“Canta Y No Llores – Life and Death Around the Borders of US and México”(1)
Theology starts where it hurts, and from there we build on its possibilities. How do we who call ourselves Christians can hear all the cries of the world. Should we? As I write this article Israel is attacking Gaza, an attack that has killed so far, more than 800 people. How should we posit ourselves in this very complex history of events? The genocide in Darfur still goes on, the situation of the million refugees in Africa is near hopeless, the destruction of small farmers by big corporations everywhere is rampant, the climate change is increasingly destroying our world and while few families are getting richer, most people are getting poorer. As we go about our Christian faith, how can we confess the things we confess, sing the songs we sing and still believe in a God that intervenes in our history? I don’t see other way but continue to confess, to sing and also to cry. For theology can only be done if done with tears.(2)
Since we cannot deal with all the pain of the world, at least in this article, let us briefly concentrate on the walls across the borders between Mexico and United States, a place where many tears are shed daily. The life situation throughout that area is a disaster. Last August I visited the borders between Arizona, US and Sonora, MX and experienced a devastating situation: the crescent militarized work of the US border patrol which is now associating common immigrants such as mothers, singers(3), construction and farm workers with terrorism, the soaring stories of people in the desert, the lack of legal help to immigrants in the prison system across the borders, children lost in the desert, the presence of coyotes in their business of smuggling people across the borders, the robbing and raping in the desert, the violence against women, and the ecological destruction produced by the concrete presence of the walls have all produced a an/official policy of death against immigrants. Exploitation, abuse, danger and death in a lawless land are companies of those who walk around the borders between Mexico and US.
As a former pastor to non-documented immigrants, a Christian theologian and an immigrant myself, I see it all and cry, I see it all and faint. In my visit to the borders, I witnessed what some of the members of my former church went through and how these stories continuing to happen every single day.(4) If theology starts where it hurts, with the poor and the least of them, then the borders are a privileged site for theology, a resource for our faith. As I witnessed the situation of the migrant people only around the borders of Nogales, as I walked in the desert, as I met people who work with and for the migrants, their wonderful work and the crescent lack of money to continue their efforts, I wanted to cry all the time.
The wall between US and Mexico attests to much larger issues such as world migration crisis, weak international relations and weakened notions of nation-state and sovereignty, disintegrated global economic, agricultural protection to rich countries and the dismantling of the economy of poor countries, the accumulation of wealth in few countries and few families, the continuous colonization problems, the ab/use of natural resources,(5) access to the land and minimum sources of life and the overwhelming problem of poverty, the deep relations between economic, social, racial, class, sexual, gender issues, and the very right of belonging and the creation of healthy communities throughout the world.
In the United States, the wall attests to the crescent politics of criminalization of the immigrants. As immigrants are treated as illegals, as criminals, associated with gun trafficking, organized crime, drug trade and terrorist organizations, what happens naturally is a growing hatred against immigrants throughout the nation that somewhat allows brutal and illegal treatment against them. Often, the media covering immigration issues don’t take on the deeper issues that shape these realities and help fills this hatred and create a distorted vision about the presence of recent non-documented immigrants in US. This hatred can be seen in many ways and this distorted vision creates myths(6) that go unchecked and gain an appearance of truth. Here are just five of them: Immigrants Take our Jobs, when in reality they create jobs; Immigrants drain our economy, when actually, they revive local communities economies and the country’s economy gains $22 billion dollars per year from immigrant workers, which makes Latino/a immigrants more of a benefit than a problem; Immigrants threaten our culture and don’t learn English, when immigrants always bring a wealth of wisdom that adds to the richness of the North American culture instead of destroying it. By the third generation, everybody speaks English; Immigrants bring disease. Recently in MN, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s said recently immigrants “are bringing in disease and violence and every sort of difficulty. We need to protect ourselves against that.”(7) Often immigrants are healthier than US citizens and since they are so afraid of being caught up by the police, most of them live hidden lives away from troubles. This myth entails a thought that immigrants are less civilized, brutal, less human, and have not gotten yet proper behaviors, manners and social developments in their own countries, which is a threat to the proper US civilization. Immigration is a problem. The “crisis of the immigration” is not a “problem” as if immigrants themselves become a problem to the system, as if they represent the very reasons of some fundamental problems in the nation.
When we think this way, the simplest result is to enforce the borders and get rid of them at any cost. Immigration is the result of global economic structures that push people to other places. People come to US because most of the money that should be in other parts of the world is here. Immigration is not a problem but should be a gift to us. The “problem” with immigration should be placed not on individuals but on an unfair economic system that does not integrate the poor and accumulates money in few checking accounts across the globe.
To begin again…
The intricacies and complications of the immigration problem in the United States are difficult to handle. However, we, as Christians, cannot be silent about the desolation, the horrific, sinful and obscene realities of this new wall built between US and Mexico, and what it creates in the fabric of the conscience of this country. If we stop screaming NO WALLS between US and Mexico, the walls will lose its sinful and obscene condition, might fall into a “natural” space in the life of this country, and make its presence appear like a proper moral symbol.
It is not by building a wall that the US will solve the problem of people coming to this country. The presence of walls and gated communities is the construction of a new Babel tower against God, against the poor, against the human condition. As Christians, we have a lot to do! Our main challenge, perhaps, in US, is to deal with immigrations issues as economic and global integration matters, as a human right topic that needs action and expanded perspectives. Yes, there is a need to control the coming of immigrants to US but there is much more than that at stake. Immigrants are not criminals! There are 200 million human beings moving around the world searching for alternatives to live, to feed themselves and their families, to create new relations and to survive and we, the churches of Christ, must take a stand and help protect their rights to move around the world.
How are we Christians to read the Bible under the shadows of this wall? How do we gather at our Eucharistic tables when the bread we eat and the wine we drink are tainted by the injustices committed against non-documented immigrants who harvest this very food for us? How do we offer hospitality in our churches when we agree with a wall that divides and separates people? How should we care for the stranger?(8) How do we pray when people are dying in the desert daily? How shall we talk about healing under this bleeding wound that goes against the love of God and serves to blame immigrants for so many problems in this country? As we walk through the muros, we are to be faithful witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The wall between US and Mexico is a shameful sin deeply pierced into the soil and the soul of this country. A wound that shows the ways that United States now treats strangers, a bleeding wound that will continue to kill people, a mirror of the soul of US that reflects the other side of itself: fear, hatred, xenophobia, prejudice and self-sufficiency.
I hope and pray that the wall will never be seen as a natural landscape, an intrinsic part of the way this country relates to others and a moral law to be respected in the life of this country. I hope and pray that people will never stop prophecying against the affront this wall represents! How do we feed the hungry, cloth the poor and help the immigrant in the desert if the immigrant laws of this nation promise to put in jail those who do that? How far are we, as Christians, willing to go in our faith to defend the stranger and the poor?
When I was in the midst of a walk in the desert, I couldn’t hold my tears and I could barely breath. Then, a whisper in the desert brought to my heart this Mexican song:
Ay, ay, ay, ay,
Canta y no llores,
Porque cantando se alegran,
Cielito lindo, los corazones.
Ay, ay, ay, ay,
sing and don’t cry,
for hearts are happy, pretty one,
Even though I could not and cannot stop crying, I learned that I have to sing, sing a new song as the Psalmist says, in spite of everything I see, I witness, I stumble upon around this and many other walls around the world. Walking in the desert of Arizona and Sonora and visiting the borders(9) made me want to cry even more. For theology, I am convinced, can only be done with tears.
As we walk in the desert of disasters, pain and death of our world, we hope and pray that God will be with us. In the desert, this song reminded me that sometimes I need to stop crying and keep on singing this song as an surviving tool to my work and my life, in and around the walls where my people are placed, joining theory and existence, prayer and theology, sadness and joy, life and death: ay,ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores… sing and do not cry, for hearts are happy cielito lindo, when we sing. Yes, I will keep on singing, because with my singing, I might make few hearts of these migrants sons and daughters of God happy, including, perhaps, my own heart.(10)
Cláudio Carvalhaes teaches Worship and Liturgy at Lutheran Theological seminary at Philadelphia
(1) “Canta y no llores” is part of the lyrics of a famous Mexican song called Cielito Lindo, written in 1882 by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés.T
(2) “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back…” Jeremiah 31:9; “THose who go out weeping, bearing the seed for swing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Psalm 126: 6; “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21
(3) Please watch the movie “Romantico.” www.meteorfilms.org/
(4) According to some data, an immigrant dies every day, trying to cross the borders. In Morre um Imigrante por dia na fronteira entre México e Estados Unidos. EFE, 03.11.2008, http://ultimosegundo.ig.com.br/mundo/2007/11/03/.
(5) The United States of America represents 4% of the global population and uses 45% of the world’s natural resources. See Manfred B. Steger, Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
(6) http://www.immigrationforum.org/documents/TheJourney/MythsandFacts.pdf Search for “myths about immigration” on the web and will find plenty of material.
(8)”You shall not oppress a stranger/foreigner; you know the heart of an stranger/foreigner, for you were strangers/foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9
(9) Vissit /www.borderlinks.org/ to know how to experience the borders and help their ministry. (10)
Published: INSIGHTS: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary