Monday, March 30, 2009

Padre Chiqui - Part 1: The Father of El Agustino

The latest issue of Boletín Intercambio from the Apostolado Social of the Peruvian Jesuits which I get thanks to my friend P. Miguel Cruzado, SJ contains a promo for a new booklet by P. José Ignacio Mantecón Sancho, SJ, aka "Padre Chiqui", a Jesuit priest from Spain who has lived and worked for more than two decades in El Agustino, one of the poorest and toughest neighborhoods of Lima. The booklet is called "Asociación Martin Luther King: Una experiencia de trabajo con las pandillas de El Agustino" and details how Padre Chiqui founded his nonprofit gang intervention association and the work they are doing.

Padre Chiqui is an interesting, unconventional dude. In addition to his gang intervention work, he also has started his own rock group, Tabarra, which released their first CD "Sangre Bendita" last year. Padre Chiqui enjoys rock and occasionally sings and plays the maracas with the band.

There is, however, virtually nothing about him in English so I'm going to translate several articles that highlight different sides of this fascinating priest.

This first article is an interview with Padre Chiqui published in Perú21 on 3/6/2006, titled "Padre Chiqui: 'Yo conseguí la primera batería de El Agostino'":

I studied in Spain, in a Jesuit high school, when a strong anti-Franco movement was beginning. They opened our minds and put me in touch with the world of the poor, so I joined the order [the Jesuits] in 1966. In those days we entered the various orders at a very young age; I don't know if it was because we were more mature or more insane (laughs)", Padre Chiqui begins.

How did you come to Peru?

If you use "usted" (ed. note: the formal "you") with me, this interview is over. Latin America has always enthralled me, maybe the music, which is what I first knew. I came in 1976 for three months, to support the campaign of Fe y Alegría (a Jesuit social organization), and then in 1980, I came back to stay.

What was El Agustino like when you came?

About the only paved road was Riva Agüero, which looked like it had been bombed, and this incorporated area, and tremendous poverty which continues. There is a lot of poverty and marginalization here, but it has greatly improved. El Agustino has very strong grass-roots organizations -- neighborhood and youth groups, etc. -- and the parish [Virgen de Nazaret] has grown as the district has developed. The first soup kitchen in Peru was born here in El Agustino in a Christian community.

You don't wear a cassock; you have an earring.

And you haven't seen my tattoo of Martin Luther King yet! I don't know why the priest should have a special outfit. I come from the Woodstock generation, and that marks one. I don't know if I'm doing it right or wrong, but I think I get along with the people that I move with -- perhaps it would be harder for others -- and I think that even the little old ladies in the parish like me this way.

I thought the cassock was a rule.

So what if it is?

You've been very involved in youth issues, such as rock. Why?

Now in my old age, they called me to make a record with Tabarra, a very good group. Although I have also sung once in a while at Agustirock with Los Mojarras. I have played soccer with several teams from here, until I was 50 years when I suffered an injury -- they almost cut my foot off. I have also been with the transvestites, we have a Christian community with them. And now I am with former gang members. There is an association through which we already have two businesses and a sports club, which is going to be the best in the country, because we are doing things well. It is the Martin Luther King sports club. I am also involved in a pilot project called Tierra de Hombres, to care for children who are detained in police stations, to offer alternatives to Maranga [a juvenile detention center], for example.

Several good rock bands have come out of El Agustino and I remember that the 1998 Agustirock was monumental. Why did the music take off?

Maybe because they were well received. Here there were many people making music -- in many districts, I imagine -- and I can't remember where I got the drum set, which was a disaster, four cans, but with that the boys had what they needed to rock. Because you can get a guitar, but the drum set was the first one in El Agustino. And they could meet here to play. Before Agustirock, I also organized small concerts in which they could emerge and become known. Whoever had an amplifier set it up, the painters did the decorating, we did everything ourselves. And there were very good people. If Los Mojarras had been from Mexico, they would have been like Maldita Vecindad, and La Sonora del Amparo Prodigioso and Tabarra were like them, and now there's a new generation.

Does Agustirock continue?

Yes, the last was in October, and supported the municipality. The slogan was: In October there are miracles.

Conservative people always think that kids plus rock equals drugs and lawsuits. Why did you have faith in rock?

I grew up with The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Miguel Rios --to name someone from my country. That there are drugs and such, yes, of course. But let's take for example these guys that we work with in Tierra de Hombres. A boy is found with a little bit of marijuana, they add a couple more charges, and he ends up in Maranga. In Miraflores, San Isidro and La Molina people use drugs as much and more, but how many of them are in Maranga?

Janis Joplin is not a great example either, don't you think?

Probably, like some of our boys and some of my friends who have ended or will end badly because of drugs or whatever. But who are we to judge their stories? What if I, instead of having a family, had grown up in the street, taught only one law -- the law of the street, would I be here talking to you? Surely not. But there are many boys who have come up from the bottom, who have been in the toughest penal institutions, in drugs, in gangs, and have left the drugs and are now studying and working. We must invest in people and discover that there is a person even where it seems to be most hidden, with a dignity as important as the son of the minister of whatever.

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