This past week I attended the screening of “Wasteland”. Although I have already seen this film twice, each time I watch it I get a new perspective and a deeper understanding of the bigger wall being built between social classes, not just in the film’s setting of Brazil, but all around the world. In the film, which takes place in Rio De Janeiro, a group of “garbage pickers” is interviewed by Vik Muniz, a Brazilian modern artist. This group of workers is working at the largest landfill in the world. Vik Muniz interviews them wanting to hear their stories and to get the chance to work with them. Throughout the film, the audience learns more and more about each worker’s heartbreaking story of how they are surviving and making the best out of their lives at the landfill. Vik Muniz hires these workers and together they create giant murals out of the recyclable materials found in the landfill. Being able to watch the reactions of the workers as they see the finished products is undoubtedly the most rewarding part of the film. The art ends up being very successful and the lives of the workers are changed dramatically. Every time I watch this movie, I can’t help but feel somewhat connected to the workers and to their stories. We learn so much about their past and their plans for the future and how they are no longer ashamed to be working at the landfill.
The “Wasteland” film reminds me of the work I have done at my local soup kitchen in Morristown, New Jersey, “Market Street Mission”. Over the past three years I have volunteered my time to serve meals to Morristown’s homeless and drug-addicted. When thinking of the workers in the film, I can’t help but draw a connection to how similarly they were treated and marginalized by society. Just as the wealthier people in Rio De Janeiro treat the "garbage pickers" with disrespect and disgust, the people of Morristown treat the homeless at “Market Street Mission” just the same. There is a strong barrier between social classes in both situations.
In Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”, he writes “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense” (371). This quote reminds me that every time we separate ourselves from someone who needs our help or support, it is similar to building a wall and ‘walling them out’. “Accident, Mass. Ave” is a poem about a small car accident that was blown way out of proportion. After the two drivers cursed and yelled at each other, they both realized that there was no harm done to either of their cars. They were yelling and fighting for no reason at all. Just as the two drivers fought with each other for no reason, so do we as a society marginalize the less fortunate without reason. The only motive we have to do so is to make ourselves feel better by making others feel worse. “Learning to Read”, the poem by Frances E. W. Harper has a line stating, “knowledge did’nt agree with slavery”. I found this line to be very interesting and it was strange that I hadn’t thought of something similar before. Knowledge and marginalization do not go hand in hand. When we banish people from society, we are not using knowledge of any kind – we think of ourselves before others and how we can make ourselves happier and more prestigious. Similar to the disrespect given to slaves, the Brazilian people would disregard the lives of the workers in the landfill and people all around the world disregard the lives of the homeless and drug-addicted.
In “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education”, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach states, “‘When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change’” (34). This quote reminds me that despite the popular belief that the lives of those who are better off are more important, there is a large group of people out there that have had their hearts touched by direct experience and are challenged to change. These are the people that are making a difference and bringing the social classes closer together. “Wasteland” and my work at “Market Street Mission” have opened my eyes to a larger world and have inspired me to bridge the gap between social classes.