, already knew experientially of this small Quaker organization’s profound potential, and many felt a renewed faith and commitment to the Casa’s future. The house is quieter now, and much work lies ahead. The feeling of the Jubilee remains, as does the presence of the many friends who gathered with love and hope to honor the Casa’s past and inaugurate the next chapter.