DAY 18: For Immigration Reform
At the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the UUA we think often about bridging divides, and in particular the multi-generational divide between Unitarian Universalist youth and young adults and other UUs, so it has become a reflex for us to consider how one's identity informs one's point of view. While in the office we work to build bridges of understanding amongst our constituents, it is not obvious it translates into being more aware of the divides we are all called upon to bridge in our daily life. Leaving the comfort zone of one's own point-of-view isn't automatic, isn't always easy and requires a deliberate choice. Bridging a divide is a choice that requires the willingness to act with compassion and reach-out, without knowing if our grasp will be met by an other. But, choice made, it isn't that hard to get started – and once you do the results follow.
My work has taught me that bridging divides is both a habit and a skill, and this is good news as it means we are all capable of learning how to practice Radical Love and inclusion. Today's topic on the 30 Days of Love Campaign, immigration, has become a divisive flash point in our society, pitting person against person on the basis of our origin. But I ask that you, the reader, consider for a moment the places in your life where you are perceived as being different from those around you, or where you and yours consider others to be different, outside, or not one of "us." When we consider that we are all at times "the outsider" we all more easily recognize the injustice of the term, and we begin to bridge a divide.
I think of this because of the work I am lucky enough to do, but also because of a recent experience:
My partner, children and I moved into a socioeconomic and racially diverse neighborhood of mostly long-time residents last fall. My new house is on one of many lots that sat vacant for 40 years or longer. The day we moved in, youth from the neighborhood came to the door and invited mine out to play. For them my children represented new friends to play with in the park across from our house. They were building bridges without thinking about it.
The adults were a little different. Because of the empty lots in the neighborhood crime has historically been a problem, and because of the new construction the police are suddenly much more present. We could tell that the adults each "had each others' back." But for them our arrival was more complicated than it was for their children: a sign of change in the neighborhood, the loss of green space, greater population density and gentrification – our neighbors were welcoming, but they were wary too. We love our new home and want to be part of the community, so I started attending community association meetings. At the first meeting people were quietly welcoming, yet still wary of me. Not being automatically accepted at the meeting felt strangely familiar to me, and I was suddenly humbled when I realized why.
I was humbled because the privilege of being a white American man had overwhelmed my painful memories of living for more than a decade as an immigrant in a foreign country. I had forgotten how cut-off and separated one feels as an immigrant despite trying to assimilate. I was humbled because I had forgotten how alienating it was and how alienated I felt. Humbled because this is the common experience for millions of people living in this country.
It was clear my partner and I were on probation: the community needed to know if we were with them or if we were a sign of more change to come before making up their collective mind about us. Over the first weeks and then months when we encountered our neighbors we'd stop to say hello, introduce ourselves and chat a bit. (Then we'd promptly write down their name and relationship to others in the neighborhood so as not to forget.) Soon neighbors we didn't know were introducing themselves to us, often mentioning the name of someone we'd met to make the connection. It was a truly wonderful experience. It took time, and it felt good to be building bridges with my new neighbors, slowly learning about them while sharing about us. We lived there 4 months when one cold night we knew we'd been accepted into the community. Our neighbor from down the street, a single mother who was detained at work, asked us to take her children in until she got home.
We made the effort to be part of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood made an effort to reach out. The bridge was built. And that's the way it should be.
Visit Day 18 of the 30 Days of Love campaign focusing on immigration reform and reaching out to immigrant communities. Read the powerfully troubling story of Sandra Lopez, an undocumented immigrant who spent her entire life in America before being deported. After dodging sex-traffickers and being nearly kidnapped, she landed in a for-profit prison for illegal re-entry into the United States when she sought asylum, in this post from Leila Pine, of No More Deaths.Let us raise the stakes, open our humanity, reach out and build a bridge across this divide now.