Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Refried Beans, Children, and Moments of Grace: Hope in the Face of Hate and Fear

A brief addendum to what I wrote earlier today about the current distempered attack of the political (and in my area, the religious) right on immigrants:

Steve had business to do around lunchtime today, and asked if I would join him for lunch.  I'm always glad to get out of the house (and to eat), so I went along.  We decided on a Mexican restaurant near his meeting place--one of many simple, down-home Mexican places that have popped up all over the city with the influx of Mexican and Central American immigrants in our area in recent years.

And the experience of eating in that restaurant today turned out to be a moment of grace for us--the kind of quiet, unassuming grace that moves the soul far more than loud words and lofty music.  Or red silk and lace, for that matter.

We were struck first of all by the almost frantic air of friendliness of all the folks working in the restaurant, all Hispanic.  We've almost never found staff in the local Mexican and Central American restaurants anything but friendly.  But there was a manic edge to the welcome today.

When people feel unwanted, targeted, despised, they often react initially by trying to prove that they do not deserve the rejection and hostility (as they usually do not).  It is heart-breaking to me to think of what is being done to these fellow citizens (or perhaps non-citizens in some cases) now.  Though they work extremely hard, benefit my community in ways beyond counting, and raise productive, hard-working families that pass on the benefits to the next generation, they obviously have reason to feel frightened now, as if a window of opportunity that had opened for them here is about to slam shut.

As we ate, two young Latina mothers sat behind us with their young children.  The son of one of the mothers, who informed us solemnly that he was four--saying this in Spanish and holding up his fingers so we could count--spent much of the lunch hour tapping Steve on the shoulder to talk to him.  About being four.  And about his name, which was Johann.

And that was it.  That was the grace: it was, in part, seeing the obvious apprehension of many of the people working in this restaurant.  But it was also seeing that fear matched with hope and dignity, too.  Hope and dignity apparent in the ability of people being made unwelcome to continue smiling.  And to keep on working.

And hope and dignity in the tiny hands and serious demeanor of a little boy counting his years, clutching a dentist's mirror as he did so, using the mirror to poke the shoulder of a tall Anglo man sitting behind him.  

That little boy is the future.  And the fear and hatred of my fellow citizens who want to use his community to score political points in the coming elections won't stop the future he represents from arriving, no matter how much fear and hate those citizens manage to stir up.  Because, as Julia Esquivel says, in the marathon of hope there will always be others to relieve those against whom we try to hold the door shut tight, when we choose to give in to the ugly animus of prejudice rather than letting ourselves be swept into the current of the redemptive power of love.

The title of this post, of course, is not an attempt to stereotype a minority, but an allusion to the lunch about which I'm writing in the posting.