One Witness

One Witness

Let’s Talk About Family
Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Worship & Rally for Immigration Reform
Columbus, OH., July 21, 2010

 As I prepared for today, I considered the multitude of passages that describe the migration of our biblical ancestors – the migration of Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Joshua and Mary and Joseph and Jesus – some by choice and others by force.  I also considered the family stories that described the migration of our biological ancestors.  The migration of our grandmothers and grandfathers -- the migration of Josef and Isabel and Lech and Charles and Tran and Obadiah – some by choice and some by force.  Family stories are precisely what we hear in book after book in the Bible, from the very beginning.

So God created humankind in God‘s image,in the image of God,  God created them; male and female God created them. (Gen 1:27)

If we are all made in God’s image and likeness – we are all God’s children – are we not?  And if so, does it make us kin?  If the Genesis story is our story – all our story – are we not then somehow -- inextricably linked into one family?  Is this not the story of the household of God?  I submit that the answer to all these questions is yes.   So then our task is to describe this household and the make-up of its family. 

Family is at the very core and foundation of all our faith traditions.  We are heirs….offspring.  For every one of us, there can be no greater legacy than the glory of being heirs to the promise of God.  So we have no choice in the matter -- we are bound by covenant to demonstrate unity with God and all God’s creation.  We are responsible for defining the ideology and consciousness of our faith and proclaim it to the world.  For example, for us Christians our family membership is distinctively described as one with Christ – the body of Christ.

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:29)

I know that this business of being family is not easy – in fact – it is sometimes downright difficult.  We all have family drama and some of us have experienced trauma in our family lives – so I don’t take it lightly.  One family is not so different from others across this country.  While there are exceptions, most parents and parent figures want to the best for their children.  We want to provide shelter, good nutrition, education, and health care for them.  We want our children to be safe.  A basic family value is giving our children all they need to survive.  But, we want even more than that.  We want them to thrive.  The dream has been the same for generations of parents who have immigrated to this country for hundreds of years. 
 
In today’s religious and political culture, we often hear that “family values” are the cornerstone of a healthy society and rich culture.  While, I do not agree with the narrow scope that defines families with certain parameters, I do concur that keeping families together is crucial for children.  If this is our cultural value, I have a couple of questions.  Whose children are important and whose families are valued?  Is it limited to only certain segments of former immigrants?
 
Most of us are members of immigrant families who came from countries all over the world in search of freedom and a better life for our children.  I am grateful for the trials that my ancestors faced some four hundred years ago as they crossed the seas in search of a better life not only for themselves, but for the generations that would follow.  

I’m suggesting is that we seek a broader understanding of family – one made real through our kinship with our Creator.  The scriptures call us to consider that our neighbor is, in fact, part of our family living in one human household with all of its challenges and blessings. 
 
Walter Brueggeman, well-known Old Testament scholar and theologian, explains that the challenge of taking scripture seriously – means destabilizing the status quo. Brueggeman confirms that the deepest impulse of the Bible is toward inclusion.  He says that the message of inclusion is urgent for this nation and this society because we have such a propensity for exclusion -- which in effect violates both the American dream and our faith teachings. 
 
In this household of God, we don’t look alike.  We certainly do not have the same opinions about things.  But, if we actually consider ourselves as children of God, we are certainly obliged to treat one another with basic human dignity and respect.  We have an obligation to extend the hand of love and hospitality to those we meet. 
 
The building of walls rather than bridges does quite the opposite of hospitality.  Spending billions of dollars on fences to separate us rather than to provide housing and health care is quite the opposite of hospitality. 

My experience of exclusion is when I hear people who look like me demonized and dehumanized.  Disparaging descriptions of immigrants, such as drug dealers, murderers, rapists, criminals, free loaders, leeches, illegal aliens, are thrown around without regard for their humanity or the potential for inciting hatred and neighborhood warfare.  Generation after generation wages war; however, these days the wars are not confined to nation against nation.  Sadly, the war now being waged against immigrants within the boundaries of the United States and it is resulting in fear and hatred of one racial group against another.

I want to share a personal story.

Personal honor was a fundamental value in my upbringing.  However, honor was not about arrogance or conceit; it was about humility, honesty, and respect for oneself and others.  We were to avoid boasting, yet there was no question that we were to be proud of our family heritage and ancestry.  We were taught that we are a people of distinction.

My parents recognized that social systems would tear us down, so they worked extra hard to instill a sense of history and dignity in us; children who were constantly told that they were not as smart or important as the Anglo children in our schools and neighborhoods.  As a child, there were times that the discriminating practices in our segregated schools seemed insurmountable, but our parents modeled the belief that we could make a difference in our own destiny and so we did.

My grandfather, many generations removed, was born in 1601 in the New Mexico Territory.  Yes, before the Plymouth Rock landing   Yes, before 1776. Yes, further back than many American History books account for.  Yes, it was when the land was part of Mexico before being claimed by the United States.  The truth is that many of us did not cross the border, rather the border crossed us.

I am proud to claim this ancestry and refuse to be accused of “being a problem to American society.”  When discussing immigration we should review the history of the settling of this land now known as the United States.  We must not forget that the land was the homeland of our American Indian bothers and sisters and stolen by European invaders, ending authentic civilization for thousands of people.  We should not forget that much of the western region of the U.S., now known as California, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona, was Mexico.  These historic realities are often discounted because our cultural elitism declares that we are entitled to anything we want. 

I will not be told that people who look like me are the problem of American society.  We are the American society.  We are people of distinction, not extinction. 

Many have asked me how it felt to be there.  How did it feel to be in Arizona three weeks ago?  A culture of fear reigns in communities throughout the state.  There are those who are afraid of the police regardless of their immigration status.  Those who are afraid of the self-appointed militia groups intent on enforcing the law.  There are those who are afraid of the drug dealers and criminals they hear so much about in the media. As we might guess, there are so many conflicting stories about the situation.  So, how did it feel?  Inside me, I was afraid.
 
I am afraid that this kind of anger and separation will spread throughout our land. I am afraid that we will find excuses to exclude people rather than include them in our communities.   I am afraid that the battles on Capitol Hill about just immigration reform will be even more hostile than the health care reform debate. I am afraid the citizens of this country will arm themselves with unnecessary weapons.  I am afraid that militia groups like the Minute Men will be allowed to grow unchecked. 
 
Yes, I was afraid when I was in Arizona in June; but even more afraid of what’s happening all over the country.  I am afraid of what Ohio Legislators are proposing.   I am afraid for our communities here.
 
Friends, we are in the midst of engaging two very critical issues --- racism and immigration policies and practices – not very different from each other.  It will require hope and courage and tenacity.  Community and church based coalitions are larger and stronger.  We must continue to organize nonviolent demonstrations, candle light vigils, prayer circles, visits to elected officials, educational forums, law suits, and voter registration drives. 

While fear seems to be the dominating force in this land, hope and solidarity must also evident.  We are the heirs of a legacy and members of family together.  It is an honor to be among courageous and committed faith leaders who recognize that God is a God of justice and in that truth we take comfort.

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Contact Info

Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-736-3709
raselle@ucc.org