Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thoughts for the day

I think this morning about writing a letter to the editor of The Hour. I watch a documentary on PBS about Rose Mapendo, a Tutsi Congolese woman, separated from her daughter for 13 years because of the war in the DRC, and, having come to the U.S., spends her life between her family and the cause of worldwide reconciliation and forgiveness. She says, when we see wrong, and we ask ourselves "Who will make a difference", we must, always, look at ourselves and say "It is me". And please no snark about the grammar.

She calls on all women to band together for peace and reconciliation. She has since been reunited with her daughter, who joins her and her other children in Phoenix. The daughter cannot understand her younger siblings because she does not speak English. The mother, Rose, came here knowing only two words, "Yes" and "No", and she often used them in ways opposite to their meaning. She can now speak enough English to give talks and interviews about reconciliation. It reminds me of our U.S. American impatience with immigrants who speak their own language and are not facile in U.S. English.

Rose, who saw her husband killed, her twins born in a death camp, who named the twins after the two military leaders of the camp in order to save their lives, she who saw horror after horror, she militates for reconciliation.

And I thought of the Spanish speaking and other immigrants here in Norwalk. I think about how prevalent prejudice still is, we who have an icon in the harbor of New York inviting all the world to come here for freedom, we say, "provided you give up your language, your culture, and blend into us. Oh yes, and you'd better be 'legal' ". I like to level the playing field, learning to speak Spanish and struggling to hold a conversation. I get a feel of what is it like to be an outsider.

But what would I say in a letter to The Hour. Rose says "Without sacrifice, nothing can be done". I would find words to say that I am willing to sacrifice my good name to advocate for immigrants unconditionally. I would say, "In God you are welcome, invited, beloved, and so I can do no less than that with you". I would like to say it is the same for institutions. Change comes hard. Change comes slowly. Fear of the other is not conquered by law or religion. So what can I say?

Dear people of Norwalk, Please embrace with unconditional love all those in this city who are not like you. For God's sake. Do not turn away from even one who does not look like you or speak your language. All who follow God are expected to become servants to those we are accustomed to have serve us. In God, those with the power are expected to give up that power to the powerless. In God, your fear of immigrants can be overcome, if you will allow it. My experience is that people are people, regardless of language, culture, past, present, or future. Please, I beg you, give up prejudice, and the expectations that come with prejudice, that all who come here must become just like us or be looked down upon.

That letter may never be written.

Maybe, instead, I would write, "I have been taking part in being a conversation partner with Spanish speaking day laborers here in Norwalk who are learning English. I have been humbled in my own prejudices and expectations through this work. I am learning what it means to love my neighbor as myself. People are people. For all our differences of culture, language, religion, and world-view, all people are beloved of God; all are equal; all are precious; all are our neighbors. For those who love God, there is no place for prejudice. I am grateful for the opportunity to face down the prejudices I have found in myself. May I become an instrument of peace and reconciliation. Thank you, day laborers, for teaching me this, just by being yourselves. Peace be with you."

As Rose prays, "Holy Father, change our hearts."


DeanB said...

It's so hard -- the second letter, about facing down one's own prejudices, is telling it like it is. The first one is all true, but the listener is apt to ask, "Have you ever tried? Do you know it's hard?". Hearing the second one, I just have to sigh and resolve to try harder.

Lois Keen said...

Thanks, Dean. Yes, that's how it is. All the rest before that last section was just thinking out loud. I decided to leave the process out there.