Love ye therefore the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:19)
One of the questions our mini pastoral group had to answer during our time at MACC was what experiences in our lives have shaped our views on people who are different from us, occasions when we had been oppressed or oppressor.
For me, a significant formative experience occured when my family moved to Paris when I was 6 years old. My younger sister and I were playing in the park under the eye of our French nanny. Being typical American kids and not speaking French, we ran onto the grass oblivious to the sign that said “Défense de marcher sur la pelouse”.
Next thing you know, a big French gendarme was screaming at us. Our nanny rushed to intervene and hurried us off the grass but I can still remember the shame and fear I felt as this man shouted at us in a language I could not understand for a violation I was not aware I had committed.
To experience something like this is to understand viscerally what it means to be “strangers in the land of Egypt.” And it is not something that most Americans have experienced, else they would be more sympathetic to our immigrant brothers and sisters.
I remembered this as we went down with the brothers and sisters from the Toribio Romo group to give out coffee and information to the jornaleros before they began their day of searching for temporary work. Some of the jornaleros told me that they had been ticketed by the police for begging when, they said, they were not asking for money, they were asking for jobs.
In fact, the Romo group organizers said, the day laborers had been ticketed for loitering. But it was impossible for them to wrap their minds around this concept. Fined? Just for congregating on a street corner? They come from Mexico and Central America, from poor neighborhoods where there is no air conditioning. Where else would you go on a scorching day but out into the plaza under a tree to get together with your compas? Strangers in a very strange land, indeed!
Read more about the Toribio Romo group in this Associated Press story: Group started in San Antonio to give sanctuary to illegal immigrants (5/27/08)