January 01, 2011
Today, this first day of the year, Belinda and I are on the road returning to the landscape we adopted (I wonder, has it adopted us?) a few years ago. We have spent much of this week driving the state of our birth and, as far as today goes, we spend a full day driving north and never leave the state of California. Normally, in a day or so, we would return home to the valley of the Yakama’s. However, this time around, we need to make a stop in Seattle on Monday. The need for Monday’s stop in Washington has a unique, maybe infamous, tie to a stop we made earlier this week in California.
California is a long stretched out state. You can cover the width of it easily in a day, but if you are traveling by car, north to south, you have a lot of time on your hands and a lot of country to experience. One of our favorite routes is the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With Mount Whitney, anchoring this north-south range, the range does its best to slow the Pacific’s eastern moving storms, requiring a tribute of rain and snow, before crossing the ridge. The Sierra does a great job of obtaining every drop of storm water, thus creating a rain shadow, which makes the eastern Sierra slope an open and arid land whose water stems from Sierra snowmelt. The eastern slope changes as you head south and the aridity becomes prominent when Hwy 395 drops into the Owens Valley near Bishop, California. The temperatures of the Owens Valley, at the most western edge of the Great Basin, range from summer highs in the 100’s to winter lows in the 20’s, which lends to landscape where paying attention, matters. Less than an hour south of Bishop, between the towns Independence and Lone Pine, we made the stop that makes Monday’s stop in Seattle matter.
In March of 1942, the first of 120,000 Japanese-Americans arrive at the Manzanar concentration camp. Manzanar, located at the base of the Sierra Range, between Independence and Lone Pine, is infamous for imprisoning U.S. citizens until November 21, 1945. Throughout California (and other states) Japanese-Americans—men, women, elderly, and children—were rounded up and shipped by train and bus, not altogether unlike other cultural people in other countries during WWII, to Manzanar where they were employed to maintain their own imprisonment. During the years of imprisonment, Japanese-American prisoners lost their civil liberties, homes, and businesses. When finally released from imprisonment in November 1945, the U.S. government left the families of Manzanar on their own to find their way back home.
Growing up in California, Belinda and I both had a California history class in junior high school. I do not know how history is told today in California middle and junior high schools, but I can say neither of us were told the Manzanar story. I imagine this was, in part, because in the years around 1970, much of society continued to believe the concentration of Japanese-Americans during WWII was correct, and, in part, much of the rest of society did not want to remember or accept their country of birth was capable of inflicting atrocities on its own ordinary families. For myself, it wasn’t until late in high school in a class on California Tribal people, when an American Indian instructor asked the class to begin thinking about similarities on how the U.S. government has historically treated people of color, that I first learned of Manzanar. Continuing the questioning that started that day in a southern Californina High School class brings me to the tie between Manzanar and Monday’s stop in Seattle.
I met John (not his real name…you’ll understand in a moment) in 1999. I don’t remember our first meeting, but during the years that followed I got to know John as we worked together on different Mission work projects. Even though John was fifteen at our first introduction, having grown up in the community John helped introduce us to much of the landscape. As the years grew, so did John and in time he came to lead out discussions based in anti-racism—these conversations would deal with questions concerning the affects of how structural racism affects immigration issues, farm worker issues, and issues around how our food is grown and eaten—with groups who came to the Mission for weeklong Learning and Serving experiences. As a Disciple, John worked a summer as a Disciples of Christ intern through the office of Disciples Volunteering. During, that summer John labored with people who experienced loss due to flooding, and helped volunteers learn the difference between charity in relationship with justice and charity standing by itself. Over the years, John has spoken to hundreds of people about justice and charity and helped folks consider questions they never thought to ask before. Then life changed for John.
About a year and a half ago, while traveling, John was asked for identification. I imagine it does not need saying, but just the same, when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer asks a person of color for identification, neither party takes the request lightly. John quickly found himself in the Northwest Immigration Detention Center for nearly a month.
Over the last nine years, Jill and I have worked together to deepen the theological consequences of serving within a poor community. The serving of people is important. For only through the giving of our resources and ourselves do poverty, abuse, subjugation, and hunger begin to wane. Learning and Serving experiences though strive to raise an awareness that charity without justice lacks integrity—uprightness, honesty, truthfulness, and authenticity. Justice and charity must be bound to one another in a manner that the fullness of one is impossible without accountability to the other. They, charity and justice, and their relationship to one another are representative of the relationship we are all called into—the wellbeing of our sister or brother is our own wellbeing.
We stop in Seattle on Monday to attend John’s deportation hearing. I don’t know if this is the final hearing or not; I don’t know if John will be deported at the end of the hearing; I don’t know if John will be granted some type of status that will allow him to stay when the hearing is completed; What I do know is that I find it amazing we live in a day and time when a western educated society cannot see the injustice that is occurring to the children of undocumented immigrants. Why society allows politics to destroy lives of human beings is beyond me. I find it astounding, that as an ordered society, we have not been able to comprehend the injustice of deporting young adults who came to this country as babies, children, and youth. How is justice achieved when young adults are sent to countries of which they have no memory, no family, and no community? Well, I just don’t know. However, I will say this one issue, I am just stubborn enough, just bigheaded (pigheaded) enough, to say there is no justice, no benefit to society, no enhancement to the family of God when we allow the wellbeing of our sons and daughters to diminish. I would go further to say, that one day—I don’t know when, twenty-five years, fifty years, a hundred years?—people will look back on these times, and say the same that is said today of the Japanese-American concentration camps—What were they thinking?
If you have ever participated in a Learning and Serving experience at the Mission you know it is unlike any worktrip or missiontrip you might have taken before. You found yourself jumping right in the middle of issues current to our day, and you have often found them to be much more complex than some would have us believe. There is much to learn and much conversation needed. Clearly, on the one hand, the immigration issue in the United States is not an easy one and it is not going to be solved in a journal entry. On the other hand, the gospel, from my perspective, has a simple message: nothing should hurt. There is a gospel call to care, first and foremost, for the hurt, the oppressed, the subjugated, and those whom are held voiceless; and, there is a call to understand all people as our sister and brother, and no line in the sand—no border—should be allowed to separate us from family.
Today is the first day of the year. It is 2011! Let us be a bold people this year and standup and embody our faith. We will not and probably should not agree on everything, but every issue of justice concerning those whom hurt must be on the table. Let us talk, converse, argue, love and eat meals together. Let us not give up, but stand up for all who ache and struggle and dream for the realm of God’s righteousness to include them.
Allow us to recognize the fullness of our wealth, the comfort of our homes, and fearlessness of not being deported from the landscape of our being. Once we have done this, let us learn that the basic fee for an attorney to work to keep John in his home landscape is $8000. From the fullness of your good fortune, please give all you can to help. With the faith of abundant giving, know that all monies received beyond the costs of this hearing, will be placed in a designated account for others who live lives similar to John’s.
We can, and, we will be a people who no longer allows the systemic ridge of injustice to create a rain shadow that blocks the fullness of God’s wealth for all of Creation. We can, even if it is one shovel full at a time, become a people who shovel away at this systemic ridge of injustice. With a vision in our eyes, we will live and work toward a day when our children’s children stand side by side on a level, shoveled plain enjoying the full pleasure of being brothers and sisters in the fullness of God’s Grace.
© David B. Bell 2011