For I Was A Stranger . . .
I can still remember the anxiety of being in a new place. All around me there were signs that I was not in Puerto Rico any more! Language was different, culture was different, the ways that people around me engaged me was different. My accent made it difficult for many to understand me, for others it was a sign that I was one of those that did not belong. As a Puerto Rican I am an American citizen by birth but once I found myself here it was obvious that belonging would take years and in some ways it was always going to be a work in progress.
Once the accent smoothed out things became a little easier. Occasionally the hint of it would bring questions about my native land, these conversations were normally pleasant and came from a desire to know more. Then there were the other times when I felt threatened, scared, and anxious because the line of questioning and the way of questioning made evident strong emotion and a lack of understanding.
I consider myself an immigrant. A citizen of this country but one who came from a different place, with a different language, and culture. All of these markers of identity will always be with me, making sure that in some ways no matter how "at home" I feel, I will always be a little bit of a stranger. I learned the language like many other immigrants, I was educated here, learned the culture, practices and ways of this land of ours!
As a Puerto Rican I did not have the struggles of immigration that others have: visas, passports, process of naturalization. I did not have to worry about my family having to stay behind, or about the fear that somehow, someday, I might find myself in this country without proper, valid, up to date information. My way of life in Puerto Rico also meant that I could always return and make a life for me and those I love.
As a pastor I am fully aware that my experience of "strangeness," although difficult, has been a blessed one compared to my brother and sister immigrants. I have in many ways blended in, become assimilated, melted into the melting pot. Language is no longer a problem, communication is part of what I do each day, and my position as a pastor gives me voice where others have none.
Now I use that voice to grieve with them. I grieve because the culture around us is increasingly xenophobic. I grieve because the law of the land only protects the privileged. I grieve because laws enacted out of fear always end up hurting the most vulnerable.
As a Christian leader I grieve because the story of our faith is centered on "strangers in a strange land" and the constant struggle to make our home in God. How many times do we have to be reminded of this core aspect of our Christian faith?
The Christian community must unite and demand that our laws protect the most vulnerable, that the processes of enforcing the laws are just, that the communities of faith continue to be places of sanctuary for those that our faith calls us to protect.
We cannot be silent! We must speak out against our growing fears, distrust, and suspicions. We must put aside partisan rancor and loyalty and side with those that need our voice the most.
I can't tell you how many times I have heard stories of people being stopped by law enforcement because of their Hispanic heritage. Some of those detained have been Puerto Rican who end up having to explain their citizenship due to their lack of adequate immigration papers. Imagine the fear, anxiety, and insecurity that many of us feel as we stop at a check point (I recently stopped at one such check point in Louisiana), are approached by an officer, or are asked questions by a stranger! These are real fears, by real people who do not have a voice.
May God guide us as we practice Jesus' call to welcome those who are sojourners among us and to be a voice on their behalf. May we continue to find ways to faithfully engage the many immigrants who live in our country. May we honestly reflect on how our policies add to the so called immigration crisis facing our nation. In the end may we remember that the stranger/foreigner is not an enemy but a beloved child of God!