Monday, June 25, 2012

Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration

Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration by Miguel A. De La Torre takes look at Hispanic immigration in the United States. The book covers a lot of ground in just around 200 pages.

(From the cover) “Each of the seven sections (Borders, Economics, Myths, Family Values, the Politics of Fear, Perspectives, and Ethical Responses) examines an issue and then includes stories or testimonies by undocumented migrants and those who work with the undocumented. Each chapter concludes with a poem, prayer, or a song that expresses the hope and the terror involved in crossing the border. De La Torre’s combination of analysis, story, and artistic expression opens up the complexities of immigration for undergraduates and for all Christians.”

De La Torre is a well known ethics professor whose emphasis lies in doing ethics “from the margins” of society. In this book he walks you through a lot of facts, figures, political movements and theories. Most striking to me though were the personal accounts he includes. In my opinion the testimonies of the book are what make it shine.

As you read the book, if you are unsure about your position in the immigration debate or what a Christian response to immigration looks like, De La Torre does not leave you much room to be undecided. (For a more balanced analysis try starting out with Daniel Carroll’s Christians At The Border that I mentioned previously.) De La Torre comes off a bit aggressively at times, but, if you stick with it, he will push you to reexamine some of the ideas you hold.

He asks probing questions like, “What is an appropriate punishment for being undocumented? Dr. Juan Martinez, dean of Hispanic studies at Fuller University, says that the crime of the undocumented is breaking and entering (when it is not overstaying a visa). He asks what we would do with someone who broke into our home, remodeled our house, took care of our garden, cleaned our house, took care of our children, and cooked us dinner?” (167)

De La Torre also explores some new movements responding to the immigration crisis in the United States such as the Sanctuary Movement. A lot of attention is also paid to the horrible conditions at the border and of the thousands of human rights violations that take place at our southern border each year. One example is the repatriation (sending them back "home") of children. He writes, “Even more heartbreaking is what happens to children of immigrants. During the first six months of 2008, 18,249 children under the age of eighteen were repatriated. Of those, 10,000 children were literally dumped, without any adult supervision, on the Mexican border. To make matters worse, it is common to repatriate women and children to unfamiliar cities at night after shelters and other services are no longer available. Abandoned in violent border towns, they become easy prey.”

You may be a bit put off with the roughness of some of Miguel De La Torre’s assertions, but these kinds of statistics and the testimonies within the book are hard to argue with. For those not familiar with the conditions of the southern border or the current US immigration policies (and perhaps even for those who are) the book will be eye opening.

While this book is full of important information for all of us who are thinking through the difficulties of immigration policies, especially those of us living along the border, this book is even more imperative for those of us who consider ourselves Christians.

De La Torre writes, “We say we are a nation based on Judeo-Christian values, yet when some of us attempt to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, we are harassed by the agents of this so-called Judeo-Christian nation. Today a “Good Samaritan” can receive up to twenty years in prison for providing transportation to the closest hospital for a dying immigrant. Is this the only country in the world in which providing humanitarian aid is a crime? We can muster our resources to save the whales but not Latinos/as.”  

If you are like me, Trails of Hope and Terror is a book that will push on you. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Strength In What Remains

I came across Tracey Kidder’s Strength In What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness while killing time in a bookstore waiting for a flight at JFK. I was surprised to find a book on this topic (genocide and its aftermath) in the airport bookstand, so when I got home I picked up a copy from the local library and gave it a read through. The book was publishes in 2009 (by Random House) and goes back and forth between both Burundi and New York City and the past and the present.

The theme of memory flows through much of the book. And in this case, the memories are often hard to swallow. Strength in What Remains follows the true story of Deogratias—from his narrow escape in the brutal conflict in his home country of Burundi to his hunger and homelessness in his new “home” of New York City.

The genocide in Rwanda is much better known to Americans than the genocide in the neighboring country of Burundi. I worked for several years with Burundian refugees in Abilene, so the book was especially interesting to me. My close relationship with so many Burundians, and refugees in general, made the book especially hard to read.

Despite some of the heart wrenching details (many of which came about while Deo was in America)  and the fact that I didn’t find the book to be extraordinarily well written (even though Kidder has won a Pulitzer and other literary awards), I still recommend the book. It will make you thankful for the life you lead and, hopefully, give you a heart of compassion for refugees everywhere. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Everyone Is An Immigrant

A little while ago a friend of mine posted this article from Poetry Magazine onto his facebook captioned with Sensational. I wholeheartedly agree. The prose piece titled "Everyone Is An Immigrant: Poetry and Reportage in Lampedusa" is part poetry, part journalism, part personal journal. Eliza Griswold (who has written for the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and the New Republic) writes from Lampedusa (a small island near Africa that belongs to Italy) and describes what happens as refugees flee to the island from Libya and elsewhere.

Find the piece here and give it a look!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Caramelo or Puro Cuento

Sandra Cisneros’ Caramelo or Puro Cuento is a large (439 pages) novel that follows the lives of a Mexican/Mexican-American family from Mexico to Chicago to Texas and back again to all those places. The novel is long and the story is sometimes winding, but the destination, in my opinion, was worth it.

How do you want to classify the book? It’s a coming of age story. It’s the saga of a family’s journey through the generations. It’s a tale of women. It’s a look at the nature of memory. It’s the story of Mexicans. It’s the story of Americans. It’s the story of Mexican-Americans--of immigrants and of the children of immigrants.

It’s the story of anyone anywhere who has ever lived in the in-between—not quite fitting in anywhere.

If you are in the mood for a novel and have a bit of time to work with, go ahead and pick this one up. 

One of my favorite lines from the book to close: 

“And I don’t know how it is with anyone else, but for me these things, that song, that time, that place, are all bound together in a country I am homesick for, that doesn’t exist anymore. They never existed. A country I invented. Like all emigrants caught between here and there” (434). 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This Our Exile: A Spiritual Journey With the Refugees of East Africa

This Our Exile: A Spiritual Journey With the Refugees of East Africa by James Martin SJ is a great book on the refugee crisis in Africa. It was published in ’99, but is definitely still a relevant read. I checked the book out of the library and read the book a couple of years back on my plane ride to China (crossing my fingers and gambling that I wouldn’t lose the book on my trip!). This was my first introduction to James Martin who has turned out to be my very favorite Jesuit. (He also happens to be the “Official Chaplain” of the Colbert Report if any of you are thinking his name seems familiar.)

The book is a first person account of Father Jim’s time in Kenya helping refugees and the story of how it changed him. Before he became a Jesuit he worked for GE and was on the corporate fast track. He quickly found the corporate world unfulfilling and became a Jesuit instead. In Kenya he puts his business training to use helping refugees, mainly women, set up microenterprises.

In This Our Exile James Martin is part tour guide, part comedian, part historian, part theologian, and, maybe most importantly, part narrator of the stories of the people he meets.

The book is eye opening, easy to read and a great introduction to refugees and those who work with them all over the world. It’s so good in fact, I think I am going to have another read through it!

An excerpt from his introduction:

“The refugees in East Africa, people whom I had only read about in newspapers, people whose lives I (literally) couldn’t begin to imagine, transformed my heart in ways that I also couldn’t have imagined. Their lives, a full measure of sorrows and joys, forced me to confront the basic human questions of what it means to suffer pain and to experience happiness. Seeing how the lives of the refugees continually moved between the twin poles of despair and hope showed me what enables people to continue, despite incredible difficulties, and still believe in a good God. Or, as one redoubtable Rwandese woman (whom you will soon meet) would tell me, “God is very good!” Their magnificent openness to life helped me face my own difficulties more honestly, and to stay in Kenya despite some strong temptations to leave. Most especially, in coming to know the refugees, and in being invited into their lives, I came to know more fully what it means to love and be loved.” 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Visitor

OK, since perhaps you are still reading the book from last week, I'll save some of the other books for later. So how about a movie?

Title: The Visitor
Director: Tom McCarthy
Staring: Richard Jenkins.
Etc: Released 2008, 104 minutes long, PG-13


The film was screened at a lot of film festivals (Toronto, Sundcance, Miami, South by Southwest) and was nominated for quite a few awards (winning several, Jenkins was even nominated for an Academy Award for best actor). It's one of my favorites. As you can see from the trailer, The Visitor is the story of Walter, a professor, who comes to his rarely used NYC apartment to find it's been rented out by a scammer to two young immigrants. Walter begins to form a relationship with them and the story goes from there.

The plot is not exactly twisting, and you pretty much know what is going to happen, but the characters stick with you.

It's a lovely film, and it puts a face and story to immigration policy and the immigrant's struggle--but it's worth your time whether you care about immigration or not!

So do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix queue, hit up your local movie rental store, or if you are cheap resourceful like me--pick it up for free at your local library (FYI: FW/Haltom City/Abilene all have copies!). 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: Christians at the Border

OK, remember last week when I suggested you start slowly with a couple of half-hour podcasts? They were thought provoking, weren’t they?

Well, to up the ante, I am also going to recommend a book by the same person.

Here’s the details:

Title: Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible
Author: M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas)
Page count: 143 pages

Christians at the Border deals most specifically with Hispanic immigration, but can be applied to other aspects of immigration, too. The book is on one hand a more thorough look at the immigration stories and teachings in the Bible, (if the lectures piqued your interest in that area, the book will flesh things out some more). He has two chapters on the Old Testament materials and one from the New Testament which all end with “implications for today” sections. Carroll also deals with some of the main points of contention in the debate over immigration (the impact on national identity and economics) and discusses the impact Hispanic immigration has on American religion. The author gives a good overview of the history of Hispanic immigration in the US, too (which will brings the current immigration discussion into new light).

As far as style, the author has a PhD, but the book is written so that you can all read and understand it (there aren’t a ton of statistics and charts, and he makes an effort to define all his terms). He also helps put a personal face on the issue of immigration. Part of the way he does that is that Carroll himself is half Guatemalan and half Irish-American. One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that Carroll can easily identify with both the majority culture and the Hispanic community.  He takes the heat out of the discussion.

It’s a great place to start thinking about Hispanic immigration from a Christian perspective, or even just from a balanced viewpoint (the chapter on history/economics/American identity is really helpful). There’s also a great appendix with lots of varied resources if you want to start digging deeper.

It’s short, easy to read and practical…but it also pushes you to think outside of the dialogue we are used to hearing in the immigration debate.

Give it a look! (Besides, my mom already ordered the book after hearing the lectures last week. And you know you want to be like her!)

OK, I’ll leave you with the book’s dedication (first to the Hispanic community, and then to the Christian church in the US):

Al pueblo Hispano—
peregrinos en tierra ajena,
artesanos de una vida nueva,
semilla de esperanza—
paz y animo para el largo camino

To the Christian church in the United States:
may we never forget that we are
sojourners in a strange land,
and that among us
there is neither Jew nor Greek

PS. The book has also been translated into Spanish. You can buy it on Amazon and can maybe find it in your local library—I know Hardin-Simmons and TCU have copies.