Triangulation

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When I lived in San Diego between 2014 and 2015, I also had the opportunity to directly experience some of the lives, lifestyles and challenges at the border between Mexico and the United States.  I got to see first-hand, the bustling cities of San Ysidro and Tijuana, I met incredibly dedicated people giving their time and energy to supporting vulnerable people and had direct contact with Border Patrol Agents.  Several things stood out to me:

  • Both San Ysidro (US side) and Tijuana (Mexico side) are vibrant places with rich bi-lingual cultures.
  • Where San Ysidro’s urban center gives way to genuinely suburban and fairly typical “American” middle class neighborhoods as you move north, Tijuana has a larger, more-dense urban feel for a wider area and then gives way as you head south and east to what would be considered by “American” standards rural settings with many dirt roads and more basic infrastructure.
  • Incredible numbers of people pass both ways through the port of entry at San Ysidro/Tijuana. The number looks to be equal in both directions, but most of the congestion is on the Mexico side due to the restrictive nature of how people are processed entering the US.
  • The vast number of people crossing the border, in both directions, at this port of entry are US citizens seeking goods and services or recreation.
  • There is thriving business for Mexican vendors on the Mexican side and US retail outlets on the US side of the border.
  • The people on both sides, were friendly, welcoming, diverse, funny and completely human.  There was nothing “alien” about any of them.

Probably the most striking aspect of my education about the southern border came in realizing that nearly all of the need for goods, services and people is driven by US demand.  This is true for textiles and mechanics (see the film Maquilapolis) but this is particularly true where human trafficking and drug smuggling are concerned.  My trip was part of a seminary immersion experience and as a minister in formation, I was exposed to people who had been trafficked and people who had been impacted by the drug trade as well as people who were thriving and not touched by either but were simply trying to live and get by in that environment.  And at the same time, living in San Diego, it was very telling to travel just 18 miles north and encounter the rich, young (largely white) people who were partying hardy and looking for easily accessible drugs oblivious to the connection they had to the life I had been exposed to at the border.  In San Diego, I also encountered more than one non-Mexican person who had been to Tijuana for quick and easy sex.

2015-01-14 10.34.42The “crisis” that Donald Trump attempted to present in his 9-minute address from the Oval Office is one that will always exist as long as American citizens continue to financially drive the billion-dollar illicit drug and human trafficking trades.  The people migrating north are not the crisis; the market for the exploitation of vulnerable people is the crisis…and it is a crisis that is as old as our government.  The people “flooding” the border are not the criminals that need to be dealt with.  In large part, most of them are seeking safety from violence in countries whose governments were imploded by US intervention.  The true criminals are in Washington, D.C.; the criminals are in the financial centers and corporation board rooms, and they are the ones inflating and manipulating currencies and values, paying off pharmaceutical companies and establishing a playing field of commerce that is ripe for exploitation of the poor and vulnerable people who have little or no choice on the bottom of the equation.  The true criminals are in every neighborhood and community of the United States and they are in all socio-economic brackets.  The criminals are you and I and our willingness to benefit from a system that has always thrived on oppression.

The true crisis is that our economy and wealth continues to be driven by the concept of trianglular trade as established with African slavery*.  According to Trump, a wall would be built to keep out the people who are supposedly the problem.  But the problem isn’t the slave…the problem is still slavery.

-ALD

*From the musical 1776

 

Dreams Deferred

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“America’s New Patriot” (c) 2001 Adam Dyer

The president of the United States has worked with the government over the last 7 months the same way he has run his businesses: with total impunity.  His basic assumption seems to be that he was elected to lord over the country, like the CEO of a private company with no accountability other than to the allegiances forged in blood or in a mafia-like system of “you scratch my back….”  In addition, he has taken the Mitch McConnell political agenda from 2009 which was built entirely on erasing Barack Obama and doubled down on its xenophobia, isolationism and flat out ignorance.  Add to this his own special megalomaniac fixation on self aggrandizement and you have what he has peddled as the formula to “make America great…again”.  He is proud to put “America First”, relinquishing the historic and noble aspiration of being a global leader in favor of holding tightly to what he alone defines as “ours” from his dangerously narrow and fearful world view.

But a President, isn’t supposed to lord.  Our government is not by and for one oversized compensatory ego.  The President of the United States is one relatively small part of a government system that, although flawed, has absolute checks and balances on each of its branches of power.  While this president is a petulant, ill qualified, temperamentally unsound neophyte, the current Congress, on the other hand, is grossly and somewhat sadistically negligent in enabling this bull in the china shop.  Congress must start to do their job.

But I am no politician.  I am a minister.  My job is all about how people make peace with the world around them. Some call it spirit, others call it God, and others have no name for it.  What is consistent however, is that in the work of ministry, we are asked over, and over again to reflect what we see and hear from people about their lived experiences.  This could be as they watch a loved one die, or as they look into someone’s eyes and declare that their life will be inextricably linked to theirs.  It could be questioning the path of a life, the loss of a job, or grasping the meaning of the words “cancer free”.  And we do this without judging someone’s politics, religious beliefs, race, gender or any other aspect of what makes them who they are other than first being human.

I have had the opportunity in my brief ministry so far to meet many undocumented migrants.  People from Mexico, Somalia, Ecuador, Ireland, Canada, etc.  I myself had the experience of flying under the immigration radar for an extended period, many years ago in England.  It was an uncomfortable feeling, but being black with an American accent and passport, I knew that ultimately I was in little danger and would probably be given the benefit of the doubt.  What is more, I had come to the UK on a lark and not because I was fleeing violence or starvation.  Going home would never be a bad or fatal thing.  The large proportion of people I have met in recent years however, have largely escaped situations that few of us who were born in the safety of the US would be able to survive.  They escaped violence and persecution, and even more, they managed to find a way to navigate the labyrinthine systems of work, taxes, housing, healthcare and transportation that even those of us born here find to be a burden.

The young people that I have met who have benefited directly from DACA are not criminals.  Indeed they are heroes.  From very early in life, they have been family translators, workers, emotional support and so much more.  These often very young people, have become the eyes and ears and windows into the world for their parents.  We call them “Dreamers” but I think we don’t appreciate the depth or breadth of that dream.  They were brought here not just for their own dreams, but for the dreams of their entire families, who knew that even if they (the parents) died in this journey into the unknown, the dreams in their children still had a chance.  This is what every parent wants for their child, to simply have a chance.

The ministerial reflection I want to offer on the cusp of the next chapter in DACA is this: the president is also a parent.  He is the parent of an eleven-year-old, who he has carried over the wall into the White House.  To our knowledge, the president’s son had no choice in his father’s decision to run for office.  The president has forever changed his child’s future.  He has opened his son up to a level of scrutiny and objectification that only other First Children could possibly understand.  Although there are certainly enormous gifts and privileges that come with being a wealthy First Child, there is equally enormous risk and it will forever impact how his son will be seen in the world.    Of course, the president’s son is no refugee or undocumented migrant, and I certainly don’t know or understand how the president sees his youngest child, but hopefully, this young person will thrive and grow and learn about love and compassion and humanity…as every child should be given the opportunity to do.  Imagine what a different outcome we could see for DACA, if the president, for just one moment, could muster up even a grain of real empathy to see himself alongside parents who simply want to give their children a chance instead of lording over them like a tyrant CEO.

Nightmares

I can’t imagine a worse nightmare
Than to go to sleep with hope one day
And wake up with none the next.
Emerging from the hole
Coming into the light,
Being coaxed out and told I will be safe
To live, to thrive, to grow
Only to have the fat cat pounce
And start playing with me
Like a toy mouse
Forgetting that I am actually alive.
Each swat of his giant paw
Wrenching my joints
And claws gouging my skin.
I fear now that when he smells the blood
He will come in for the kill
Not because he is hungry,
But simply because he can.
I was told to rest easy ‘til the morning
When I would be called into the light of day
My sleep was peaceful
My dreams were free
My future unburdened
Now I see
It was just setting the stage for the nightmare to continue
And a prelude to the end of me.

ALD