Although new immigrants arrive in Chicago every day, Demetrious Gonzalez and Brandon Felfle, of Chicago's First Congregational Church, admit they spend more time talking about shoes and electronics than about immigration and race.
But they said they were fascinated when they heard, during Sunday morning's Sacred Conversations on Race, that undocumented immigrants in certain parts of the country can get an identification card that allows them to set up a bank account to deposit and withdraw funds. The ID card doubles as an ATM card, they explained.
Before the card program was implemented in Las Vegas, undocumented immigrants "would walk around holding their money," Gonzalez and Felfle learned. This made them easy targets for robbers, who knew they wouldn't call police out of fear of being deported.
Gonzalez and Felfle were among the dozens of teens who participated in the Sacred Conversations. Some felt more comfortable just listening. Others shared insights of their own.
Bethel Congregational UCC in Beaverton, Ore., has been discussing race for several months. Hannah Lindsey, the church's youth leader, spoke in advance with Synod-going teens about Sunday's conversations. At the Race and the New Generation discussion, they heard people talking about news-making events in their lives, such as World War II, John F. Kennedy's assassination, and Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon.
For this group from the Central Pacific Conference, even Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president isn't as significant as some might assume. After all, they said, they've only known two presidents: Bush and Obama.
Larkin Miers thought the conversation was valuable, but was "mostly taken from a black and white perspective." Miers, who is Asian-American, has studied the Chinese Exclusion Act and said her social studies teacher once asked how many students had been searched by airport security. Those who had – including Miers, whose bag was searched – were all people of color, except one.
Kayla Hultquist of Mayflower UCC in Sioux City, Iowa chose the conversation on Race and the Environment. Hultquist said she "got chills" when Sheila Holt-Orsted told of living next to a landfill in Dickson County, Tenn. The landfill was polluting the drinking water, but the Holts — an African-American family — were assured by environmental officials that the water had been tested and was safe.
Meanwhile, white families were being told by the government not to drink the water because it was contaminated, Hultquist said, recounting Holt's story.
Holt-Orsted developed cancer. So did her father, an aunt and a neighbor.
The Holt family filed a lawsuit. The county's lawyer, asked by the New York Times how the landfill came to be located in the Holt's community, denied that race had anything to do with it.
Hultquist was inspired by Holt-Orsted's courage. "She's like Erin Brockovich, but I think it's worse. Erin Brockovich didn't have racism" to deal with.