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April 27, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
"Vamos todos al banquete...."
Let us go now to the banquet, to the feast of the universe --
the table’s set and a place is waiting.
I will rise in the early morning; the community’s waiting for me.
With a spring in my step I’m walking with my friends and my family.
God invites all the poor and hungry to the banquet of justice and good --
where the harvest will not be hoarded so that no one will lack for food.
May we build a place among us where all people are equal in love --
For God has called us to work together and to share everything we have.
translated version of "Vamos Todos Al Banquete" written by Guillermo Cuéllar
and commissioned by Msgr. Oscar Romero for the Misa Popular Salvadoreña
Ultimately there would be 10 of us gathered at the table. The Philadephia Chinatown restaurant was crowded, but coming in from the windy, bitterly cold nightfall, I felt grateful for the shared warmth generated by all the people.
We had arrived in various waves. Joe and Lisa, from Central Baptist Church in Wayne, traveled into the city by public transit from our suburban neck of the woods. They met up with Nicole, one of the community organizers from the New Sanctuary Movement, (NSM) who had claimed a table for us after coming from work in NSM's office adjacent to Visitation B.V.M. Catholic parish in the rough Kensington neighborhood. I was picking up Maria and sons Anthony, Jorge, and Carlos at their home near Visitation.
So after a tedious hour in my car fighting frustrating commuter rush hour traffic on the expressway from Valley Forge to Independence Hall, I finally navigated through the stop-signs-at-every-corner, one-way inner city streets, past bodegas and boarded up buildings, and parked at Maria's place.
This is a new home for their family, just a couple of doors down from another row house where we had a grand reunion celebration in summertime when Carlos and Jorge had safely accomplished their journey from Honduras, through Mexico, across the Rio Grande, to the US. Older brother Anthony had made the same trip a couple of years earlier to begin life again in Philadelphia -- after an extended stay in a Florida detention center -- with his mother and a collection of various relatives. All of the boys were fleeing gang threats and violence in their original hometown.
In the chaos of a crowded living room, young kids playing around us, we greet each other with plenty of hugs and friendly smiles. Amid my faltering, timid attempts to speak Spanish, reciprocated in rapid-fire Spanish sprinkled with a few newly acquired English phrases, we sort out who is ready, who is still cleaning up after a day of work in the factory, and who has not shown up yet.
We head out the door (with Anthony's new girlfriend Dixi whom I had just met, but without Anthony who would meet us there), and I notice the picture on the wall -- the only decoration in the sparsely furnished room, just as it had been in the other house down the block -- a framed photo of the congregation taken at Central Baptist Church's homecoming service during Advent 2013, when Anthony and Maria had been welcomed for the first time in our midst.
Winding our way through the back streets, I'm the only one who knows our destination. In an odd moment answering inquiries about the location of the elusive Chinatown restaurant, it finally dawns on me simply to tell my passengers "cerca de la corte de inmigración" (near the immigration court). It's an all too familiar landmark that immediately, if horribly and ironically, orients everyone.
Our group of stragglers arrives, cold and hungry at the end of our day. Again the ritual greetings among companions: smiles, hugs, welcome for the travelers. A harried but helpful waitress takes our orders, repeating them back in accented English, writing them down in Chinese characters.
We eat and drink together -- city-dwelling former inhabitants of the Honduran countryside and suburb-dwelling East Coast transplants, elders and youth, factory worker, college student, citizens, undocumented immigrants, some using chopsticks, others choosing forks. We catch up on the stuff of daily life. Too much snow and cold weather. Why didn't you wear your other coat? Please pass the soy sauce.
Anthony, arriving late and last, proudly introduces us to Dixi's four year old son who wanted to tag along. Another round of hugs for new arrivals. Questions about La Virgen de Suyapa, patron of Honduras, followed by Maria's valiant attempt to sing the traditional song from the annual feast day in her honor. General agreement that our mutual friend Maria, another Honduran, will be the best person to teach us that musical selection! Conversation with Jorge about making new friends from Africa in their high school English language program for immigrants.
And Anthony calls to me across the table in Spanish: "Last time we were in immigration court, what date did the judge set for my next appearance? July? June?"*
*Note to the reader: The story intentionally ends with Anthony's question left hanging in the air, with the next steps unclear and unresolved. Such is the reality of daily life for undocumented immigrants.
Caroline Cargo serves as Board Chair for the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice organization working with communities across faith, ethnicity, and class to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status. She is an American Baptist ordained minister, an active member of the Immigration Justice Group at Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA, and a participant in the NSM Accompaniment program that pairs immigrants facing deportation with citizen ally congregations to form a ministry of presence. This interfaith network of immigrants and allies builds meaningful relationships to help keep families together and to organize for justice.
Learn more at www.sanctuaryphiladelphia.org. And click here to read more of Anthony's story as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer.