"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Deportation and Cheetos: What ought to be the prime election issues according to 8th graders

I don't know how it started, but the 15 minutes I spent hanging out with our middle school cooking class this afternoon became almost entirely a conversation about politics (well, I'm not so sure if it was a conversation, or just a sporadic rant about politics...).

Actually, I think it began with an innocent, "Miss, who are you voting for?" But before I could get any response out - which, would not have been revealing who I was voting for... I just don't think I was in the position to be sharing that with our 8th graders just yet - I was interjected with another girl's comment, that went something like this...

"Oh! Is it Romney? Because if it is then you hate Mexicans."

And before I had time to even think to myself, "Wait... wha...?" another girl interjected with their expertise opinion about Obama's sin of approving of same-sex marriage and another girl with her fact of Romney's hatred of poor people.

When I finally was able to follow up with the comment, the girl continued, "Yeah, if Romney is president he is going to send all of the Mexicans back to Mexico and they won't be able to come back. Miss, my family is Mexican and they can't go back and leave me!"

What a bold, inaccurate (well, hopefully), yet honest statement of concern. These girls, at 13 years old, are already finding the relevance of the election to their own lives... and that makes me proud a little. This connection even made me uncomfortably chuckle when another girl said, "Yeah, Miss, don't vote for Romney - he's going to take away food stamps and then how am I gonna get my Cheetos?!"

One girl was concerned about her family, another about her Cheetos... well, at least they see the pertinence of the issues to their own lives.

I was moved by their small, yet substantial, and still highly biased and naive opinions; yet frustrated with and confused about their 13-year-old selves jumping to conclusions not only about the candidates but also about my choice in candidate Which, by the way, I never revealed to them...but by the end of the "conversation," they had their minds made up about who I voted for, even though it was inaccurate.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A post that began about seminary and ended up as a push for the DREAM Act

There's been a lot of talk about higher education lately.

Last week in Minnesota, I visited Luther Seminary. Then later in the week attended a public class on popular education.

This morning in church, the lay pastor gave his testimony about his recent calls to ministry, including many months of studying to be a diaconal minister and hopefully attending seminary in the near future.

Just tonight, my roommates (also full-time volunteers) and I again shared confusion (and much nasty language) in regards to student loans.

And as always, there are thoughts about the future of El Paso's youth - daily homework time with the middle schoolers, hopeful high school graduates, young adults applying to community college with hope that their legal status won't affect their eligibility.

I'm not exactly sure what I want to say in regards to all this, except that the feelings I'm getting the most out of all this talk are: gratitude and frustration.

I am so grateful to have had post-high school education at a wonderful school that today I greatly appreciate, and to have been able to get a degree in something that absolutely fascinates me. I would not trade my experience for next-to-anything.

But then tonight, I was asked by two eighth grade girls, "Miss, what did you study at college?"

"Religion and Spanish."

"But no, like...what career is that?"

...oh the joys of a liberal arts education. And the joys of explaining my academic experience with middle schoolers who, honestly, don't see any other purpose for college than to get a job. (Maybe I have some things to learn from them.)

Now, as I consider plans for next year, I have been seriously considering applying to the seminary, similar to my lay pastor friend who gave his testimony this morning. But, unlike him, I am not too afraid that my applications for seminary or for candidacy would be rejected or that I would have to consider the possibility of being rejected due to my English language abilities like he was. I also have many options of continuing education online or moving to live near or on-campus somewhere, and I'm not forced to look into other options to continue my education, including having to take a bus 14 hours EVERY weekend to take diaconal ministry classes in LA... like my friend did for months.

See, this is why I am grateful.

But yet, I am so very frustrated. Frustrated because how do I encourage 15-year-olds who are super bright and super eager to go to college to apply to schools in eastern Texas and beyond, when we don't know when or if the outcome of their legal processes will allow them to travel outside of the border checkpoints by that point? Frustrated because we can limit a man with extremely great pastoral skills from actually achieving his lifetime goal of being an ordained minister. Frustrated because the main thing keeping me from applying to seminary is my fear of being more in debt...which yes, is legitimate, I think... but does not compare to the fear of being caught "without papers" at any time like some of the bright, young students with whom I work...those who in the future will hopefully be able to apply to college anywhere they want.

Education has always been a weird thing for me... not because I don't see the value in it, but maybe because I feel like I've had exceptional experiences within it, and that my experiences weren't necessarily as "traditional" as my peers. I'm not sure. But within the realm of being a college student, I first really found who I was, and today continue exploring just who that is. I cannot understand how we can be so limiting on who can and cannot have potentially exceptional experiences, and who can and cannot have those doors opened unto them - doors that will lead to an entirely new world, in which they can finally find themselves and be free.