I remember being 14 years old and reading a book called Paradise Travel. It was a used book I must have picked up at some book fair, not fully knowing what it was, but knowing I just wanted more books in my collection.
It sat on a shelf for months, maybe years, I don’t remember.
I do remember the day I decided to read this story about a Colombian man who decides to leave his home country without proper documentation to start a new life in New York. I remember how the word immigrant was slightly unfamiliar to me and I recall rooting for this young man leaving a country he was afraid to live in and even more afraid to die in.
By the time I’d finished the book I could not fully contain what I was feeling. My emotions were all over the place, for reasons more than just the story of this young man’s move from his home country another.
However, as I got older, “immigration” became a word I heard beyond Manifest Destiny and the sail of the Pilgrims to what they assumed to be uninhibited soil as I sat in U.S. History class. It became a word that sparked conversations and evocative responses from people who adamantly believed that “immigrant” was something other and belonged elsewhere, not in America.
The book Paradise Travel, became the tiny ember that sparked something inside of me and gave me a point of view on the simple truth that human life is valuable no matter the citizenship or the proof or lack of documentation.
I remember advocating for immigrants in family discussions before I fully understood what it meant to advocate.
I remember going to college and for the first time meeting someone, now a close friend, who strongly disagreed with my stance on immigration. I was 18 and outside of an environment that never gave me much space to think and discover things on my own, i.e public school in Mississippi. I knew what I believed and what I knew to be right.
We were sitting in our university’s cafeteria next to a flat screen flashing images of upper-class white Americans talking about immigration. And thus began the conversation about immigrants, the existence of America, and me trying to force someone to understand that the deep complexities of America exist on the simple fact that if you are other, different, brown, black, and God forbid undocumented, you do not belong.
To some, this may seem a dramatic viewpoint. It may come as shocking to those who are nationalistic, patriotic, and bleed red, white, and blue.
However, as someone who believes in Jesus and the gift of grace beyond what our human minds can understand, as a black woman who spent 18 years of her life in Mississippi surrounded and reminded of what racism and prejudice is and was, I find it so hard to ignore that human lives: babies, toddlers, teenagers, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles are separated and have been separated for years because I live in a country that chooses when to deem human life important and chooses when to listen to voices that should always, always be heard and listened to.
I cannot comprehend how a person, like me or any other human being can make the decision to devalue someone else based on a political stance, personal belief, or quite literally someone’s lack of a piece of paper to the point that what is happening in our country is allowed to happen.
As I’ve tried to watch the news to stay up to date with what is occurring presently, I am reminded of the foundation of this country, the reason why America exists today, and am shocked at how easily we forget this country came to be.
Grace & Peace,