Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In the news: Gutierrez, Menendez and Ramirez












Three news items of note:


1. Yesterday, congressman Luis Gutierrez (Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus task force on immigration) along with a coalition of Asian American, African American, Latino and Anglo congressmen and women, introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP).
Read the New York Times report:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/us/politics/16immig.html

2. Three Catholic bishops who head committees on Migration, Domestic Policy and Pro-life Activities, sent a letter to senators urging support of the Menendez Amendment in Health Care Reform. Proposed by Rep. Robert Menendez, the amendment would give states the option to lift the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to obtain Medicaid coverage. Download and read the statement in PDF format:
http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/legalfiveyears.pdf.

3. Indictments were unsealed yesterday against three police officers in Shenandoah, Pa. including the chief -- thanks in large part to Gov. Ed Rendell -- on obstruction of justice and other charges in connection with the beating death of Luis Ramirez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, in July 2008. Read the terrific blog report the Southern Poverty Law Center put together: http://bit.ly/8mm9A1

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A feast day like no other

Ready?

The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is nearly upon us.

Want the full Misa de Gallo experience as you'd have in Mexico or Latin America? Try St. Isidore Church in Quakertown, were the Mass begins on Friday and ends on Saturday. Yes, that's right, a midnight Mass with mariachis and roses and all the pageantry that accompanies this feast. The Mass will be celebrated by our Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, Msgr. Hugh Shields.

Not quite up for a midnight Mass? Try the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia on Saturday, Dec. 12 instead. The Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali from 7 to 11 p.m. The usual crowd from St. Thomas of Aquinas parish is expected to absolutely fill the Cathedral. This promises to be spectacular. I don't know if there will be matachines -- also known as the "soldiers of the Virgin"-- with their amazing outfits (those are matachines in this post's lead image) but if there are, you are in for a treat

Nearly every parish across the Archdiocese that has a Spanish-language Mass will celebrate a Mass for Guadalupe's feast day: Immaculate Conception in Levittown, Our Lady of Fatima in Bensalem, St. Patrick in Norristown, Visitation in the city, Mision Sta. Maria in Avondale and St. Cecilia in Coatesville are the ones I know about, among many others I'm sure.

Truly, if you've never experienced this feast day Mass at a church with Latino congregants, you must. Veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is joyful and festive and heartfelt -- and you'll never talk about pews empty of people again.
Next up in the Latino trifecta of the Christmas season: Las posadas -- which start Dec. 16 and run through Dec. 24.


(Photos by Sarah Webb and Joanna Lightner for the Catholic Standard & Times)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

At Christmas -- no gifts for children of immigrants?


My friend Tristan gave me the heads up about this (which I find utterly unbelievable):

"They don't claim to know who's been naughty or nice, but some Houston charities are asking whether children are in the country legally before giving them toys.

In a year when more families than ever have asked for help, several programs providing Christmas gifts for needy children require at least one member of the household to be a U.S. citizen. Others ask for proof of income or rely on churches and schools to suggest recipients.

The Salvation Army and a charity affiliated with the Houston Fire Department are among those that consider immigration status, asking for birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children."

Wow, there's some Christmas spirit showing. Read the rest of the Houston Chronicle's article by clicking here.

UPDATE: The Salvation Army has rescinded its policy, go to: http://www.americasvoiceonline.org/blog/entry/salvation_army_stops_checking_status_for_toys/

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lovely to Me (Immigrant Mother)

Sweet music video: "Lovely to Me (Immigrant Mother)" by Taiyo Na, beautifully filmed in Philly's Chinatown and Love Park.



Thanks to Swarthmore's Migration Project (http://swatmigration.wordpress.com/) for the heads up on this.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Voices joined in prayer for comprehensive immigration reform

60,000 strong. And in Philadelphia, with a distinctly Irish tenor.

Last night, St. Laurence Parish in Upper Darby hosted a prayer vigil for immigration.

Members of the Indonesian, Irish, African American and Latino community carried candles in a procession that started at the Irish Immigration Center in Upper Darby, then crossed West Chester Pike to the church for an hour of prayers, testimonies, petitions and hymns.

75 people heard
the testimonies of two immigrants -- one currently undocumented and one who had gone through the long process of documentation -- as well as petitions in English and Spanish for the welfare of the nation and families. They intoned prayers and blessings for the legislators facing the task of crafting comprehensive immigration reform in the upcoming months. Then, they prayed the "Our Father" in Gaelic, and sang the concluding hymn to Our Lady of Knock-- the 19th century apparition of Mary in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland (approved by the Catholic Church in 1971) and beloved of the Irish immigrant community.

After praying together, many of the participants returned to the Irish Immigration Center to be part of a "listening party" -- a national teleconferenced town hall meeting.

The teleconference outlined immigration reform legislation that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) proposes to present to Congress. Those gathered for the national event were asked to listen, and then share their thoughts and concerns about the proposed legislation.

"We need everyone on this call to take action with your churches, your families and your organizations so that we can deliver a strong message to President Obama and Congress that, hey, it has been a year... We want you to keep your promise to our families," Gutierrez said.


Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) were also part of the teleconference -- which drew more than 60,000 participants across the nation, according to Reform Immigration for America (the organization which organized the teleconferenced event).


"[The legislators] shared with the listeners their positive hope that we can move ahead," said Msgr. Hugh Shields, vicar for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

He acknowledged that a number of undocumented immigrants who knew about the prayer vigil and the teleconference were reluctant to attend either event for fear of possible repercussions. Many fear detention which would separate family members or strand minor children in the country alone.

"Immigration reform would enable them to come out of shadows," Msgr. Shields said."

Photos by Sarah Webb for the Catholic Standard & Times

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to make an immigrant quilt

Let’s be clear – I don’t sew.

I don’t own a sewing machine -- and even if I did I’m not sure I could figure out how to turn the thing on, much less get it to do what I’d want it to do.

I’m not a good candidate to be making a quilt.

But – God help me – I am making one, and have been, on and off, for the past 13 years.

Before you ask, no, I’m not finished yet.

I told you – I don’t sew.

Years ago, in Guatemala, I was forced to take sewing class – costura – at the Colegio Maya. It was one of the only classes I ever took that I came this close to failing. Sra. Alonzo hated me. God’s truth. I insisted on talking while I sewed. My stitches wandered, and I was indifferent to their meandering. And I think I once told her – more or less – that her class was an unwelcome remnant of musty 19th century educational thinking.

My brothers (taking handicrafts like all the other boys in those days of gender-segregated classes) were coming home with cool things like lamps and magazine racks they had made; I carted home samplers and twee crocheted doilies only my grandmother could love.

I tried to persuade my parents to get me out of the class. My father sat on the school’s board of directors and my mother was the hip young artist the school administrators consulted to determine just how many inches above the knee our miniskirts were allowed to be. But no dice. Even after the appeal and the sympathetic looks I still had to attend the stupid class. And mind my manners while I was at it.

Mrs. Alonzo glared at my hopeless cross stitch, pursed her lips at my imperfect chain stitch and cleared her throat every time I chose the fat crochet hooks and thick yarns that speeded the delivery of completed (if utterly graceless) projects.

As we sewed, outside the windows of our classroom a war of insurgency and counterinsurgency raged.

When I first moved to the States people didn’t believe me when I told them I’d never experienced a school fire drill. Our Colegio Maya drills prepared us for crossfire; for the military vs. guerilla shootouts that frequently took place in that part of Zone 10 during those years.

We watched our classmates’ fathers killed in front of the school during recess; saw one of our bus drivers go down in crossfire as he escorted us from the playground into the school; even witnessed one of our teachers collapse at the news that her son had been caught by the country’s politically-driven violence that left no family untouched.

Inside, we stitched in silence.

We never talked about what we saw outside the school’s door – not even the afternoon after C’s father was killed in front of our eyes. Instead, we focused on samplers that evoked a gentility long disappeared from the country.

I’ve come to think of that sewing class as emblematic of the country during those years – enforced silence and an obtuse pretense that everything was as it should be.

Still, I cried when my family had to move to the United States (see “Hope is the thing with feathers” blog post of Dec. 14, 2008 to read why we moved). Though I have been an American citizen from birth I had only visited the States on vacations every so often and I understood, even from those short visits, that I was an American without the slightest idea about how to feel or be American.

But when my mother took us one summer day to enroll in Downingtown High School (a huge school it would take me weeks to find my way around and which I’d never really understand how to navigate) I was gratified to learn that here, at least, sewing classes were not mandatory.

You could fast-forward through the next 15 or 20 years of my life (years in which every poem and story I wrote was about Guatemala’s bloody unfolding history and every political cause I embraced had at its heart a hope for justice in that country) and see very few moments in which I picked up needle and thread willingly.

Once, shortly before my daughter was born I crocheted just long enough to produce a small baby blanket for her. Another time, I managed to finish a short hooded capelet which she wore a handful of times as a toddler. That’s it. I even eschewed hemming pants – that’s what safety pins are for, isn’t it?

Strangely, some of my best friends turned out to be people unusually skilled with the needle.

Quilters.

I loved watching them work. For a couple of years running I spent nearly every morning at Robin’s house, watching him graph patterns, cut strips of fabric, piece them, and put together into quilts. Some carried well-known pattern names like Log Cabin and Tree of Life, others were original patterns. They were all exquisite (to see his work go to http://tristanrobinblakeman.com/ArtQuilts.html).

Irrationally, I found myself wanting to create a quilt too, and started collecting my daughter’s outgrown clothing to that purpose.

Robin was encouraging – after he got over his shock at the sheer folly of it.

I had no sewing machine and so proposed to make a crazy quilt – a type of quilt popular in the Victorian era in which the pieces of fabric were randomly placed and set off by decorative stitchery. I think he understood that it was the very randomness of the crazy quilt that appealed to me.

Still, he warned me, it's not as random as it seems.

Unheeding, I went ahead.

I chose absolutely the worst possible fabric to serve as the backing block, and within seconds of sewing the first piece on it, it went radically and permanently out of square.

I kept going anyway.

I added a piece of an antique woven Nepalese cap my mother had presented to me when my daughter was days old, then a piece from a very downtown-New-York toddler’s outfit one of my brothers had bought for her, followed by a scrap of organza collar from a ridiculously pouffy little girl’s dress only a mother would have the nerve to buy for her kid.

I sewed them on with satin stitch and chain stitch and blanket stitch, and stitches without proper names because they were really “make-betters” on stitches I had tried but mucked up.

I wasn’t producing art (or even straight seams) like Robin or another quilting friend, Donna – but I could live with that.

As I kept going with this first block, providence seemed to encourage me.

My brother-in-law went up to the attic of their family home and found a piece of a quilt that their deceased mother or grandmother or grand-aunt had started and abandoned years ago. Guess what? It was a piece of crazy quilt, with the old leaded silks and taffetas and shirting fabric simply basted on to a seed-bag backing block.

When I held it up to the square I was working on, it was almost exactly the same size. If my block had actually been square, that is.

For about two or three weeks after the discovery of the Saunders quilt piece I dreamt about the finished crazy quilt. I loved the idea of piecing together these bits of lives in cloth and putting them in a quilt for my daughter.

At that time I hadn’t yet seen the movie “How to Make an American Quilt,” which is, in essence, an extended riff on just that. I had heard about the movie however, from Robin, who railed at the last scene where Winona Ryder wraps herself in the lovely quilt just completed for her and literally drags it through the dirt.

Several more weeks passed after the discovery of the Saunders piece, and my usual sewing animus reemerged.

I wondered whether I should just sew the two blocks back-to-back into a crazy pillow and be done with it already.

I don’t remember when I officially laid the project aside.

My mother died suddenly of an aneurism we never knew she had.

My husband, daughter and I moved to Pennsylvania, where our lives, for a while, seemed like the miscarriage I had soon after moving – a promise so compromised it could not be sustained.

My father got pancreatic cancer, and died after two years of a battle that rent my heart.

Through it all, my daughter grew, and outgrew clothing. But instead of cutting them into pieces to incorporate into the crazy quilt, I carted the clothing to donation bins.

I didn’t know where I had put the two existing quilt blocks, or even whether I had packed them and brought them along with us on the move.

Providence seemed to have lost interest in this particular quilt –and anyway, I wasn’t sure I believed in providence anymore.

People vanish from our lives. Quickly, when a bullet or aneurism takes them. Or slow and excruciating, like the long dying of those who disappear during a dirty war, or in cancer. We train ourselves not to talk about these deaths – as in that long remembered sewing class of mine – for fear that our voices will tear.

Or that we will fray into nothingness as we consider our losses.

Each death is a piece out of a fabric that started out whole. What do we do when we are surrounded by the pieces?

People are fond of saying that God writes with crooked lines, I prefer to think He sews with them.

His grace sometimes punches through our lives with an unbearably sharp needle, but then, great generous blanket stitches bind our frayed edges. Backstitches advance us even as we seem to be going back. And His wandering, loopy chain stitches link us to the strong fabric that remains in our lives.

I found those two quilt blocks a few months ago.

My daughter didn’t remember them, and for an hour or so, I regaled her with the provenance of each piece on the block I had created. I mused about the sayings I had stitched-in back then – redes from a different religion, from the radically different life I had led.

And still, I recognize I had been searching then, like now, for recognition of the moments when the numinous touches our lives. For the moment we find ourselves in still center of the labyrinth, and look, there's no minotaur there but a pair of wings.

I speculated, as my daughter examined the two pieces, about the fabrics used in the block basted together by the Saunders women– onto which I had stitched the names of my daughter’s grandparents and great-grandparents.

Then, like now, family is the spine, the ribs, the invisible frame that enables us to stand. No matter that I had never met these members of my husband’s family, no matter that in my own extended family there is some scar tissue along with the supporting bone. I wanted those Welsh, Mexican, German, Guatemalan, Greek and American names all there where my daughter could run her fingers over them and know that, along with her unique gifts, this is the stuff she is made of.

A crazy quilt – light and dark, smooth and coarse, rich fabrics and poor, straight lines and crooked.

Random only on the surface.

“Are you ever going to finish the quilt for me?” she asked.

“Can’t I just make you a pillow?” I asked in answer.

“No,” she said. “You can’t.”

I don’t think I say yes to her, but in the next few days I start on a new block.

Then another. And another.

Each piece I add has history and memory: the salmon silk onto which I sewed the old blocks and on which I built the new is from a formal gown my mother wore in Thailand to meet the king. The rough yellow silk cut into leaf shapes was hand-woven in the San Marcos region of my mother’s homeland (the Guatemala that so shaped my youth).

The feather-shaped pieces of sophisticated Italian silk used faced and reversed in the wings of one of the birds on the end pieces is from my father’s tie, and the white-on-white cutwork feathers on the other bird are from handkerchiefs that once belonged to my grandmothers.

I think of a Dorothy Day quote as I sew the memories on: “We cannot live alone. We cannot go to heaven alone. Otherwise God will say to us ‘Where are the others?’”

Each piece I add has a present: my daughter’s school ribbons, a piece of the beaded Indian silk she wore for my older brother’s wedding, symbols from the manga she currently reads and loves. A machine-embroidered Virgin of Guadalupe from one of my pillowcases. Pieces from a scarf that belongs to my husband made into the trees of his woods in central New York. Milagros representing the prayers I’ve taught myself to remember, and the ones I’ve made up in gratitude.

Each piece I add has a future: I plan to take the quilt top to the aunt of one of my husband’s Mennonite co-workers who routinely adds batting and edging to finish pieces like this into proper quilts. I set aside yards of backing fabric for it (kente cloth my father bought years ago in Zaire for my mother) and conjure images of new faced with old, of a whole made from pieces.

I start to embroider on one of the blocks (an oblong, actually) the words of a William Stafford poem I’ve found by chance, by providence, recently: “There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.”

How much a wayfarer I still am.

I’ve made an immigrant’s quilt for my daughter, and sewn into it the messiness, the incertitude, the striving and suffering and faith that pace every pilgrimage.

I don’t know when I’ll finish – I told you, I don’t sew.

But I have learned to piece together.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Take action: Health care legislation and immigrants

The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference is asking for us to write to our legislators asking that immigrants be included in the Senate's health care legislation. Here is a sample letter from the campaign:

Dear Senator:

I write to ask that you include immigrants in any health-care legislation considered by the U.S. Senate.

Specifically, I ask that you support permitting undocumented immigrants to use their own money to purchase health-care coverage in the new health-care exchange. Allowing their participation would help control the costs of health-care to all Americans, since immigrants are generally younger and healthier than U.S. citizens and do not access health-care at the same rate as U.S. citizens. To proactively prohibit these immigrants from purchasing health-care for their families is mean-spirited and contrary to the general public health.

I also ask that you support lifting the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing Medicaid. Legal immigrants, who work and pay taxes, should be able to benefit from the programs they help pay for. Many poor legal immigrants cannot afford health-care on their own, even with the aid of subsidies, because of co-payments and deductibles that are required. For many of them, Medicaid is their only true option.

Senator, it is important that health-care coverage is available to all, including immigrants, so that our communities are healthier and everyone shares in the responsibility of controlling health-care costs.

Thank you for your consideration of my views.


If you don't have your senators' contact information, please use the "contact Congress" button on the sidebar of my blog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Zenkaikon, Eyeshine and Cielito lindo


I know a number of people who routinely attend cons: Worldcon, Fairiecon and any number of other Sci-Fi-fantasy-Star-Trek-and-video-gaming conventions around the nation.

Until this weekend the only conventions I had ever attended were annual meetings of the American Association of Museums, Investigative Reporters and Editors and several press associations – not exactly sober affairs, but still imbued with a veneer of professionalism.

But my daughter’s been looking forward to Zenkaikon – the premier Philadelphia-area anime and manga convention – for the past six months, and last weekend was my initiation into a very different world of “cons.”

Let me just say that AAM and IRE could learn a thing or two about throwing a party.

But first things first.

Anime is Japanese animation; manga are Japanese comic books more akin to graphic novels than to most Marvel and DC creations. It has been my daughter’s dream, for some years now, to grow up to be a manga artist/writer/editor. From her first attempts let me tell you, she’s got the chops.

Anime and manga devotees – particularly those in their teens and twenties – often dress up as characters from anime and manga and games such as “Kingdom Hearts,” and sometimes act as those characters – breaking spontaneously into songs associated with them, or performing full-fledged skits. All of which is known as “cosplay.”

With me so far?

Anyway, cosplayers don’t only congregate at cons (there’s a contingent that goes to the annual Sakura Sunday celebration in Fairmount Park so reliably that they’ve been given a stage on which to perform by organizers of the event) but the con is clearly their natural habitat.

Of the thousands of people at Zenkaikon Nov. 7 and 8, I’d guess 85 percent were cosplaying. The rest were artists selling drawing commissions and handmade t-shirts and ceramics, vendors of mass-produced merchandise … and parents. We recognized each other by the amazed look in our eyes. Who knew that so many young people shared our children’s delight in this art form?

The staff at the Radisson – the venue for the event – didn’t know what hit them. A lot of them looked perplexed throughout.

The thing is, there are a lot of anime and manga buffs. And they all lined up early to enter the con. Since the Zenkaikon organizers were understaffed and a little unprepared for attendance to double this year, the lines stretched across much of the Radisson’s property. For hours and hours.

Irritating, but nothing those of us who commuted into Philadelphia during the SEPTA strike hadn’t experienced for the past week.

Only a whole lot better.

Somehow, these young people knew something we SEPTA commuters didn’t. How to enjoy the wait. They called out each other’s character’s names. They smiled and waved and performed for each other. They evinced an easy camaraderie and a ready friendship with each other that, frankly, stunned me. They asked politely if they could hug each other – and then did. I’ve never seen so many people hugging while in line. Or anywhere, for that matter.

And in the two days we were there I saw only one instance of obnoxious behavior -- when one girl cosplaying character from the wildly popular “Naruto” series (fittingly, dressed as one of the villainous characters) shoved another while waiting in line to get an autograph from voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch.

It’s not that I think they all behaved like angels, but at least none of them threw themselves down at the front of the line and refused to budge until the police was called -- like one middle-aged, otherwise sensible-looking woman did at Suburban Station during the SEPTA strike.

At one point during the con my husband and I were standing outside, watching our daughter play a cosplay version of “Duck, Duck, Goose” with a group of other kids. I fretted as my daughter ran around in a long and voluminous dress convinced that any second she would trip and hurt herself and have to be carted out in an ambulance. She didn’t. But we struck up a conversation then with another parent standing by watching her own child in the group.

“I just can’t believe it,” she said to us. “My daughter has Asperger’s [a form of high-functioning autism] and usually doesn’t interact with others well. She spends a lot of her time alone, in her room. But look at her….”

We watched her daughter, not cosplaying, but engaged, having fun, interacting easily.

“I’m shocked,” the girl’s mother said. “She’s out there, making friends.”

None of the dreaded teenage love of social hierarchy was in evidence at this con, and little of the cliquey standoffishness those years are known for. These kids acted more like family and friends than a group of strangers -- tweens and teens and twentysomethings -- who hadn’t met until that day.

Maybe it was the costumes that did it.

And I find myself wishing – however quirky the context -- that this were the way of the world: exuberant and enthusiastic, accepting of difference and warmly convivial.

I’m not sure I can yet count all the gifts that this unusual weekend granted me.

I had real conversations with teenagers and twentysomethings who were articulate and creative and smart and kind. They give me hope that their generation will not muck up the world as badly as my generation did. Maybe, in fact, they’ll mop up our mess.

I was there for my daughter’s first live indie, edge-rock band mini-concert. I saw the look on her face the moment she realized that Eyeshine (www.eyeshine.net) had just become her new favorite band.

And then, as I stood in line to buy Eyeshine’s CD for her, and have it autographed by the band members, I realized that they, too, were not what I had anticipated. Talented. Charismatic. And amiable, rather than emo or surly which I note with some surprise I seem to have expected. I forgive them for finding it so astonishing that someone as old and unhip as me would like their music – if they forgive me the slide into generational prejudice about imagined attitude.

And in the end, the weekend was all about how expectations confound.

As we get older we seem to expect always to see the worst of human nature – particularly in large crowds, particularly surrounded by those whose enthusiasms we don’t share or quite understand.

Moreso if they stand a little bit on the edge of convention (yeah, pun intended).

Sometimes we’re reminded unwittingly, people are just better – more generous, tolerant and loving – than we imagine they are.

The last lesson of the convention? I’m checking out of the Radisson on the second day and the distinguished and dapper concierge asks me why I’ve chosen to stay at the hotel that weekend. Remembering the looks of perplexity bordering on panic I’ve seen on some of the hotel staff’s faces during the con, I hesitate to admit that I’ve been there for that.

But I do admit it.

Accompanying my daughter, I hasten to add.

“Say it with pride,” the concierge says to me. “Think about all the trouble they could be getting into instead of being here, enjoying themselves. I know at their age I was doing much worse things.

“And you’re here with your daughter,” he says. “You’re here experiencing this with her. Isn’t that a great thing?”

It is.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How many Septa regional rail workers does it take to help passengers off a burning railroad car?

None.

At least that's what I heard last night from a passenger who was aboard the Septa regional rail train that caught fire on its way from the Overbrook station into 30th Street station on Wednesday morning.

You can read the full CBS 3 report of the incident here: http://cbs3.com/local/SEPTA.train.fire.2.1290842.html.

Here's a snippet:

SEPTA officials confirmed that several minutes before flames erupted, smoke had been detected inside the train at the Overbrook Station stop. However, after disconnecting a power supply and moving passengers out of the first car, the train was permitted to continue its trip.
Then a mile down the tracks, the first car was fully engulfed in flames.
"Obviously had an open flame been detected at any point, the procedure would have been quite different. The train would have been completely evacuated," SEPTA's Assistant General Manager for Public and Operational Safety James Jordan explained.


Well, that doesn't quite mesh with the story Barb from PNC (who was actually in the second car of the burning train) tells.

People were indeed moved out of the first car into the second, Barb tells me, but no announcement was made about why.

They sat somewhere between Overbrook and 30th Street stations for what seemed a long time.
The passengers waited, crammed into the second and subsequent cars --many of them standing since there weren't enough seats.

But then the amount of smoke billowing in to the car started to alarm them. (From the cell phone photo Barb showed me, they were soon to be engulfed by smoke.)
Did the conductors make an announcement then -- either to direct the passengers or allay their fears?

Nope. According to Barb, not a word made its way to the passengers from any Septa staff.


Eventually -- Barb couldn't give me an estimate of how long it took -- the passengers became alarmed enough to start pounding on the windows, and after some effort, popped open the emergency window and started exiting the second car of the train.

Barb saw the Septa personnel already standing on the railroad bed, well away from the train -- her car's conductor with his hands firmly planted in his pockets.

The Septa staff didn't move from where they were standing, even as they watched the passengers emerge from the emergency window, she says.

The drop from the emergency exit window to the railroad bed below was unexpectedly long. Even Barb, who is fairly tall, couldn't be reached by the up-stretched arms of the passengers who had exited before her. She had to trust that she'd be caught after she dropped. She was.

"The passengers were such Good Samaritans," she says to me.

They helped the elderly passengers evacuate through the emergency windows by carrying them over sill and dropping them onto the sea of passengers waiting to catch them.

You notice, of course, that Barb's account is all about the passengers waiting to catch each other as they evacuated from the smoke-filled car. Not a single member of the Septa personnel moved to help them, Barb says.

What's more, they said nothing to any of the passengers after the self-evacuation, Barb tells. Nothing, that is, until the buses came to retrieve the passengers from Overbrook to take them into Center City. At which point, Barb tells me (with plenty of both irony and outrage) the Septa staffer in charge yelled at the passengers to "behave like adults."

As this Septa strike has played out, I haven't overheard much sympathy for the striking workers from my fellow passengers waiting on the platforms at 30th Street or Suburban stations. Still, I haven't heard all that much grousing either.

I've observed that the regional rail trains drive extra slow through the stations that would normally be served by the striking Septa union workers -- then resume normal speed once they're in territory where the services don't overlap. Septa regional rail personnel are part of a separate union (because of federal regulations dating back to World War II, I'm told) and if they want to show support for their sister union members by chugging through the overlapping stations at a turtle's pace, I'm not going to begrudge them -- at least I'm riding, and if it tacks an extra 30 minutes onto my ride, so be it.

But that sort solidarity takes on a much more sinister look when Septa personnel stands apart ("Hands in pockets!" Barb tells me a second time, for emphasis) as panicked passengers struggle to get out of the rail car adjacent to one that is burning.

How can you see people in this sort of situation and not lend a hand?

I don't know. You'll have to ask Septa.



Image of fire alarm from wikimedia commons.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Disappeared in Philadelphia, update

When I started blogging a year ago, this is the story I most wanted to get out into the blogosphere. I interviewed Erica, initially, because her brother had been disappeared right off the platform at Market Street station in Philadelphia. But as I interviewed Erica I realized her story of migration to the U.S., though in some ways less dramatic than her brother’s story of detention and deportation, was equally resonant.

I’ve come to think of them as “bookend” immigration stories: Erica’s hopeful, difficult trek into the U.S.; Beto’s efficient, pitiless ejection from it.

I’d like to report that Erica’s life has improved in the intervening year, but the latest news is that her boyfriend was also detained, and has now been deported. Another loss for her, another loved one she will not easily see again.

She and her son are still in Philadelphia.

Part 1:
(Originally posted Oct. 23, 2008)

“Some people have disappeared on their way to work.”

It is one sentence among many during an interview I am conducting about outreach to immigrants in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The people sitting at the table with me are a priest, a nun and a layperson – all remarkable advocates for the communities they serve.
I wonder if they notice that the sentence makes me flinch.

When I was 15, my family moved to the United States from Guatemala – a country that was then escalating from civil war to genocide. Hundreds of thousands of people were disappeared during those years – on their way to work, or school, or the corner store. I can’t hear a sentence like the one that opens this piece without thinking about life in those days – of how our ordinary routines were flanked by fear, limned by caution.

“What do you mean, ‘people have disappeared?’” I ask. “In Philadelphia?”

“Let me see if I can get someone to talk to you about it,” Sister Lorena says.

Several weeks later I find myself in the rectory of a church in Philadelphia of which I am not a parishioner. Erica, a 26-year-old woman dressed in jeans and sneakers, sits across from me, her 5-year-old son fidgeting on the sofa next to her. They’re not parishioners of this church either. Sister Lorena has brought us together here so I can hear about Beto, Erica’s 18-year-old brother.

The story begins on Thursday, March 15, 2007. Erica shares an apartment with her three sisters and two brothers. She is still asleep that morning when Beto gets up to go to work at the restaurant where he is a cook.

Usually he leaves for work in the early morning and doesn’t get home until 1 or 2 a.m. He speaks some English, and Erica describes him as “tranquilo” (even-tempered) and “muy cumplido” (reliable).

On that day, he wears a jacket and carries a backpack. He has his cell phone on him, and his pay for the past week, some $500 in cash, by Erica’s accounting. He calls from the subway platform on his way to work, speaks briefly to one of the family members and ends the call by saying he’ll call again later.

At 1 p.m., a co-worker at the restaurant calls the apartment.

“What happened to Beto?” he asks. “He didn’t show up for work.”

The family tries to find him. They call the police, who ask for a description, what clothing and shoes he was wearing. One of the family members runs a photo of him down to the station.
They worry that he might be hurt or dead – that his girlfriend’s ex has killed him in some fit of jealousy. The next day, they seek her out and she refuses to open the door or answer any of their questions. It seems to confirm their worst fears.

Still, they spend the rest of that day, and Saturday and Sunday also, posting flyers with his photo, and asking around whether anyone has seen him. They call hospitals and inquire about every John Doe. At 3 a.m. on Sunday, a friend of the family, utterly desperate, calls Sister Lorena.

“None of us thought about ‘la migra,’” Erica says to me, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement by its nickname. “It hadn’t even crossed our minds.”

But it crosses Sister Lorena’s mind. At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 19 she calls the York County Prison where most undocumented immigrants from the Philadelphia area are taken.
By the time they ascertain he was taken there, he’s already gone.

What happened to Beto?
Erica recounts the detention story Beto tells her when he is finally able to make a call to them: He’s on the platform at 15th and Market waiting for his usual train. He notices Philadelphia police on the platform checking people’s backpacks, but doesn’t think much about it.

At some point, a policeman approaches him, asks him what time it is. When he hears Beto respond, the policeman asks him if he has documents proving he’s a legal immigrant.
Beto, Erica continues, tells the policeman he has papers, even though he really doesn’t. He is loaded into a van with 15 other young Latino men from the train platform, and taken to the local precinct.

The police turn him over to immigration authorities in Philadelphia. There, the I.C.E. agents take his watch, his jacket, his wallet and his cell phone.

Before Beto is shipped off to the detention center in York, his wallet is returned to him with approximately $100 of his original $500. He has to plead with them to get his cell phone back.
He’s not at York long. Within days he’s taken first to Texas, and then to Arizona, where he is finally able to contact Erica. He’s on his way to be dropped across the border -- Ciudad Juárez, Sister Lorena guesses – to find his way back to their hometown in Puebla.

“Another waitress where I work [as a busboy] knows someone who was picked up the same way, at the same station,” Erica tells me when she finishes recounting her brother’s story.
Then simply, with no drama: “I no longer take the trains.”

Nothing but questions
As I try to find my way through a section of Philadelphia I don’t know after my two-hour conversation with Erica, I’m struck by her poise. She’s managed to tell me her brother’s story, as well as her own (look for subsequent blog entries) calmly and with a self-possession I don’t feel after talking to her.

I seethe with questions.

Are there really police staked out at certain train stations in Philadelphia doing immigration checks?

On what basis are people being asked to present documents – on that train platform or anywhere else in the city and suburbs for that matter? Their “Latino” look? Their accents? Their “immigrant” backpacks?

Are immigration officials temporarily confiscating the cell phones of detainees to deprive them of legal counsel? Or to pull the telephone numbers in the memories of those phones so they can chase down other potential “illegals?”

Mostly I ask myself how anyone endures the anguish of having a loved one disappear so inexplicably. As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, this is not a new question for me. What is new is that I’m asking it in the United States.

Part 2:
(Originally posted Nov. 7, 2008)

The 26-year-old who sits before me on the sofa of a Philadelphia parish rectory is small and slight. Her young face is framed by loose, dark curls, and she smiles a lot – mostly when she turns to look at the 5-year-old seated beside her on the sofa.

Though he fidgets, he’s been remarkably good during the two hours it’s taken me to interview his mother. He follows the volley of Spanish conversation with his eyes, answers my few questions to him in both Spanish and English. Dressed neatly in dark trousers and a light shirt, and carrying a child-sized backpack he won’t remove even when he sits down, Jesús reminds me of my nephew or of my older brother at that age. Same dark hair and eyes; same precocious gravity amid childish smiles.

“Do you like school?” I ask him.

He attends a bilingual Head Start program, and an afterschool program at one of the local Catholic churches.

He nods, a serious expression on his face.

His mother watches him answer the question with that look mothers get – admixed pride and wonder and concern.

He is the reason this quiet young woman crossed the border into the United States about four years ago. She carried him over in her arms.

“My motive [for coming here] was my son,” she says to me. “Para sacarlo adelante.”

So that he has a chance. A future.

I think of my own daughter, at that moment probably just getting home from school and sitting down at the computer to do her homework. When she was little I would tuck her into bed telling her I loved her more than the sun and the moon and stars. And I meant it. Still do.

And yet, I find myself thinking, could I have done for her as this young woman did for her son?

A modern immigration story
“I come from a humble town,” Erica says to me, describing a town in Mexico where most of the parents cannot afford to buy their children shoes.

Erica and her baby lived with her parents, and two of her brothers, 15 and 7 years old.
“There was no work there, no way to make money,” Erica continues. “My parents didn’t have enough for food.”

A few minutes later she adds: “No hay prestamo para comer.”

There’s no loan you can get for food.

Getting a visa to come into the U.S. to work is nearly impossible for someone like Erica. An unskilled laborer, she fits into the lowest priority category of applicants for a pool of only 40,000 visas granted annually.

Even to visit the U.S. with a tourist visa isn’t an option for someone like her, I learn.
It costs $100 to get an interview to see about a visa. And to qualify for the visa, you have to give proof of substantial savings, or hold title to real estate in Mexico.

Erica didn’t have a hope of savings or real estate. But she had hope.

Several of Erica’s brothers had already crossed the border and settled into restaurant jobs in the Philadelphia area. She knew they worked 12-hour days, making about $8 per hour -- enough, she thought, for her son to have something better in his future.

Erica came across the border the way so many of the poor do – by hiring a “coyote” to lead her through some of the toughest terrain in Mexico and the United States.

“No se si aguante,” she tells me the coyote told her when she first approached him. He doubted she could make it across with a child in tow.

Somehow, she convinced him.

She carried her son – and his powdered formula and diapers – through forests and steep gorges and cornfields. She slogged through mud when it rained, and through cold nights.
Others made the journey also, following the same coyote on his trek to, and through, Nogales – a town about 60 miles south of Tucson on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The border patrol caught them, and returned them to Nogales, where the coyote ditched them.

“No se va poder,” he said to them, shaking his head. “It’s not going to be possible.”

But Erica and the others did try to cross again. And got caught by the border patrol again.

It’s not clear to me what side of the border she and the others were on when they were assaulted by a gang of what Erica describes as “cholos” – young men in their 20s who stripped them of their rings, their jackets and shoes, and any money they had.

“They took the diaper off Jesús, and spilled out the powdered formula looking for money,” she tells me.

When they didn’t find any, they wrested the baby from her, beat her and tried to strip off her clothing.

She tells me she believes she might have been raped if a 16-year-old immigrant boy had not stood up to the gang. He claimed her as a sister, and was beaten by the gang in her stead.
Eventually they crossed the border into the United States, and after a 13-day ride in the back of a van, Erica and Jesús arrived in Philadelphia.

Within days Erica is working, Jesús is in his new home with uncles and aunts, and the prayers Erica intoned every night on her long and hope-filled journey seem to have been answered.

It should end this way, her story. Prayers answered are a good end.

But if you read the first “Disappeared in Philadelphia” entry you know this is no end.

Thinking out loud
Some 20-odd years ago, when I was in college, a writing professor handed back one of my short stories with this comment on it: “Honor everybody in the story.”

“I didn’t?” I asked him, incredulous.

“How many times did you let this character say what he said directly to us, the readers?” is how I remember my professor answering my question with a question. I think he was fond of doing that.

Then, less than a year ago I found myself in the archdiocesan office for Hispanic Catholics, ranting to the vicar, Msgr. Hugh Shields. Poor Monsignor, he suffers my rants rather more often than anybody else these days because he is kind, and reasonable, and doesn’t really have an effective escape route charted out.

As I recall, I was going on and on about how I didn’t understand why people judged undocumented immigrants so harshly.

“So few people hear their stories,” he said. “You know, if they could see their faces and hear their voices I believe it would be different.”

I trust their judgment, these two men of different vocations but similar insight.

Erica's voice:
“I wish people knew that we’re good people. That we don’t come here to harm anyone. That we’re willing to work hard, to do heavy work. That we just want to help our families, and get a little bit ahead.

“I wish there were work visas that would allow us to go back and forth to Mexico. I haven’t seen my parents in five years.

“You know what I dream of? Bringing my parents here.
“Being able to get them visas, and bringing them here the right way.”

* * *

These are not the original images that ran with these posts. I've chosen two images of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt to illustrate this update.

There has been a lot of talk, as the immigration debate has gotten nastier, about the "quality" of immigrants.

"I wouldn't be opposed to easing immigration restrictions, but only for professionals" is one comment I've heard, and, "it'd be different if it weren't just a bunch of primitives immigrating" is another. Yes, I've actually heard otherwise fairly reasonable people make these exact arguments.

For those Catholics and Christians, I'd issue this gentle reminder: Mary was a teen mother; Joseph, a simple carpenter. Neither of them would have gotten a green card under current visa issuing requirements.

Just saying.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You can do it, we can help

On Oct. 13, 80 jornaleros (day workers) gathered early on the parking lot of Home Depot on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. They were hoping for a day's work, a day's wage.

At 8:30 a.m., two police officers from the second district drove on to the lot and told them to disperse.

Parts of what happened next cannot be verified.

One of the day workers may have refused to leave the parking lot. Perhaps he became belligerent. Or perhaps he argued -- as other jornaleros would say later -- that the store's management had never before complained about them trying to get work on that parking lot ....

In any case, the eyewitness who called the Office of Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese moments after the incident occurred alleged that the jornalero in question was beaten with a nightstick and taken into custody by the police, his face bloodied.

The eyewitness, also a jornalero rousted that morning from the parking lot, didn't want to talk about it to anyone other than the staff at the Office of Hispanic Catholics. He didn't trust anyone else.

And that, as much as any other part of the story, is the story.

Not all day workers who gather outside of stores to find work are undocumented, but many are. They don't know each other's names or documentation status but they know some things:

1) If they taken into custody and found to be undocumented they'll be whisked off to a detention center. They may end up being repatriated so fast their names never make it on to the lists of those held for deportation. Their families may not find out where they are or what has happened to them until weeks after they have disappeared. Or, conversely, they may languish in detention centers for months, even years.

2) They can't report crimes or even come forth as eyewitnesses for fear that any such action will precipitate their deportation, or an investigation of the documentation status of their families, coworkers and friends.

3) They can turn to the Catholic Church in whose priests, sisters and committed laity they have found advocates for humane and compassionate treatment -- no matter what their documentation status.

Within minutes of the call from the eyewitness, the director of the Office of Hispanic Catholics, Anna Vega, had called the second police district trying to ascertain whether the jornalero who had been picked up had been injured. She had called the office of Councilwoman Marion Tasco (in whose district the incident occurred) and Regan Cooper, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition to make sure they were aware of the incident.

And she had called the archdiocesan Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, Msgr. Hugh Shields, to recount what the eyewitness had said.

By the time I found out about it, Msgr. Shields had already been to the second police district, where he had been able to confirm that an African American man was taken into custody that morning from the Home Depot parking lot. But without a name, the police officer he spoke to could not release any other information -- not whether the day worker was still in custody, what he was charged with, not even whether he was hurt.

Msgr. had also been to Home Depot, where a few day workers, at the edges of the parking lot, had re-gathered. Speaking to them in Spanish, he asked them if any of them had been there during the earlier incident. A few nodded their heads.

"We received a call that the man who was taken away was hurt," he said. "Did any of you see that?" Again some nods.

"Do you know his name?" This time the jornaleros shook their heads.

"And he was a Latino?" Msgr. asked.

"Haitian, Father," one of the jornaleros answered. After a beat he added, "It's the same island."

Haiti, the nation that shares its island with the Dominican Republic, isn't Hispanic. Haitians speak French and Creole, and ministering to the Haitian immigrant community isn't, strictly speaking, the purview of the Office of the Vicar for Hispanic Catholics.

But mercy and loving-kindness know nothing of purviews, or distinct languages, or man-made borders dividing one landmass into separate nations.

The Catholic Church has an incredible tradition of saints, blesseds and servants of God who have seen Christ on the breadline, in lepers, in the abandoned elderly -- in society's underclasses throughout the ages and throughout the globe.

Why not in the parking lot of Home Depot on Roosevelt Avenue?

Why not in the frightened day worker who feared his fellow human being was hurt and called those he knew would care?

Why not in the voice of a man, waiting for work, who recognizes that our world and our shared humanity means it's the same island for all of us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Who’s counting?

Unbelievably, I started blogging exactly one year ago. Just in time for the Hispanic Heritage Mass then and now. This year’s Mass will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 11 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Cardinal Justin Rigali will be the celebrant, and as in past years, he’ll be joined by many priests from across the Archdiocese that minister to the Latino community.

And a growing community it is.

Pennsylvania is one of 16 states with at least a half-million Hispanic residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The others are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.)

The estimated Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2008 is 46.9 million, making people of Hispanic origin the largest ethnic or race minority in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics are 15 percent of the nation’s total population.

And to these totals you can add the 4 million residents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (which is included in the U.S. Census report’s “national summary” data, but not in its “national totals”).

The Hispanic population in the U.S. is younger than the population as a whole. Hispanics comprise 22 percent of children younger than 18 in the nation, 25 percent of children younger than 5. The U. S. Census Bureau projects that by July 1, 2050, the Hispanic population of the United States will reach 132.8 million, and be 30 percent of the nation’s total population.

There were 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses in 2002, and the rate of growth of these businesses between the census of 1997 and 2002 was 31 percent. The national average rate of growth for all businesses during the same time period was 10 percent. Hispanic owned businesses generated revenues of $222 billion in 2002, according to census sources, up 19 percent from 1997.

Still, if you read my blog, or other Latino blogs, you already know that the violence, hate and animosity toward Latinos has increased markedly in recent years. The FBI reported a 35 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos from 2003 to 2006 and a 3.3 percent increase in 2007 alone. Certain communities (Suffolk, N.Y., for example) have become something like hunting grounds where gangs of ruffians target their Latino neighbors for death, and juries and elected officials look the other way. Mainstream Latino advocacy organizations such as the NCLR have been vilified, and the first Latina Supreme Court justice was lampooned with openly racist caricatures during the period preceding her confirmation.

The vitriol in the immigration reform debate has contributed greatly to anti-Latino sentiment.

It is faulty logic to presume that all immigrants are Latino and all Latinos are immigrants, but nativists and commentators with nativist sympathies have reinforced this spurious syllogism. Ongoing air time devoted to the “invasion of America” (commentator Pat Buchanan) by hordes of “primitives” and “women with mustaches” (radio host Jay Severin) who are “changing the complexion of America” (Bill O’Reilly) and are “invaders” and carriers of “leprosy and tuberculosis” (Lou Dobbs) has had its effect on people’s ideas about Latinos and immigrants.

Even those who don’t wholeheartedly buy into anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric express irritation at Spanish-language phone options, or celebrations and parades wherein flags of Latin American countries are flown alongside the U.S. flag. Would the same level of irritation be manifest if the language option were German, say, or Polish? Do the St. Patrick’s and Columbus Day parades with their Irish and Italian flags proudly flown generate the same animus? Clearly not.

Much of current anti-immigrant rhetoric centers around the differences between new waves of immigration and historic ones – but the differences are largely myth.

Earlier immigrant groups also initially settled in mono-ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their own languages, went to church at personal parishes where Mass was celebrated in their native languages and set up businesses that not only served their fellow immigrants but contributed to the growth of the U.S. economy. They eventually learned English, became naturalized citizens, gave birth to U. S. citizens and grew to be integral to the weave of contemporary America.

It has been said that new immigrants don’t want to learn English, yet demand for English as a Second Language classes for adult learners far exceeds supply. With classes or without, more than 75 percent of current immigrants learn to speak English proficiently within 10 years of emigrating.

We’ve also heard that the new immigrants, unlike their predecessors, don’t want to become citizens. But according to U.S. Census Bureau and Bureaus of Citizenship and Immigration Services data, more than 33 percent of immigrants become naturalized citizens. This, of course, can’t begin to reflect the number of immigrants who might want to become citizens if a path to legal residency and citizenship were open to them.

The percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born stands at 11.5 percent currently. In the early 20th century, it stood at 15 percent. Immigrants in those days also dealt with anti-immigrant fears about the number of them coming to America, and the same derogatory attitudes about people “without papers” -- the genesis of at least one ethnic slur.

Myth has it that most immigrants today are undocumented. But the Immigration and Naturalization Services statistical yearbook records that 75 percent of current immigrants have legal permanent visas. And they pay U.S. taxes – between $90 and $140 billion a year. (Even undocumented immigrants pay taxes – as evidenced by the Social Security Administration’s “suspense file” -- taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and social security numbers -- which drew $20 billion between 1990 and 1998.)

Current immigrants, like their predecessors, contribute to the U.S. economy through their consumer spending and through the income generated by the businesses they set up. According to the Cato Institute and the Inter-American Development Bank, consumer spending of immigrant households and business contribute $162 billion in tax revenue to U.S. federal, state and local governments.

And Alan Greenspan, while he headed the Federal Reserve, pointed out that 70 percent of immigrants arrive to the U.S, in prime working years. As part of our workforce they will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years.

An enduring myth about current immigrants is that they emigrate to receive public benefits. There is data from the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Urban Institute that shows that immigrant tax payments total $20 to $30 billion more than the amount of government services they receive.

Recent surveys have shown that new immigrants are actually much healthier than longtime immigrants (who in turn are healthier than native citizens). Which is lucky because legal immigrants are restricted from accessing any public health benefits for the first five years of their residence in the United States. Undocumented immigrants are precluded from accessing any public benefits at all.

It is hard to believe that any of us want to see our fellow human beings ill and suffering and barred from receiving any medical treatment; just as it is hard to believe any of us want to see people dying while trying to be reunited with their families, or while trying to escape violence or poverty. And yet, existing health care legislation and immigration policies compound these problems while offering no solutions.

Fortunately, we are heirs to a system of governance that permits us to challenge standing legislation. We can pass better laws. Laws that create a path to citizenship for people who desperately want to be here. Laws that ensure that U.S. citizen children aren’t separated from their undocumented parents. Laws that reflect compassion for our brothers and sisters in need, and that open to hope rather than a wall.

In the year I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve shown you signs that read “Hispanics keep out” and “Speak English.” I’ve posted videos that portray immigrants the same way blacks were depicted in early minstrel shows, and have referenced news about a teen who endured ethnic taunts while being dragged with a noose around his neck. I’ve written about a young man who was snatched right off a train platform on the basis of his Spanish accent, and linked you to horrifying stories about hate-crimes against Ecuadorian and Mexican immigrants in this and adjoining states.

But I’ve also written about people who stand for more and better.

Peter Pedemonti and his cohorts at the Catholic Worker house and in the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia who believe they are “entertaining angels” when they welcome the stranger.

Msgr. Hugh Shields. Anna Vega, Tim O’Connell, Sister Lorena and countless other unnamed religious folk and laypeople who believe we are all one family under God and so extend to immigrants the love we usually reserve for blood family.

Robert Nix, who journeyed to Shenendoah, Pa. after Luis Ramirez was killed to publicly urge community reconciliation.

I’ve pointed you to El Diario/La Prensa, which reports stories about immigrants and Latinos the mainstream media doesn’t even venture to cover.

And I’ve quoted the words of the U.S. Bishops, including our own Cardinal Justin Rigali, who have consistently sought to remind us that, in the words of Christ, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Going into my second year of writing this, I’m not sure what effect, if any, blogs can have in our thinking about issues as complex as immigration or the upswing in anti-Latino sentiment in the nation. Particularly blogs like this one, with a small readership that, in all likelihood, already recognizes popular immigration myths for what they are and finds the words of the nativists and anti-immigrant commentators as repugnant as I do.

But I have to think it’s worth it.

There are local voices here that are too quiet to be heard in the nasty national debate. There are voices of local immigrants, and the voices of local people of faith who walk with them. There are voices of those who have overcome unbearable hardship and the voices of those who have taken up their advocacy. Not all of those voices are in the blog posts – some are in the comments, both public and private, made in response to the posts.

And despite the bad news and bad feelings I sometimes point to in my posts, it is the wonder and awe of knowing there are good people out there -- willing to protect and love and do for their fellow human beings -- that really keeps me writing.