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How to Respond When Despair Knocks on Our Door?

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Photo illustration by Mitchel Lensink, by Unsplash.com.

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By Cecilia González-Andrieu

SAN DIEGO — Part of my family’s summer ritual is visiting an amusement park, and hoping the lines are not too long. This year, however, while on a park ride at Disneyland that simulated being captured by military forces, marched to a holding area, held captive, trying to escape, and seeing a war playing out through the windows, I noticed an unexpected feeling. I was terribly sad. My body seemed to be inhabiting several different times and places all at once. Why did I leave the ride deciding I would not ride it again?

Standing among the other pretend “prisoners,” I was thrust back into my childhood in Cuba. There I was, with my mother and younger siblings herded into a crowded room by soldiers. We spent an excruciatingly long day and night in that room. As the eldest, I was forced to walk around because my mother’s lap could only accommodate one child at a time. That night continues to haunt me.

At the park, as I stood in simulated captivity, the reality of every other human fleeing violence, persecution, poverty and climate disaster engulfed me in grief. The simulated experience replicated the feeling that we were no longer fellow humans but reduced to the indignities of undesirable others. My life is indelibly marked by the experience of forced migration. Our wounded world has 120 million people living through these experiences right now.

The pretense of captivity activated the anguish of my childhood and joined it to the present—that was why my fists were clenched and my eyes moist. While we knew we would walk out into a beautiful summer day, in places too numerous to mention, migrants don’t have that option. The stories from the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, the cruelty of those attacking Annunciation House in El Paso, the dauntless courage of the Casas del Migrante network all need to be before us and break our hearts so thoroughly that we cannot forget them. Ever.

In the U.S. we have failed to deal with the complicated human experience that is migration. The story of just one family across several decades exemplifies this. In our extended family we have refugees like me who were welcomed, we have those who fled without authorization and spent years mired in the mind-numbing processes of claiming asylum, and we have those who are living in fear of deportation today.

We have those who have been born here and those who we were able to bring through family reunification. We also have those, like my grandparents, who never made it out and we never saw again.

This destruction of families is replicated everywhere. But, those who are in holding cells, in refugee camps, crossing rivers and deserts, all of them are our family. If we claim to believe in the God that Jesus announced and brought into the human experience, then we know that God’s image is imprinted in each human. As such, we cannot possibly collaborate with systems that claim some humans worthy and others not. As Christians we are indeed responsible for every asylum-seeker and for the painful journeys they have undertaken not for “a better life” but just for life.

As we make choices let’s keep their faces before us and discern every decision remembering Jesus’ words, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Beyond welcoming our displaced and wounded brethren, let’s work to reform the systems that create so much suffering. We are a creative race of creatures, let’s put that creativity to work toward fixing what is broken.

Cecilia González-Andrieu is professor of Theology at Loyola Marymount University.

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