Dorothy Day in Mexico
Dorothy Day, like her British contemporary Graham Greene, was both a recent convert to Catholicism, and a journalist in 1930. Although the two never met, both were in Mexico writing about the on-going anti-clericalism that followed the official end of the Cristiada (the “Cristero War” of 1926-29), following unhappy experiences writing for Hollywood (Greene was being sued for something he’d written about Shirley Temple; Day had been fired after three months on the job).
For Greene, Mexican anti-clericalism provided a metaphor for his subsequent literary works — the tragedy of following one’s individual morals in an immoral or amoral world. Dorothy Day, living with her daughter among poor Mexicans, while writing for the U.S. Catholic magazine, Commonweal, learned not about the individual, but about the community. Here was a support network of the poor, that to her gave dignity and provided mutual assistance — both practical and spiritual — outside the clergy, but within the arms of her Church. She also witnessed a Catholic community that engaged the state (often with hostility) to demand not just religious, but social rights.
When her daughter became ill, Day returned to the United States. Although the hierarchy in the United States had long supported the labor movement and was active in relief efforts, the Church had largely held itself aloof from involvement in protests for social justice. Day’s experiences in Mexico may have influenced her “radical” decision in 1932, when she joined the hunger strikes in Washington (protesting the inadequate relief for the poor during the depth of the Great Depression) seeing assistance not as “Communist” (as the hierarchy would have it), but as a work of Mercy… an “act of virtue” with the Catholic faith. Feeling the need to do still more led to her founding the Catholic Workers’ Movement … based at least in part on her Mexican experience. on her own experiences in Mexico.