Dear Juan Jose,
When I recall my time in El Paso, your face comes to mind first. I remember the shy smile we shared across the dinner table that first night at Annunciation House. I was excited to finally be at the place I’d dreamt about for months. I was eager to connect with people like you who were experiencing the immigration process and learn as much as I could. I was hopeful that I could somehow serve you, as well. I remember looking into your face as my excitement to build relationships transformed into a feeling of isolation when we both realized we did not speak a common language. I felt so distant from you even though we only sat a few feet apart. While other mealtime conversations buzzed around us, you and I sat silently together. It was as if acknowledging the significance of the silence and sharing its weight served as the point of connection I previously sought. Although I could not see the whole picture of your life, we had this moment together, and somehow that was significant in and of itself.
Two days later, you told me your story. As I sat among the other students in my group – many who served as the translators for those of us who did not speak Spanish – you recounted the events that brought you to the United States. You talked about your life in Guatemala, and how the factory in your town was releasing harmful pollutants into the environment that were severely harming people’s lives. You spoke out against the harmful practices, but you were quickly silenced by those in authority. They threatened your life and the lives of your family members. To protect those you loved and to continue advocating for justice, you had no choice but to leave. You talked about the days full of fear, narrowly escaping death, and the miracles of God that allowed you to finally make it to the United States in search of asylum. With every sentence you spoke, I felt the weight of the silence from that night at dinner disappear. I had looked into your eyes across the dinner table when we first met, but only after knowing who you are did I feel as though I really started to see you.
Looking back, I am grateful for that sharp feeling of distance that first night at dinner. It made the connection later on that much more significant. Perhaps the night of silence reflected my own distance from immigration policy before going to El Paso – it was something I knew was there, but something I could not truly see until I understood the bigger picture. My week in El Paso helped me see the bigger picture surrounding immigration policy. Meeting you helped me recognize the difference between looking and seeing. More importantly, it reminds me that that even though your home and mine are thousands of miles away from one another, I am not thousands of miles away from issues surrounding immigration policy. The effects of immigration policy are as close as the other side of the dinner table. And though I may look across that short distance and feel as if there is so much yet to learn, I know that sharing our stories has the power to break the silence and bridge the gaps.
Class of 2020
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