Migration Archive

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Warm Hearts and Hard Starts: A Reflection for World Refugee Day

world-refugee_Day_14It was a nice break from the usual slogging through ESL and cultural orientation material. Today, instead of practicing introductions, writing letters and numbers or learning about job expectations, we gathered with the students we were tutoring and worked on an art project together.

 With a few paper cut-outs, red, yellow and orange tissue paper, magnet strips, and some glue, my weekly service site group and the dozen or so students at the Southern Sudanese Community Association (SSCA) created something truly beautiful: autumn leaf magnets covered with balls of tissue paper, in various designs and patterns.

Every week my co-coordinator and I took a small group of Creighton students to the SSCA to help tutor refugees in ESL, cultural orientation and job training classes. Actually, all of these were usually combined into one class, taught by one very patient, very joyful volunteer, a recent college graduate named Ben.

Every week we practiced introducing ourselves and saying where we were from, wrote numbers and letters, learned job-necessary vocabulary and prepared for the citizenship test. Our success depended on the students’ ages, newness and levels in the class.

As someone who has never had to flee my country for safety reasons, and as someone who would probably struggle to find these students’ native countries on a map, it was uncomfortable for me, at first, to spend two hours working with people I could hardly communicate with, whose lives I barely understood.

Despite all of this, friendships were forged, not only between the students I tutored and myself, but also between themselves and one another. And the more I engaged with this community, the more I felt a part of it and felt a desire to be in solidarity with them.

It was amazing to watch the students build a community between themselves. They all came from different countries (mostly Burma and Bhutan) and were fluent in different languages, but they always found ways to help and joke with each other.

Humor, it appears, can travel across other languages. When someone mispronounced an English word, or when something that Ben was teaching sounded funny, they would all look at each other and laugh. If a fellow classmate was struggling to get something right, they would all chime in, either in imperfect English or in that student’s native language, to help explain it.

Despite the language barrier, there were always ways of connecting with the students. Laughter and joy are things we can understand no matter what language we speak. The students spoke through wide grins, bright eyes and a willingness to laugh at themselves as they stumbled over words. It was a language I could understand and return with my own laughter and smiles.  Every so often I’d ask a student to teach me a word in their native language, which made me feel the most connected to these resilient, storied people.

They always impressed me. Day in and day out the students got themselves to class, often while balancing jobs. They had this determination that could not be quenched. All of them were older, but they had the hope and humor of elementary school students.

The more I got to know the students, the more I could envision what their lives were like before immigrating to the United States. It was hard to imagine spending  almost my entire life in a country and suddenly having to flee it for another because of violence and corruption. At these students’ ages, learning a new language was hard, being forced to adapt to a new culture was scary, and not knowing anyone was terrifying.

Yet these refugees never gave up. They never gave up the love and pride they had for their home countries, nor did they give up their project of making this country their home. To get to be a part of that project did so much more for me than I probably did for them. As I taught the students, I learned from them about a world beyond my own, a world that challenged me to love and be in greater solidarity with its people.

Even with all of this, it was still nice to take a break from the hard work and just have fun by doing an art project together. I was astounded by the woman I partnered with for the project. Every time I finished one of my little leaf magnets, I’d look down at it in pride, thinking, Wow, this turned out better than I thought it would. Then I’d look at my partner’s leaves and admire her creativity. I could never have come up with the kind of designs she had on her leaves. They were beautiful.

At the end of the class, as I gathered my leaves and said goodbye to the students, my partner took one of my leaves—my favorite of the three—and then took my hand, looked in my eyes and smiled. When she let go, one of her beautiful leaves was in my hand. A way to remember each other, a symbol of solidarity, an icon of her warm heart and the hard start she was overcoming.

Anna Ferguson
Student Coordinator
Class of 2015

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Food to End Hungers

Hannah
I have to admit, this past month of weekly fasting has been difficult for me. I’ve slipped up a couple times- forgetting what day it was, grabbing a meal with friends, or just going about my daily routine. I’ve become so used to what I have, that I don’t actually realize what I have. However, when I did stick to my fasting commitment, I was keenly aware of what I didn’t have. I recognized the deficit of food as it kept popping up in the back of my head. In short, I was hungry.

Our immigrant brothers and sisters know hunger, although it is not only a hunger for physical food. Hunger can take many forms. A hunger for safety, a secure job, and a living wage that insures one’s own family doesn’t have to suffer more hunger. Hunger can be a deep yearning for community, love, and acceptance from others. Many have a hunger for justice, or maybe simply the humble hunger for peace. The often quoted biblical passage, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” takes on a new meaning. We can give and receive the food of justice and peace; food for the body, mind, and soul.

Through the past few weeks, I’ve begun to look at my own small hunger as a metaphor; a symbol for the broader, more critical and intense hungers that our neighbors are facing. Of course, the differences are obvious. My voluntary act of fasting is in sharp contrast to the fact that the hungers of immigrants are involuntary. Fear and hardships thrust these yearnings upon them. My brief moments of hunger don’t even scratch the surface of the immense longings others are experiencing. But I was still hungry, and even though that doesn’t make me fully understand, it makes me think. It gives me a base from which I can grow in solidarity with immigrant men and women.

We all have the ability within ourselves to help end hungers. There is more love and compassion inside each of us than we know. We can give it from one open heart to another. With it, we can feed the world. And, much like the biblical story of the multiplied loaves and fish, we will always find that at the end of the day, we are left with more than what we started with.


Hannah Mullally
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
Ignatian Advocacy Team Leader

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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A Response to Suffering

Ian Fallon
In a pre-Lenten CCSJ Ignatian Advocacy meeting, a co-worker and friend of mine asked for volunteers to fast during lent. We were told we would be fasting with the “Fast for Families” campaign that is appealing for comprehensive immigration reform because our current immigration system breaks families apart through technically lawful yet morally irresponsible arrests and deportations.

I thought, “why not?” I assumed we would be fasting in an effort to show solidarity with migrants who flee starvation and poverty in their home countries, and I still think that’s a part of, but certainly not all of, it. My following questions were, “how will this action impact the immigration debate?” “Will it at all?” “How will denying myself food convince my legislative representatives that our immigration system should be welcoming instead of discriminatory?” For answers to this question, I looked to a historical faster who brought about great change through hunger strikes and fasts.

Mohandas Gandhi fasted for a lot of things in his career as an advocate for the poor. He fasted for just wages, social unity and an end to violence: all very lofty goals in a world as fractured as ours was then and is today. He was revered by most Muslims and Hindus in India as an extremely holy man for his rejection of his humanity and obsession with overcoming human weakness. Because of his prophetic place in his country, his people came to a standstill every time Gandhi punished himself for his society’s sins. India was so attached to Gandhi as a spiritual leader that they were forced to stop, reflect and discuss on the occasions where he threatened his own health and well-being in response to social systems he deemed unjust.

None of us are prophets as Gandhi was, but we all have a reason for fasting this Lenten season. Food is, obviously, essential to human survival, so, without food, human beings suffer. How are our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters suffering in our society? The formal immigration system discourages people from applying for visas and citizenship because usually it takes years and a small fortune to navigate the red tape that is involved in being able to come and stay in our country. For this reason, migrants find ways around our walls and guns in the attempt to find a life away from poverty, violence and oppression. If they circumvent the system, like many do, they often find a new kind of oppression here in a country where supposedly all men and women are recognized as equal. Upon arriving in the United States they often encounter the suffering of being separated from families, heritage and social services because they “didn’t follow the rules” or “didn’t wait in line” like the good immigrants did.

There are many parts of the immigration question that deserve further conversation and discussion that I could not include due to a few space constraints (of which I am fairly certain I have already exceeded), but I do know that migrants are oppressed in our country. I’m deciding to fast periodically throughout this Lenten season because our immigration policy needs to change, and fasting with a community that is advocating for just reforms of this system helps me understand what fasting means.

Ian Fallon
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Migration: Farmworkers

Network_National_Catholic_Social_Justice_LobbyNetwork

Many farmworkers in our country are immigrants, and with H.R. 1773, the Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act) in the House of Representatives, seasonal farmworkers, or “agricultural guestworkers” could see many of their already fragile worker protections stripped. Specifically, H.R. 1773 would promote wage theft between immigrant farmworkers and employers, eliminate employer certifications and their inherent worker protections, and keep families apart because, under the AG Act, guestworkers could not petition to bring their families with them while they are in the country.
 Please advocate against H.R. 1773 here.

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Upcoming Events: Comprehensive Immigration Prayer

YoureWelcome_Image_600x270Temple Israel, OTOC, Nebraska Appleseed, CCSJ, various other organizations

Rabbi Ariyeh Azriel of Temple Israel, leaders of Omaha Together One Community, Nebraska Appleseed and other organizations will hold a celebration of the 7th day of Hanukkah on Tuesday December 3rd 6:00-6:30 pm on 18th Street between Dodge and Douglas (outside the Federal Building). We will light the seven candles of the menorah to signify that we are bringing light into the world rather than cursing the darkness. We will pray that our members of Congress will be enlightened about the need to pass comprehensive immigration laws that include a clear, inclusive path to citizenship for aspiring Americans. All are welcome to join!

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Migration: Ask for Speaker Boehner’s Support

sojourners
Sojourners

We need Speaker Boehner’s leadership on Immigration Reform. With just weeks left before the end of their calendar, Congress remains gridlocked on immigration reform. Policy leaders from both sides of the aisle want this problem addressed, and Christians from a variety of backgrounds have been vocal about the urgent need to tackle this issue. Add your name in support of immigration reform here.

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