A letter from Mark Adams in the U.S. on Interpretation Assignment from the U.S,/ Mexico border
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Miriam and I were speaking at a church and someone asked us: “Is it easy for you to cross the border?”
Both of us have crossed the U.S./Mexico border thousands of times. We looked at each other knowing that we had the same answer. I said, “Miriam, why don’t you take this one?”
“It depends,” Miriam said. “If it’s him or me.”
Having a wife and daughter who have beautiful brown skin, developing deeper relationships with non-white people and living on the border has made it painfully clear that people are still treated differently by our law enforcement and society in general based on skin color. I confess that it is a lesson that has not come easy. . .I’d rather pretend that racism is a thing of the past and we all just get along.
On our way back from our honeymoon 15 years ago, I received a painful lesson of the gap in power between the love of my life and myself.
Miriam was denied entry into the U.S. despite having a visa. (We were coming from Mexico, entering the U.S., and it was three hours shorter by this route.) The officer said she and our daughter Cindy, who was 5, needed to get a permiso (permission document) to return to Agua Prieta the very same way we had come without needing a permiso. He asked her for water bills and electric bills and rejected them after she produced them. (Would you ever think to carry a water bill or an electric bill around with you?)
“I need proof that she is not going to stay in the United States.”
“Are you saying that you are trying to protect me and the rest of the United States from my wife and my daughter?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I am doing because if I give them permisos they could live in the United States.”
“Calmate, Marcos, calmate (Calm down, Mark, calm down),” Miriam said and we were turned around and sent back south to journey back to our home by the longer route through Mexico. Once we were back in the car, I asked her if she did not feel angry. “What good would getting angry do? And it could cause things to be worse,” she said.
“If you don’t feel angry, then what do you feel?”
In the wake of SB1070, the Arizona anti-immigrant law that was widely opposed by the Douglas community and leadership, we worked with different sectors of the community to pass a council resolution declaring the vision of Douglas as a “Welcoming Community.” We have also worked hard to develop relationships with our U.S. Representatives and set up spaces where they can hear the voices of the small business community, health and education sectors, and community and religious organizations—voices that are often drowned out by the loud, angry and fear-filled rhetoric of a few.
In one particular meeting that we arranged at Galiano’s Café there were a half-dozen Hispanic small business owners from Douglas. All were as educated as I am, more well off economically, and much better dressed (Miriam gets on me for wearing old clothes and t-shirts with holes in them). Yet I was shocked when they shared their experiences of crossing back into the United States through the Port of Entry after going to Agua Prieta.
Each one of them expressed how it always caused a certain amount of apprehension, wondering if there would be any problems. The owner of a small manufacturing business that has operations on both sides said, “It’s like we are guilty until proven innocent.”
I was confronted once again with the reality of my privilege as a white person to not feel guilty until proven innocent just for crossing the border.
Many of our friends feel a heightened sense of fear since the election of Donald Trump, who used derogatory language to describe Mexicans, Muslims, women and, it seems, any non-white person. Remember, he also proposed building a big and beautiful wall on the Mexican border (already 800 miles of wall exist that were built during the administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama), and a mass deportation of people (President Obama already has deported more people than any other president).
The day after the election our daughter Anna Flor did not want to go to school here in Clover, S.C., where we are based during interpretation assignment. She knew some of her friends from Mexico or whose parents had been born in Mexico had said that they were not going to school because they would be afraid of how they would be treated and their parents might be “taken away” while they were at school.
Our daughter Cindy told Anna Flor that she had to go to school to be a friend, to support those who were afraid and those who would experience discrimination. We can’t let fear keep us from standing with those who are vulnerable.
I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to recognize the reality that the color of our skin still grants privilege or causes discrimination (even within my own family). I know I still have a lot to learn and pray that God grants me courage and wisdom to work toward the vision of the peaceable kingdom in which we celebrate the reality of justice for all instead of lamenting its absence.
As people who seek to follow Jesus who crossed the divine/human border at great risk to dwell with us and to enter fully into the joys and suffering of the world, we must follow in his way, crossing borders that divide, entering into the suffering of the world, and humanizing—not demonizing—those our society seeks to exclude. We are grateful to be a part of a ministry that seeks to live into God’s vision of walls of hostility torn down and turned into tables of reconciliation where people will come from Mexico and the United States, Iraq and Syria, China and Australia, Ethiopia and Italy to enjoy the feast of God’s love together.
May God grant us eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to serve, feet to follow and hearts to trust Emmanuel today and each day of our lives.
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