I wrote parts of this blog a few weeks ago and had it scheduled to post but thought better of sending my message into cyberspace in its original form. Though it was good for me to write down my feelings about a controversial topic in the news today, I didn’t feel it wise to share those feelings with the world. The trouble with Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and blogging is the ability to speak instantaneously to a large audience. Oftentimes we post things we haven’t considered thoroughly. That’s why the name of my blog (Thinking Out Loud*) is incongruous, since I rarely speak before collecting my thoughts—though I almost did. So here’s my edited version—one I feel you might like, since I cut out all the stuff that was medicine for me alone.
Me llamo Mateo
A lesser known fact about yours truly: my original surname was Esperanza. My father’s family probably referred to me as Mateo. I wouldn’t know. He left when I was a baby, probably about Micah’s age. How a man could turn his back on his son I’ll never understand.
I wish I knew more about my father’s family. I did try to get in touch with him once, after Lindsay was born, but I got as far as his sister, whose name is Hope. Strange: Hope Esperanza. Redundant, actually, for Esperanza means hope in Spanish. I think about my natural father every once in a while.
My mother re-married when I was a toddler. So, growing up in a Gringo home, I lost any sense of connection to my Mexican heritage. Of course, I lived in Arizona, so it was all around me. But for a long time I wanted no association with it.
Se habla español
As a teenager working at McDonald’s I remember getting frustrated with and maybe uttering under my breath unkind words toward the Mexicans who spoke little English. I did pick up on words like hamburguesa (¿con queso?) and papas and Coca-Cola sin hielo. I felt no compassion toward those who’d either settled in Arizona in search of a better life—something I took for granted—or those who were simply visiting, having crossed the border to shop. Instead of learning a little Spanish to help them, I thought what many think and some say: “If you’re gonna live in America, you’d better learn English!” (While American English may be our national language, it is no more representative of our collective heritage as immigrants than any other European language.)
Ironically, I would marry a half-breed like myself, one who hadn’t abandoned her culture. Cindy’s father is white and her mother Mexican. She grew up with homemade Mexican food—as in, made in her home on a regular basis. I loved it when her mother stayed with us for two weeks after Micah was born—homemade tortillas, beans, etc.
Oddly enough, I rediscovered my roots after we moved from the Southwest. Mexican culture is prevalent in Arizona, so maybe I missed it when we moved to the Midwest. We search in vain, but we still try in earnest to find restaurants like those back home. There are simply too many variables. The rice and beans may be good but they use the wrong cheese. Or maybe the salsa is good but the enchilada sauce is entirely wrong. The consistency with all of them—and we’ve been to over thirty Mexican places in Ohio—is their bad tortillas. It’s like they all order from Taco Bell’s supplier. Yuck! (Of course, Mexican food is regional; we simply prefer what can be found near our hometown, though we’ll stray a bit for fish tacos from Rubio’s. Don’t knock ’em till you try ’em!)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
As I mentioned, I thought better than to write about something I know very little of: immigration. But what I do know is that racism towards Hispanics is real and sadly very common. Racism does not always involve violence; it begins in the heart. I know this because the first half of my life I harbored feelings of hatred in my own heart. That has changed. (I also realize the Arizona law isn’t about racism necessarily, but it brings to surface such issues.)
Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. —Exodus 22:21 niv
As followers of Jesus we are to love our neighbors, be they next door or from across the border. I never expect our government and its laws to demonstrate what Jesus taught His followers. Jesus Himself was known to break a few rules, especially as they pertained to injustice. (A side note: check out Andy Stanley’s message On Location Part 1: Headcount, where he describes Sodom’s treatment of foreigners.) Whether we open our borders to allow our neighbors to the south to freely enter is not for me to say. It is true that while there are many who come to America in search of a better life for their children—both Cindy and I have benefited from this—there are also many who exploit the weaknesses of our border defense to traffic drugs and, even worse, people. But as followers of Jesus we should open our hearts to all people.
I am in all likelihood more sensitive on the subject of immigration since I’m a Mexican-American—that’s what I told the census lady last week—just as many of your ancestors were Italian-Americans or Polish-Americans or German-Americans or whatever spice that has filled the melting pot we call America. God has made us all unique, and our differences should be cause for celebration. I realized that for so long I missed out on a wonderful culture and I’ve been trying to redeem it in my life and in my family. Although, much to Cindy’s and the girls’ disappointment, I don’t intend to ever own a Chihuahua.
AN EXTRA NOTE: one of our favorite movies is Fools Rush In about a white guy from new York who falls in love with a Hispanic woman in Nevada and her culture. That was me and Cindy earlier in our marriage when I hadn’t yet embraced our culture.
*My blog used to be called “Thinking Out Loud”