Sooner Rather Than Later

dreamers

She is an amazing young woman. She has worked very hard to earn a college degree and gain respect in her job. There are few challenges that daunt her. She fearlessly tackles problems with determination. She is faith filled and regularly attends church. She married her sweetheart not so long ago and the two of them are already living the American dream in a house that they purchased with the income gained from their dedication to their careers. She takes fun vacations with her spouse and charts plans for living a purpose filled life. She represents the epitome of the future of our nation and our world but she has borne a burden for the last two years that has threatened to destroy all of her dreams.

She is an immigrant who came to the United States as a young child. She lived here under temporary protection, all the while studying and pursuing a model lifestyle with dedication and grace. She has become an all American girl while never forgetting her roots. She is talented beyond measure and loving and gentle in nature. She should in every sense be exactly the kind of person that our country needs, and yet she has quietly worried about what might happen to her with the new immigration policies of the past two years. She wondered if she might have to return to a country that is now little more than a vague memory. She tried to imagine what she might do with her college degree if she had to leave for a place that has fewer opportunities. She thought of how she would miss all of the friends that she has made here in the United States. Her mind has been filled with thoughts of what might happen if she one day lost her protections.

In September she went for an interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration System. She was applying for status as a permanent resident of the country. She had so much at stake, and even though she is generally optimistic she faced the reality that acceptance of her application was not automatic. She would have to undergo an interview, something that she generally does quite well. It is the kind of thing that is part of her work, but this would be so very different. All for which she had worked would be on the line. She confided her nervousness to me and requested prayers that her earnest desire to be a good and contributing resident of the United States would be seen by those who tasked with judging her credibility.

Those of us who know her well believed that she would greatly impress, but we also understood that such things can sometimes go in ways that are unplanned. We prayed and thought of her as the hours of her interview grew into what seemed like days. It was difficult to concentrate or relax. Happily good news soon followed. She now has permanent residence status and need not constantly look over her shoulder with anxiety any longer. She is free to enjoy her wonderful life and to continue to excel in it. The United States of America just won the lottery with her whether they know it or not.

I’m ecstatically happy for my young friend, but I can’t help but think of the thousands of other young dreamers like her who still live in fear. My heart aches for them because there is nothing worse than living with uncertainty lurking around every corner. So many twenty something immigrants are caught in a trap that is not of their own making. They know as little of their family history in another country as I do of mine. Only stories of people and places and ways of life create a vague picture for them but it never feels quite real. Instead their reality lies totally in the neighborhoods where they have lived in different parts of the United States, and in the schools they have attended and the friends they have made. Sending them away would be as terrifying for them as it would be for any of us who were born here. There is something intensely cruel about the very prospect of doing that to them.

I learned long ago that each situation in life must be judged by its own merits, not some ironclad set of rules that do not make sense in certain cases. The wisest judgements are those that take humanity into account. We have laws to keep order in society but when those laws do not fully consider implications that fly in the face of logic and compassion then we must change them, but so far we have not had the wisdom or courage to do so. We quibble and squabble but never quite get the job done. Meanwhile truly good and deserving young people live in the shadows wondering if and when another shoe will fall.

I am very excited for the new chapter of my young friend’s life. I know it will be glorious and that it will exemplify the dreams of the millions of immigrants who have contributed to the welfare of the United States of America over time. I wish her all the best and feel lucky that I have walked with her on her journey. My only hope that is that one day we will pave the way for more people like her to earn the right to have the weight of uncertainty finally lifted from their shoulders. It’s time that we all push for changes that will make that happen sooner rather than later.

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The Dreamers

many cultures

They came to America with little more than a few belongings and hope that somehow their lives might be better than they had been from where they had traveled. They were refugees from a government that wanted to erase their language and their culture. They were hated and accused of being lazy in a place where their family had lived for ages. Perhaps in their new home things might be different, at least that is what they desperately wanted to believe as they settled into a small apartment in the foreign environment of Houston, Texas.

They found jobs that were menial by most standards but they were proud to have work so they didn’t complain. He toiled in the blazing summer sun while she worked over a hot stove cooking for the hired laborers. It was back breaking work that left them aching and exhausted at the end of each day. They struggled with learning English and their dark looks and strange accents gave them away wherever they went. Not everyone was welcoming. In fact some people insulted them without ever attempting to get to know who they were. It was a difficult and lonely life, but it was still better than what they had known. They were free. They were saving money, things that never would have happened back home.

Before long their first child was born, an honest to God official citizen of the United States of America. The man told his wife that their son must speak English and learn everything possible about this great new country. So he did as did his brothers and sisters who numbered eight before the woman was no longer able to bear another child. She had her hands full at home now raising her boys and girls, taking care of the garden and the house that they had built from the fruit of their labors. They paid for each room in full, adding to the square footage bit by bit until it was finally done.

They were not always loved by all of their neighbors. Some of them worried about having strange  people from a strange land in their midst. The children of the man and woman knew nothing of the old country. They were red, white and blue Americans right down to their toes, but still they heard taunts that they did not understand as they walked to school. Sometimes they had to dodge the rocks that hurtled dangerously close to their bodies. They did not understand why they were despised and they complained to their father, but he urged them to hold their heads high and be proud because they were citizens of the greatest country on earth. He assured them that hard work would one day change their fates. He reminded them again and again to love the United States in spite of those who wanted to chase them away.

They grew into a fine lot. They earned diplomas and served in the military. They worked as hard as their parents had taught them to do. Nobody noticed that they were the children of immigrants once they left home. They blended into society as though their ancestors had arrived on the Mayflower. They married and had children of their own. Those children became college graduates and climbed even higher up on the economic and social ladder. Their grandchildren knew nothing of hard times or being shunned. The dream that had sprouted in the hearts of their immigrant ancestors had burst forth in full bloom. It was a beautiful thing, the American way.

Those were my people. A grandmother and grandfather from Slovakia who risked all that they had ever known to find opportunity. Never again did they see their homeland or the people that they had known there. They had mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends whom they left behind. How frightening it must have been. How courageous they were even as they sometimes found prejudice and lack of understanding in their new home. What a precious gift they gave to their children and ultimately to those of us who descended from them.

Surely we owe that man and that woman some kind of payback. Perhaps it should be in welcoming the newest immigrants from foreign lands to America. If we can’t understand the people who are searching for the same freedoms that our grandparents sought, then who will? How can we deny them a new start? Why should we assume that they will not work as hard or be as devoted to the country as our ancestors were? How can we see them as less than the rest of us? Once before it was believed that people like my grandparents would ruin the United States with their ignorance and questionable habits. No such thing occurred. In fact we have contributed to the good of the country in remarkable ways. History demonstrates that in most cases those that we allow to join us enhance our society rather than tearing it down.

Houston, Texas where my grandparents settled before World War I has become the fourth largest city in the nation. It is also the most diverse. No race holds a majority position. We have people of many colors from all over the world. They have made our city vibrant and exciting. We are the future whether the rest of the nation realizes it or not. No wall will erase the fact that we are living in harmony and demonstrating to the entire world what it means to be generous of spirit and talents. Ours is the kind of place that my grandparents wanted for their children when they traveled across the ocean in a steamboat so long ago. Today there are others who are longing for the same chance. Such people have always made this country great. Perhaps it’s time for the children of yesterdays dreamers to extend a hand of welcome to the dreamers of today.

California Dreaming

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My emotions run the gamut whenever I visit California. It is a truly unique place born from the hopes and dreams of generations searching for something a bit better than what they may have experienced in the many places from whence they came. It is a beautiful place with its mountains, lakes, forests and ocean coastline, but it can also bring heartbreak.

At the present time California is so dry that it is like a tinderbox just waiting for a spark to burst it into flames. Signs everywhere warn of the high probability of flash fires. The land itself is brown and filled with dust as farmers struggle to irrigate their crops to keep their businesses alive. Rain is a luxury and its scarcity is threatening the serenity of the landscape. Fire is a constant worry.

Much of the state lies along fault lines that threaten to erupt into earthquakes at any moment. Even for visitors there is a kind of tension lurking in the background, a worry that the big one might happen without warning. Still, the beauty of the state and the promise of opportunity lure many an adventurer just as has always been the case. Murmurs of “Go west, young man!” whisper in the Santa Ana winds. The gold that people seek these days is most often found in Silicon Valley, a place that called to my father way back in the nineteen fifties.

I don’t know what he was hoping to find in California, but whatever it was prompted him to pack up the family and leave our comfortable home in Texas to travel thousands of miles to San Jose. His anticipation of things to come was childlike as he animatedly described to us the wonders that we were sure to find. He delighted in the idea of visiting Disneyland in its opening year. He described the beauty of Yosemite with a kind of breathless awe. He assured us that we were going to one of the most remarkable places on earth where every day would bring new adventures and discoveries.

I’ll never know what happened to dash his dreams, but something did for soon we were heading back to Texas with a quiet resignation. California can be like that, sometimes delightful and sometimes cruel. Our family did not find gold in the hills or even the joy that my father had expected. We left with a kind of dreary sadness, and my father who had always been a giant in my eyes seemed small and defeated. Our ride back to our former home was so quiet and tense that even my baby brother sensed that something was wrong. He cried constantly making our journey feel somehow ominous.

Nothing would go quite right for us after that and the grand finale of our California dreaming would become a nightmare when my very young father died suddenly in a car accident. In my childlike mind I would blame California and it would be many decades before I was able to bring myself to return to the place that seemed somehow to have destroyed my father’s optimism and confidence. I would finally be able to view California with the eye of an adult, and I saw the grandeur that had once drawn my father to the place like a temptress.

Most recently my husband Mike and I journeyed to Sacramento, California to attend the United States of America Track and Field Junior Olympics. Our grandson Eli had qualified for two events, the 4 X 8 relay and the 1500 meter race. We came to watch him, but managed to tour nearby places on the days when he was not running.

Sacramento is the capitol of California situated along the American River. It has little of the beauty ascribed to places along the Pacific coast, but much history. The people there are friendly and much more relaxed than the folks in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The pace of life is slow and deliberate with seemingly little need for hurry. It feels much more like the California I had once seen as an eight year old child. In some ways it is a living witness to the real problems that the state faces today.

The dichotomy between those with wealth and those who are struggling to survive is quite apparent in Sacramento. Tiny homes on dusty land are protected with iron bars over the windows while more luxurious houses sit on lovely green manicured lawns dotted with flowers and shaded by massive trees. The contrast between the haves and the have nots is dramatic. There are even make shift homeless camps scattered along the banks of ditches.

On the roads there dilapidated cars roll next to high end BMWs and Mercedes Benzes. In the stores it is easy to spot the people who are wondering how much longer they might be able to survive the high cost of living in California. They walk around with glazed and resigned expressions on their faces. Everywhere there are empty buildings that point to glory days past. Perhaps it was the extreme heat that made me think that there was much desperation in the town, or maybe it was my own past catching up with me once again. Somehow I sensed that the people were longing for a time when hope seemed more realistic, but like my father they had at least for the moment begun to question the logic of their lives.

Almost everything in Sacramento is many times more expensive than similar items in Houston. A visit to a burger place cost us forty dollars and we only purchased one burger, two orders of fries, and some lemonade. Gasoline runs in the range of four or five dollars per gallon. Road tolls are six dollars. I tried to imagine how people survive when even a tiny home of about nine hundred square feet costs more than my three times larger house in Texas. Living in California these days is a brutal undertaking that requires determination.

I found myself thinking of my father at every turn and wondering what my life might have been had we stayed in California. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, but one fraught with so many challenges. Somehow I find myself preferring to visit. California dreaming is best done in small doses unless one is able to find the mother lode. I’ll take Houston, Texas where the pace and the price allows even ordinary souls to live in king like circumstances, but I do understand what my father saw in California. It still offers the enchantment of many dreams.

First Do No Harm

grayscale photo of man woman and child
Photo by Kristin De Soto on Pexels.com

I live in Texas along the Gulf coast. My father spent his teenage years in Corpus Christi, Texas, a place where he met his best friends and from hence he learned his love of fishing. He longed to return there to live one day, but he was never able to find a job, so Houston was the next best thing for him.

I grew up visiting Corpus Christi often and hearing my dad’s stories of how wonderful the place was. On top of having it’s own unique culture and feel, it is only a hop, a skip, and a jump from Laredo, a border town with Mexico. As a kid and then as a young adult a trip to Corpus Christi sometimes was the gateway to a quick jaunt to the other side of the Rio Grande. Things were quieter and safer then, so families traveled back and forth between the United States and Mexico with little or no fanfare.

I was raised in a Catholic family which meant attending Catholic school. Back in the day our Catholic parents believed that it was their duty to send us to the nuns and priests for our education. We not only learned the three Rs, but also studied the foundations of our faith, which included discussions of the Ten Commandments and sin.

I sat in classrooms with many of the same kids for years. We became like brothers and sisters. I never noticed that our last names read like a roll call of the United Nations. I did not even think to classify my classmates as Italians, Hispanics, Czechs, Germans or such. We were all just peers seeing each other at school Monday through Friday and then again at church on Sunday. I was probably in my sixties before it fully occurred to me that names like Luna and Villagomez indicated Hispanic heritage of some sort. I seriously just saw people as people because of my upbringing.

My mom and her siblings were first generation Americans who were often taunted not just for their ancestry from Slovakia, but also for their religious beliefs. Nonetheless they eventually melted into the great big pot known as the United States of America, and followed both the customs of both their country and their religion quite earnestly. My brothers, and cousins and I were taught to love our nation and our church as well. Mostly we were cautioned to view life as beautiful and sacred. My mom always asserted that people are people and our differences are usually only skin deep. She believed that inside our hearts we are all pining for the same things.

I’ve been rocking along for my seventy years living the way I was raised with a devotion and gratitude for my country, my state, my church, my family, my friends, and all people. For most of my life I enjoyed a career as a teacher, and many of my students were recent immigrants just as my mother had been. Most of them had come from countries in Central and South America. They struggled with many of the same issues that my mom had faced, and so I felt a particular impetus to help them to feel welcome and beloved in their new home. I also realized that some faced the additional challenge of being so called illegals. They had been brought to Texas as children without any of  the proper papers. They grew up in a state of fear that they might one day be forced to return to a place that had become foreign to them. They were the “Dreamers.”

Of late politics have pushed two issues to front and center, namely immigration and abortion. Ironically those topics are at odds with the way I was taught to think, which is to value human life above all else. On the one hand, I worry about the people fleeing to our borders in attempts to escape hopeless lives, and on the other hand I am increasingly appalled by the almost blasé attitude of the murder of unborn children. The irony for me is that quite often those who are concerned about the immigrant issues think of abortion as simply a matter of choice rather than violence, while those who are adamantly opposed to the influx of immigrants without limits are often deeply saddened by abortion. Somehow I see the two has having much in common, and find it difficult to understand the inconsistencies in current thinking.

I was therefore rather excited to learn that there is a group of pro-life women known as the New Wave Feminists who are demonstrating their genuine concerns for all people and all life by raising funds to bring the immigrants now being held at the border the kind of supplies that they so desperately need. In other words, they are putting their beliefs into action rather than simply complaining about the situations. Their spokesperson, Herndon De la Rosa has expressed their thinking quite beautifully, “We are pro-life because we care about the inherit human dignity of every living person, inside the womb and out,” Herndon-De La Rosa says. She feels a heightened responsibility to not look away from people at the border because “as a Texan . . . it’s happening in my backyard,” she notes. “All are vulnerable and all are human beings.” (National Review, July 8, 2019)

We have too many politicians these days who seem to believe that being bipartisan or using consensus to solve problems is a sign of weakness. They think that there is only one possible way of seeing issues, and anything less than total victory for their causes is unacceptable. As  a result, much of the humanity that I was taught to treasure is being hurt while the fights between ideas rage on. We are indeed all human beings and all vulnerable. Our instinct should be to first do no harm, and then find a way to hammer out a way of dealing with our differences in a manner that considers the value of all humans.

I am not so naive as to think that any of our problems will be easily solved or that our solutions will be perfect, but the reality is that both the living and the unborn are suffering even as we rant and rave with one another. Surely it is time to consider that we will ultimately be stronger by remembering to love while we determine how to honor the inherent dignity of all persons both living and unborn. Long ago we got it wrong when we allowed slavery to continue as we began our country. Perhaps it’s time that we learn from our mistakes of the past and move forward together. 

A Time To Remember

prodigal_sonI grew up in Catholic schools and we were not exactly Biblical scholars. I understood the gist of the stories and parables in that great book, but I would be lost if I had to name the chapters and verses that contain various elements. Still I have enough familiarity with the four books that comprise the volume that I am able to relate both the history in the Old Testament and the story of Jesus in the New. What I learned is that Jesus was all about love and redemption. Over and over again he pushed back against the rule oriented Pharisees and preached the importance of understanding that He had come to remind us all that God is open to each and every one of us and that it is never too late to ask for forgiveness.

Jesus was often misunderstood by the people of His time which ultimately resulted in His being hung from a cross like a common criminal. So it is little wonder that even people who profess to be experts in the interpretation of His words might come up with ideas that appear to be more in line with the Pharisees than with Jesus. Somehow we can all hear or read the very same passages and come up with differing interpretations of them. It’s been happening for centuries and no doubt will continue as long as we humans attempt to unravel the instructions of how best to use Jesus’ instructions for how to behave toward one another.

One of my favorite parables was that of the Prodigal Son. Jesus told this story after the Pharisees and other critics suggested that He was often sinful in the selection of people with whom He associated. They disliked that Jesus was friends with tax collectors and women of dubious character and such. They worried about how He flaunted the religious laws by performing miracles on the Sabbath. They felt that Jesus too often excused bad behavior when He should have instead condemned it. What they didn’t appear to understand is that Jesus was preaching a new way of living that promised every human a pathway to amnesty regardless of how egregious their sins might once have been. Somehow large numbers of people who purport to be loving Christians have forgotten this message and instead use fire and brimstone passages from the Old Testament to defend their unforgiving stances on various issues.

The whole idea of illegal immigration, and in particular the Dreamers is a perfect example of how very religious people have somehow become unwilling to even consider the idea of forgiving those who broke the law or those who were brought to our country without consent when they were children. We have forgotten the story of the the Prodigal Son, perhaps the most powerful tale that Jesus ever related. In it he spoke of a very wealthy man who had two sons, one of whom became impatient to receive his inheritance and asked his father to give it to him immediately. The errant son took his father’s treasure and went away with it, forgetting about his family and living a profligate life. After losing everything he was starving and desperate. He came back home with the intention of begging his father to take him back as a servant to earn his keep. Instead when the loving father saw his son returning he rushed out to meet him, instructing the servants to clothe his child in fine robes. He not only forgave his son but planned a celebratory meal for him. When the other son who had been faithful to his father heard what was happening he was irate, questioning why his brother should be honored when he had been so thoughtless. The father reminded the angry son that a parent’s love is unconditional and that by prostrating himself the prodigal son had demonstrated his willingness to change and seek forgiveness.

I think of this parable whenever the subject of illegal immigration is mentioned. I realize that we cannot as a nation continue to allow people to break the law without consequence, but there are people here who came for very good reasons which we may or may not understand. They have lived peacefully among us, working hard and doing their best to fit into our society. Since we did little to turn them back initially they have little hope of returning to their native countries and finding a livelihood because they have been gone for too long. The truth is that we sat back for decades and did nothing to stop them. Now many among us want to simply turn their backs on these people and send banish them without any thought to what doing so may mean. There are even some who wish to punish their children who were brought when they were too young to even understand what was happening. Like the Pharisees so many Americans and lawmakers only see the rules and not the humanity of the situation. They shout down any plan that might rectify the status of these individuals without giving them actual citizenship, but requiring them to come out of the shadows. They speak of amnesty as if it is a dirty word rather than one that Jesus Himself would no doubt have appreciated given His propensity for forgiving people thought to be hopelessly broken. 

I tend to believe that our political leaders who continually oppose all immigration plans that propose even a smattering of forgiveness are mostly concerned about losing political power. They don’t seem to realize that their unwillingness to bend and compromise even a bit is only exacerbating the problem. They spread silly ideas that they should not concern themselves with the fate of immigrants rather than the safety of Americans. They point to the lawlessness of those who would cross our borders without permission and insinuate that most who come here are criminals. They raise the fears of our citizens by suggesting that terrorists will be coming if we do not have a hard line. Instead of telling us what chain immigration is and why we have it, they just make us afraid of it. They point to criminals who came here through chain immigration as though such incidents are the norm. They constantly speak of rules that must never be broken, forgetting how often Jesus did just that to emphasize our need to be compassionate and loving. They conveniently forget the ultimate message of redemption by His death on the cross.

As I write this the government shut down for a short time because our leaders were at an impasse. A few days later they grudgingly agreed to a short term fix, but left all of the big problems for another day. Who knows how well those discussions are going to go given the fact that we haven’t had many bipartisan moments in years. We appear to no longer be able to compromise. I suspect that if our Founding Fathers had been this way we might all still be part of the British Empire like Canadians. They would have argued infinitely and gotten nowhere, which is where we are now. 

There are those who want to lay blame for the state of our union and I would like to suggest that there is plenty to go around to everyone including those of us who vote. Of late we have turned our backs on anyone who has shown the desire to bring the country together for the general good. While we are bickering real people are being hurt and we are forgetting about all of those beautiful parables that Jesus taught us, and yet Jesus Himself would be loving and understanding even of those of us who have sometimes forgotten or ignored His message. Maybe the time has come to remember it the way it was intended to be.