"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus' Triumphal Entry and Migrants' Journeys

This day after Palm Sunday is affecting me differently than usual. Rather than the excitement and optimism I usually feel on this day as we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, I am finding myself caught in the despair and pessimism of thinking about where this king that was just being praised and "Hosanna!"-ed is headed to next.

Yesterday my roommates and I attended mass at a Catholic church here in El Paso. The service began in the courtyard, with a few folks dressed up in the typical colorful robes to appear to be from Jesus' time, and even included a live donkey to escort Jesus! Before entering the sanctuary, we processed around the church on the sidewalk until about two blocks later, we returned to the courtyard and entered the sanctuary. I was super excited about following Jesus, his friends, and his donkey--finding myself processing all giddy on my tip-toes, trying to get a peek at the star of the show and waving my palm branch. But at some point on the procession, a thought occurred to me--a thought I don't typically have on Palm Sunday.

"In a few days, he is going to die."

In that moment, it was as though the life, the exhilaration of shouting Hosannas, the joy of following Jesus...all seemed to poof out of me. All the pain, despair, and anguish of Lent seemed to fall upon me. Instead of feeling like I was standing on a cloud, I felt as though Jesus' donkey had been set on my shoulders.

Today as I was reflecting on that moment, I also thought: I wonder if migrants ever have similar moments...

Moments in the voyage: when a hopeful journey to el Norte becomes a painful trip full of abuse, thirst, hunger, rape, and hiding out; when you realize there is absolutely no option of turning back. Moments in the promised land: when the hope of attaining a "better life" disappears as your dream of the North becomes one of discrimination, confusion, and loneliness; when you realize the American Dream is more like a nightmare; when every authority figure is a threat to your security.

I wonder what the US looks like to those south of the border who are waiting to head north. What is their picture of this Jerusalem? I think of some friends in El Salvador who once told me that, when I asked them if they'd like to visit the US someday, replied with a "yes, of course," because everybody is rich and you can have a job, a family, a nice home, and be happy. They want to come for the American Dream of prosperity.

But many folks' dreams are shattered when after they cross the border, they cannot find work, they don't understand the language, and they do not hold the proper documentation to make a sustainable life.

With the passing of NAFTA, the US set itself up to have so many more migrants attempting to cross. In a way, the US was saying, "Here, let's make it impossible for you to find work and feed your family, and then put up a wall so you can't come running to us and you have to stay in your shitty situation of unemployment and starvation." It makes me think of those welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem and then turning around some time later to hang him on a cross. Perhaps it was Jesus' confusing stories, his insulting the pharisees, his taking his angst out on a fig tree, or his making a mess of the temple they oh-so loved and then threatening to destroy it...that led folks to despise him, that made their "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" become an echoing "Crucify him!"

But what has the immigrant done to deserve having to live in constant fear of returning to the place that they had to leave--the place that, even though life is hard here in the US, they still are convinced is worse than where they are now. I remember one El Paso migrant woman telling us once in response to the question, "was it all (your difficult journey and since then difficult life) worth it?" with, yes, in fact, it was still worth it. Living on this side of the border, for her, is the lesser of two evils.

Jesus had a triumphal entry before being led to his death. But instead of a warm welcome, migrants are met with figuring out ways to get around the fence and not get caught doing it, as well as having to survive in the process.

May we see Jesus in our migrant brothers and sisters, and may we walk alongside them to make the Hope of the resurrection just as real as, or even more real than, the Cross that they bear.

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