My life has most fully been lived on a little street in Fullerton, CA.
This neighborhood means so much to me. It's where I fell in love with my husband. It's where I discovered who I truly am. It's where I have experienced Jesus in the deepest way. It's where I learned to dream BIG dreams for those I love, even if they are not able to dream them for themselves.
My neighborhood is far from "beautiful". There is trash everywhere, gangsters hanging out on the corner, worn down apartments, and I have broken up a fight or two. But it's not this physical place, full of imperfections, that has so deeply impacted me. It's the perfect God I have experienced through my neighbors that is what brings me to a deep place of reflection.
In the countless meals I have shared, walks to Target I have taken, and conversations had at the food trucks, I have come to realize how connected I am to my neighbors. We are not all that different. We all want to be safe, provide for and protect our families. We all want to be valued.
We all want to dream.
As similar and connected as we are. There is a stark difference between me and my neighbors: I have been given the right to dream. In fact, I have almost been forced to dream. I grew up with the idea that I could do anything. I was free and even entitled to follow my dreams, whatever they may be.
My neighbors? Sure they can dream, in theory. They can imagine being doctors, engineers, teachers, artists, musicians, lawyers, politicians...but the reality of their circumstances often crushes those thoughts before they even fully play out in their heads.
When I first moved into my neighborhood I was an idealistic 19 year old. I thought with a little love and imagination this neighborhood could transform. What I have come to realize over the last 7 years is that love and imagination will only take you so far. I pray everyday not to lose my idealism, but I have accepted the reality that transformation takes time. It takes work and it is often times very difficult. When it comes to the reality of my neighborhood, there is just so much we have to overcome. We have systemic poverty, slum lords, a broken education system, and too many kids who don't know how to dream. We have generations of people who can't see past the corner of Garnet and Placentia and the second they do they are quickly reminded that for them, there is no point. Over the years I have also come to realized how deeply connected these issues are with the fact that so many of my neighbors are undocumented. When you don't belong, you have no rights, and you are treated like a second class citizen, what's the point of dreaming? I fear our lack of just Immigration policy is robbing our neighbors of their God given right to dream.
I think, as the Church, we need to acknowledge this as a viable possibility.
We also need to begin repairing the damage we have caused by allowing our big corporations to cause systemic poverty in our neighboring countries, taking advantage of cheap labor, creating a demand for drugs, weapons and prostitution, and allowing years of outdated and unjust laws go unchanged. Too many people want to criminalize the acts of those who came here unlawfully, but I think we need to take responsibility for our role in this mess.
We were so busy asserting our American right to dream for power and prosperity that we forgot about the dreams of our neighbors.
I know that changing our immigration laws will not instantly make everything better. There will always be poverty, corruption and injustice. But for my neighborhood, and countless other Immigrant communities across the nation, we will not see our dreams of transformation fully come to fruition without it. What Comprehensive Immigration Reform would do is restore my neighbor's ability to dream...something we had no business destroying in the first place.
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