Late this past Sunday evening, and after several suspenseful days, the White House began actively hinting at their plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative (DACA), suggesting that it might be extended only by about six months or so in order for Congress to pass some kind of immigration reform tied to either the US government’s debt ceiling or funding for Trump’s border wall. DACA is a popular program which allowed those who came to the United States as children of undocumented parents to have a measure of protection from deportation. The shock of this announcement moved swiftly and one of our regular contributors, blog manager Francisco Herrera was quick to respond. Both resigned and defiant, he reminds us that immigrants do not need, nor want, pity – rather incarnate solidarity and support, and gives some practical suggestions that are as easily applied as they are Lutheran. Read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
As you can probably imagine, like most Latinos in the United States these days (let alone countless undocumented immigrants from all over the world) late Sunday evening was a blur of rage and fear for me. That night, the White House finally broke weeks of tension and began leaking to the media that President Trump would likely not renew the Deferred Action Child Arrival program (instituted by President Obama in 2014) for anything more than six months, as opposed to continuing it. The news hit the country like a neutron bomb – the external structures of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country and those who love them somehow miraculously standing and functioning despite all life and hope within us viciously vaporized. I was fortunate that my colleagues in #decolonizeLutheranism let me draft our official statement. But the first rush of despair soon passed and, as is always the case, within short order an ancient and eerily familiar calm settled over me.
Because let’s face it, what else is new?
What else is new?
Living in a country where millions of individuals denigrate you for speaking Spanish – never mind that your people have been speaking Spanish in these lands for close to three hundred years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence?
Being in elementary school and having to sing a patriotic hymn about a country that goes “from sea to shining sea” – even though one third of that country was violently torn from Mexico under the most pathetic of justifications, while the entire thing was stolen from its myriad indigenous people through a combination of disease, betrayal, and war?
That likes to call itself ‘America’ despite the fact that this word covers two massive continents with 28.4% of all land on planet and more than 40 countries and territories filled with people who are just as equally American?
But you know, I don’t mind.
Really on some level I don’t mind, because despite all the ways that whiteness and white supremacy have doggedly impeded the dreams and aspirations of untold numbers of immigrants and their decendents, I’ll know we’ll be fine.
I mean, we’re still here – right?
Because if it’s one thing that immigrants of all times and all places know what to do it’s aguantar – a marvelous little Spanish verb that means ‘to endure,’ ‘to hold on for dear life,’ even ‘to put up with.’ The noun form ‘el aguante’ is equally pretty brilliant – meaning ‘resilience,’ ‘endurance,’ ‘resistance,’ even ‘guts’ or ‘nerve,’ similar to the US slang word moxie or the Yiddish chutzpah.
Calle 13, a music duo out of Puerto Rico, has even written an excellent song about it, simply titled ‘El Aguante,’ and it’s chorus perfectly describes the attitude of many who have come to our shores seeking a better life, their steps strengthened and steadied by a mix of resignation and fortitude:
Por lo que fue y lo que pudo ser
Por lo que hay y lo que puede faltar
Por lo que venga y por este instante
Levanta el vaso y a brindar por el aguante!
¡A brindar por el aguante!
(keep reading for translation*)
Because even though there is always plenty of scholarship money for already well-connected white students that want to get any kind of degree and never enough for people like us, we’ll still sweat in dish-rooms, teach adjunct courses, sweep floors late at night and work four jobs because we know if it worked for our ancestors it will work for us too.
And even though you sent a ship of our family members back to Europe to die in death camps and gas chambers, we will make here a life of beauty and abundance – despite the sideways glances and questionable jokes – because we know that the Living God has our backs in part because you so readily stab them.
And we stay because, as that prophet James Baldwin so brutally remarked we have the advantage of seeing who you are and what you do clearly while you don’t really know much of anything about us – and this knowledge gives us a terrifying advantage – a reservoir of insight into the workings of white supremacy and how to protect ourselves from it.
So therefore when horrors like the MOVE bombing or or the Postville raids occur we’re not really surprised. Charlottesville may have put a lot of otherwise supportive white people on the defensive, but if your people would have lived through Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears you similarly would have known for hundreds of years the orgasmic delight white supremacy gets over the violent exploitation of countless innocents and have long had multiple plans of action.
Having your ancestors sold on auction blocks, also for hundreds of years, kind of prepares you for the tragic inevitability of death and destruction at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect you, motivated by the sick wiles of people you didn’t vote for – or even did vote for. And just as science has shown that trauma actually alters human DNA, our readiness to both stand up to and suffer these attacks is hardwired into us and always gets us through.
However, it certainly would be nice to have a little help in the fight. So if any of you Christian leader types are reading this, and especially if you’re Lutheran, pay close attention – because wonderfully enough, the classic Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms can give a pretty solid confessional foundation for how we respond to these problems in our days.
Though often used as an excuse to keep the Church and church leaders “out of politics” and focused only on a bloodless notion of salvation and sacrament, Luther indeed had another intent for it. For as someone who stood toe to toe with the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V himself and said “Here I stand,” the Reformer understood there are times that faith leaders must stand against the power of the state – especially when the church is called by God to defend its people from the forces of oppression.
In her recent book, Resisting Structural Evil, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda points out that if white folks want to become serious accomplices in the battle against structural oppression, you need to learn from people in the struggle as opposed to about them – to take a few hits on the jaw, to lose sleep, the compromise your relationship and reputation to the powerful.
For certainly advocating for and assisting the undocumented in their struggles with governmental authorities it’s a great way to begin learning something from them.
So first, get connected to justice orgs that advocate for and protect the undocumented. If you want to take it up a step, the next thing you can do is advocate for your synod to declare itself a sanctuary synod – as we see in the Sierra Pacific Synod, the Southwest California Synod, the Oregon Synod, the New England Synod and the Greater Milwaukee Synod. If your congregation is in close proximity, let alone in the middle of, an immigrant community and you don’t have any mission outreach to them, start one. Any use of your power and presence in order to protect the innocent is always needed.
And if you really want to learn something from especially undocumented Latinos – often the first victims of these deportation frenzies – take it a step further and do something to immerse yourself in the soul and context of Latinos in this country.
See about signing up for the Spanish for Ministry courses available at an ELCA seminary. Go down to Austin, Texas and baptize yourself in the realities of the Borderlands between the US and Mexico through the auspices of the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest – they have special intensive programs on specific themes in January and May and June.
And when you do this, do it as a labor of love, because though members of these communities may be wary of you and treat you with suspicion (and can you blame them?), working your way through their suspicions – even their indifference – will eventually reveal to you a likely never-before-experienced manifestation of God’s love and grace that will transform everything about you.
Everything about you.
And then when white people learn to struggle, sing, and dance with our immigrant kindred as they work through the obstacles of their lives – be they from Honduras or Libya or Venezuela or Syria or Mexico or wherever – they will eventually understand more fully why it is we keep going the way we do – and learn something about el aguante in the process – and why this resilience is so important to the faith of countless immigrants of countless religions all over the world.
*For that which was, and that which could have been
For that which is, when what we want cannot be
For what is coming, and right now in this moment
Lift high all your glasses! Raise a toast to our resilience!
Raise a toast to our resilience!
Because it is through the seemingly endless struggle, where triumphs are often few and fleeting, that all of the little ways that the devil preys upon our souls and our communities fall from us like parasitic bugs in the caustic gas of a delousing chamber. And it may burn a little bit, but since we’ve long learned to squeeze our eyes and our lungs shut, hold our breath a long time, when we come through – and we always come through – we are just that much stronger, that much braver, and that much more saturated with God’s love that even the longest march to freedom and righteousness seems but a pleasant stroll – relishing in the company of our loved ones, singing and dancing on the way to the cross and beyond.
Before coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor at LSTC, Wartburg Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.