My grandfather crossed the border once. He was undocumented for about 7 years. I remember him telling me stories of his youth, of his family, and his struggles. I remember him telling me about running away from law enforcement back then…he was a type of Trujillo rebel. He was a simple man who sold lottery tickets. He had no formal education but an ability for math that would leave all of us to shame. He crossed to Haiti to avoid death, learned Creole, and changed his last name. He was undocumented, a foreigner, a man who wanted to survive, who stood up for justice.
He lived to be approximately 113 years old; however none of us are really sure how old he was. He was a dark man of Jewish, Dominican and Haitian descent. He was tall and very strong. My grandfather fell in love with a white woman from the north in the 40s, and it was perfectly fine. She was a tiny woman with jet black hair and a fierce attitude.
I work with undocumented people, I work with documented people, some are 2 years old some are 50. None of them got up one day and decided “hey! I’m going to hop over to the other side, seems like fun”. All of them however, ran away, from death threats by drug lords, ran away with their children after being threatened that they would be abused (if you know what I mean)… I also work with children who, well let’s just say that a 10 year old does not walk hundreds of kilometers by choice or because it’s a good idea.
I’m not sure what people’s opinions are about these children, about these mothers and fathers. Well, I know what people think…and it scares me. I’m not a politician but I am a social servant, and all I can say is that we all deserve a chance. That because of our humanity we are IMAGE-bearers, a reflection of God and his love. That we all have needs, we all have struggles, some of us are fighting to survive the violent deaths that hangs over our heads. We are fighting to survive something we did not bring upon ourselves, something others’ evil has brought upon us.
When I was 9, I was told I had no worth, I was not worthy of being anyones friend, I didn’t speak English. The lack of that ability and a card that said “Resident Alien” reduced me to less than human. It reduced me to being unlovable by those who had a BLUE passport and had been born into an English-speaking world. My human dignity was measured by these external expressions, not by my inherent value or my desire to learn English and be an American. I felt like my grandfather, who was pushed out of his own home by the threat of death or jail, due to the evil that surrounded his city. I felt powerless, being pushed to a place that promised beauty, education and a bright future, but met me with discrimination, and a false god who was only on the side of Americans.
But let me say that I did eventually find beauty. I found beauty in my teachers, in the diversity of my classrooms and of my city. I found freedom, in actually having dreams, of having better a life. We have experienced so many blessings in a country that is filled with wonderful people, people who love and nurture, who extend a hand to each other. And while we have also experienced darkness, we recognize that darkness is everywhere, and that we must work to lean in and let love overcome.
My goal is not to change everyone’s mind, to manipulate people with sentimentality. My goal is to challenge all of us to educate ourselves; to go beyond our cultural, religious and political bubbles, and learn about other’s situation from their perspective. I educate children as they begin integrating into American society, but I also encourage them to maintain the values of their culture. I invite you to submerge yourselves in the beauty of diversity and not see it as a threat but as an opportunity to share life with another IMAGE-bearer. To be open to learning about each other and loving each other regardless of the differences. At the end of the day we all depend on each other, and have a responsibility to each other. This is a call to love and understanding, a call out of ignorance and into the light of unity for the justice of all.