immigrants

Gen Xers and the New Cuba

GROWING UP IN the Catholic Church in Cuba, Romy Aranguiz learned to perform acts of charity on limited resources—and to carefully seek out dialogue when the laws of the land seemed to run contrary to her moral compass, or to the government's own professed ideals.

"For me, the church is the best representation of civil society in Cuba. It was probably the only institution that kept a certain distance from the government when there was hardly an opposition," she said in a recent phone interview from her home in Massachusetts.

Now a medical doctor in the U.S., Aranguiz continues to implement those lessons, these days through Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), a movement aimed at broadening U.S.-Cuba relations through citizen exchange, open trade, and diplomatic cooperation.

Like most of CAFE's founding members, Aranguiz is a Cuban Gen Xer who obtained her education on the island and migrated to the U.S. as an adult. She developed a penchant for blogging while pursuing a professional career and obtaining U.S. citizenship.

CAFE's members are focused on breaking the silence they experienced in communist Cuba—and the silence they encountered as new immigrants to the U.S., where the Cuban-American agenda was often set by older exiles with no interest in a U.S.-Cuba dialogue.

"I think CAFE is having a positive impact on previous generations of Cuban Americans and Latinos in the U.S., descendants from first migratory waves," says CAFE board member María Isabel Alfonso, a professor at St. Joseph's College in New York. "CAFE has come to fill a void, as it values diplomacy and engagement over a confrontational, Cold War mentality."

CAFE's members are ideologically and religiously diverse, but they do agree on the following:

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Welcoming Christ by Welcoming the Stranger

The night was cold and dark as the family approached the border. Ahead of them were miles of desert that would test their will and drain their stamina. What they were doing defied the law. But they were a family, and families will do anything for the sake of their children.

The law they defied was that of Herod. The family: Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child.

As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, let us remember that the life that ended on the cross began on the road. This Easter, let us remember that Christ the Savior began his life as an immigrant, fleeing the land where he was born to escape Herod’s wrath.

Easter is a holiday of new beginnings. It welcomes a new season. It is a time to start fresh. At the heart of Easter is a magnificent reservoir of grace. Of this holiday, Katherine Lee Bates reflected, “It is the hour to rend thy chains, the blossom time of souls.” Easter is a time to set people free, fix things that are broken, watch souls blossom — all for glory of the risen Christ.

Immigrants Just Won't Go Away

"'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you drink? And when was it that we saw yo a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"

           --Matthew 25. 37-40

All this immigration talk reminds me of an encounter my wife and I had at a fast food restaurant in Atlanta. The night manager was Hispanic. He came by our table to make sure everything was all right. We started talking. I told him how troubled I was over our immigration debate. 

That casual remark opened his door wide. He told me how scared many of his friends were. Some had already left the state. He told me they only wanted to work and send money back home where things were so tight. One very sick friend, he said would not go to the doctor or hospital because she was afraid of being deported. He told me he kept reading that these immigration laws had nothing to do with racial profiling. 

He shook his head. “I have been stopped six times in the last few months mostly because I was Hispanic.”

Post-Election: A New Day for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Brendan Hoffman, Getty Images
Stickers in English and Spanish at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in D.C. Tuesday. Brendan Hoffman, Getty Images

Exit polling from Tuesday’s presidential election is offering new hope to activists advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. The Latino community was instrumental in reelecting President Barack Obama, as record numbers turned out to vote and supported the president by over 70 percent. These numbers send a clear message to opponents of immigration reform that demonizing immigrants and blocking progress makes for a poor political strategy.

Pundits are opining that Congress may be more willing to discuss comprehensive reform, a promise President Obama made but has been slow in fulfilling due to congressional opposition. Indeed, republican leaders in Congress have already been altering their positions.

 

Deportations are Not the Way to Show Respect for Veterans

Photo: Dogtags on the Constitution, Sergey Kamshylin / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Dogtags on the Constitution, Sergey Kamshylin / Shutterstock.com

When I go out with my Dad, he often wears a cap identifying him as a Korean War veteran.  Over and over again, people tell him, “Thank you for serving.” Over and over again.

I’m always struck by the contrast between that appreciation and the sad, hidden truth about our country’s treatment of some other veterans. I’m speaking of the government’s detention and deportation of many immigrants who served in our armed forces but who are not yet citizens. 

The first time I heard about this was 1998. My friend’s husband, a Canadian who grew up in Texas and chose to serve in Vietnam had recently gotten a deportation order based on some old drug charges, the kind of thing many vets experienced. What horrified me then, and still does today, is that immigration judges could not grant an exception. Nothing could stop the deportation except a change in U.S. immigration laws.

NumbersUSA Stirs Up Division With New Immigrant Attack Ad

We all know the conversation on immigration in the United States can oftentimes become contentious, with inaccurate portrayals of immigrants inhibiting progress. The most recent attempt to fuel the debate with fear-driven messaging is by NumbersUSA.  

A new ad by  the organization tries to pit racial groups against each other by suggesting that immigrants admitted to the country on work permits are “stealing” jobs from other racial minorities.

This tactic is hateful, fear-based, and sad. By running this ad NumbersUSA is trying to divide people against each other on racial grounds, sowing hate and division among our neighbors. It misrepresents the truth about immigrant workers and the benefits they provide to our country. It also does nothing to substantively address the issue of unemployment among minorities, a problem we can’t solve by directing hate at one segment of the population.

A World Without Immigrants?

IT WOULD BE strange if any segment of the liturgical year left out the theme of migration. The Bible is riddled from end to end with the journeys of nomads, pilgrims, exiles, returning exiles, and the risky intrusions of strangers across boundaries erected to deter them.

This season’s poster child for divinely inspired mobility is the lovely figure of the Moabite “alien” Ruth, who chooses to leave her own country and accompany her beloved Jewish mother-in-law when she returns as a widow to her native Judea. Ruth’s story is romantic, even erotic, as she daringly slips into the arms of Boaz during the sexually charged siesta at the threshing floor. But our readings are no mere novelette. Scripture shows how much hinged on her pluck and her allure. Her great-grandson will be David, and her descendant Jesus the Messiah!

“Where would we be without immigrants?” is one of the many questions between the lines of the scriptures. The Bible has lots to say to us about the divine impulse active in migrations, and the opening of the heart to “strangers within our gates”—things guaranteed to alarm defensive nationalists of every stripe.

I remember the deep spiritual emotion that caught us all up in Boston’s Faneuil Hall during my naturalization ceremony—Cambodian refugees, Vietnamese grandmothers, Salvadoran families, and all the rest of us. I think of the migration of my own great-grandparents to Russia, and the adventures that have scattered my own family from New Zealand to Mexico. How God revels in mixing us all up!

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.
 

[ NOVEMBER 4 ]
What Kind of 'One'?
Ruth 1:1-18; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

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Congress Looks at STEM Visas

Congress is due to recess soon, but members are trying to pass a bill attempting to increase the availability of high-skilled visas for the tech industry before adjourning at the end of this week. While different versions of the legislation exist, the fundamental goal is to allocate more visas to foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities who have obtained a master’s or doctorate degrees in science, math, technology or engineering (STEM) fields.

Muslim Immigrants at Home Key to U.S. Image Abroad

After four years of living in the U.S., Mohamed Jedeh is anxious to return to his native Libya.

It irks him that his local mosque in Union City, N.J., won’t broadcast the Muslim call to prayer for fear of angering neighbors, yet nobody complains about the noise from a local bar. Back home, there are no scantily clad women walking across his sight line, and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is easier because almost everyone is doing it.

Jedeh would probably be home by now if he hadn't been asked by a mosque in Boston to help with special nightly Ramadan prayers. After graduating in May with a master's degree in clinical research from the New York University College of Dentistry, he's ready to get back to the small city of Zintan in northwest Libya, where he plans to teach dentistry and work at a local clinic.

“It’s different,” said Jedeh, who flies back on Aug. 20. “I miss the Islamic atmosphere.”

Despite his homesickness, Jedeh said he has had a positive experience in the U.S. He initially worried about his wife's safety because she wears a niqab, or face veil, but except for one insult shouted by a passerby, he and his family have been treated respectfully. 

“I believe you cannot judge any country and say, all people are good or all people are bad,” said Jedeh. 

Team USA (No Matter Where They Were Born)

U.S. Olympic runner Leo Manzano. Photo via LeoManzano.com.
U.S. Olympic runner Leo Manzano. Photo via LeoManzano.com.

When I was a sophomore at Bethel University, I was the top 1,500-meter runner on my track team. Then, my junior year, a transfer student came, and she was really fast. She quickly took my place as the fastest miler on the team, winning multiple national championships in the process.

I’ll admit to having felt a little bit frustrated because she came in from the outside and passed me up. But training with her is one of the key reasons I was ultimately able to finish sixth at the national meet, good enough to earn All-American honors.

She pushed me to become better. She gave me someone to chase. She brought more attention to our school and our team, resulting in more fast recruits. In short, she made me and our whole team better.

As the London Olympics begin this week, the United States counts many “transfers” — immigrants from all over the world who are now U.S. citizens — among its top athletes. Some people may feel threatened by these immigrants because they are potentially taking the place of others who were born here.

But I think our immigrants make us better, just like my transfer teammate made me better. They continually push us to do better, work harder and find new ways to improve.

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