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.”