MEXICO: Rapper Eric Ponce gained support at Salesian oratory that helped him later leave gang life
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries arrived in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, 28 years ago and built their first oratory, San Juan Bosco, on land that was once a landfill. Years later, the Domingo Savio oratory was developed and finally, the Lupita oratory was established, the name an abbreviation of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
It was at one of these Salesian oratories that rapper Eric Ponce learned life lessons that later helped him turn his life around. As a child, Ponce was a good student, but his home environment was far from idyllic. His mother had lived on the street and worked accompanying illegal immigrants to the United States, while his father had joined the army. Ponce grew up alone and even as a boy went to parties where alcohol and drugs were widely available.
He dropped out of school, was tagged as a drug addict as a teenager and ran with boys who were six years older. Without realizing it, Ponce found himself entangled in a gang with a gun in hand and marijuana in his pocket, busy having to defend their territory.
In just five months in 2009, six of his cousins, a brother-in-law and his best friend were killed. Ponce looked very much like one of his cousins, so much so that on several occasions they were mistaken for one another. The last time of mistaken identity was when the killers burst into the funeral home to make sure they had killed the right person. It was at that moment that Ponce decided to escape, hide and get away from violence.
Ponce thought back to the lessons he had learned at the Salesian oratory as a child. Today, Ponce has made a career out of rapping, something he started back in 2003, performing as Ponce PX1. A Salesian even asked him at a Mass to improvise the Our Father in rap form, and it was a huge success. Ponce has released three albums and a dozen videos on YouTube, and he’s about to finish writing a book.
Ponce is also a coordinator of the “Second Opportunity, Fundraising and Development of Educational Programs” for a local youth promotion association. While his rap career is definitely on the rise, Ponce hasn’t forgotten his roots and aims to be a role model for other youth looking for a second chance. Ponce tells them, “A mistake does not say who you are. Don’t let them label you.”
According to UNICEF, there are 52 million people living in poverty in Mexico, approximately 45 percent of the country’s population. For children, the rate rises to just over 53 percent with more than 20 million youth estimated to be living in poverty and 5 million of those in extreme poverty.
Salesian missionaries in Mexico primarily direct their efforts toward the country’s at-risk youth, including girls and young mothers. Creating safe havens and improving educational opportunities are essential to deter youth from life on the streets where they are susceptible to drugs and gang violence.
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Salesian Missions – Mexico
UNICEF – Mexico