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 series from BPFNA!
Three-year-old Enrique’s favorite toy was parked on his head: a plastic helmet with a dark face shield, emblazoned with the word “POLICE.” As he toddled up to our burly, 6-foot-8 county sheriff, with his mother Rosita watching nervously, the irony about did me in.
For three hours every Thursday, a group calling ourselves Mujeres Unidas en Fe (Women United in Faith) gathers at a church on the other side of the mountain from my home in western North Carolina. Ten Spanish-speaking women and an equal number of us English speakers share Bible study, exchange language lessons, and enjoy a potluck lunch.
At the first meeting I attended in mid-January, we crowded into the kitchen while Carmela gave us a lesson in making mole verde. Beatriz moved among us with a photo album from her daughter Gabriela’s quinceañera, the 15th birthday celebration that is both religious ceremony and party—a very big event in Mexican culture. Laughter and animated conversation were abundant.
A week later, the mood was starkly different. The executive order calling for increased raids against undocumented persons had come out of the White House, and North Carolina was among the states targeted in the crackdown. A sense of terror hung in the air.
School in our county was canceled that day, due to a flurry of snow and patches of ice on mountain roads. So several older children joined Enrique and the few infants and preschoolers who regularly bless us with their joyful and boisterous presence. The day felt like a reprieve to them; some had tearfully told their mothers that they no longer wanted to go to school, fearful that they would return home to find their parents gone.
What a terrible burden to put on children, I thought as I watched a grinning boy push giggling Enrique, with the police helmet askew on his head, around the room in a toy car. That day, instead of sharing language lessons, we passed out documents labeled Plan Familiar de Emergencia (Emergency Family Plan) and discussed who would care for Enrique, Gabriela, and their siblings and friends if their mothers get deported.
Understandably, when facing such a terrifying situation, many people choose to lay low and keep to the shadows. But the following week Rosita announced over lunch, “I think the best way to keep from being sent back is to introduce ourselves to local law enforcement—let them see our children and get to know our families.” It seemed to me audacious and brave—and very scary for my friends.
Indeed, a few weeks later when the sheriff and nine of his deputies, the chief of police, and the head of campus security at our local university showed up for an event we called “Lunch with the Law,” the fear was evident on the faces of the women. Only Enrique in his helmet stepped right up to the towering sheriff, who bent down to shake his hand. Then the handshakes continued around the room, and smiles slowly began to replace fear.
The mujeres had prepared an amazing feast of tamales, empanadas, flan, and sweet dulce de leche caramel cake. As we ate, they found their voices. Rosita, in tears, spoke about her beloved nephew who was kidnapped and murdered by a gang in Mexico. With Enrique perched on her lap, she voiced her terror about the possibility of being torn from her children and sent back to violence and poverty.
The officials listened and responded in ways that made the women feel heard and safe. The word we got that day was that immigrants are welcome in our county and local law enforcement has no plans to cooperate in deporting them. The sheriff quoted Matthew 25. He also pointed out that federal money isn’t exactly pouring into our rural pocket of North Carolina, and the U.S. government has little leverage here. The chief of police swept his eyes around the room and declared wryly, “I can guarantee to you ladies that I’ve put more members of my wife’s family in jail than Hispanics.”
We can’t know what new directives or pressure may be in store. But the fact that the meeting took place, and the open and gracious spirit that prevailed throughout it, felt miraculous to me. I was convicted again that, like the bold mujeres of my county, we all need to step across boundaries, speak truth to power, face down our fears and open ourselves to being vessels of transformation.
Joyce Hollyday, a founding co-pastor of Circle of Mercy in Asheville, NC, is the author of several books, including Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice, and Us and Clarence Jordan: Essential Writings. Her blog can be found at www.joycehollyday.com.