“Would you do this? Could you do this?”
Ramona* has the gaze of a woman who has spent decades listening with attention to her grandchildren—empathetic and serious at the same time. A grandmother that you could love with a breaking heart.
She is speaking in front of a crowd of a hundred people, gathered this morning in a chilling drizzle, praying that God will bend the arc of justice just a little more sharply, and bring Ramona and her friends and neighbors and family a comprehensive, just, humane reform of this nation’s immigration laws.
Ramona does not seem to have a lot of experience in public speaking. She is standing too far back from the microphone. She is not looking at the audience, but downward, at a spot about fifteen feet in front of her.
She looks up, suddenly, as she begins to tell her story. “My husband and I came to this country many years ago. We had no future in Mexico—no home, no land to farm, nothing. So we came north. We heard that there was work. We were hungry. We had children. We packed up what we could and we came north. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”
Her voice catches, and she stops speaking. In the silence, I can hear rainwater dripping off of the tree leaves. Gathering herself together, she continues, “When we crossed the river, the water came up to my neck. I had never been in a river or a pond before. I knew nothing about swimming. I was sure that I was going to die. But I kept on going. You see, I had to. For my children.”
She stopped, suddenly, smiled nervously and stepped back from the microphone. She was finished with her story.
The people standing in the rain and listening to her testimony looked up as she walked away and watched her as she went back to her place in line. No one clapped and no one smiled. They all knew this story, all too well.
The Baptist minister offered a final benediction, and the people moved off, rather quickly. Many had work to get to, others had to attend the other 10,000 things that fill a poor person’s life.
Texas Republican senator John Cornyn’s representative was there, standing in the rain like everyone else. She too, is a mother, and is also of Mexican descent. She has in the past explained the Republican stance on immigration reform bills as needing to be “fair to those people who came to this country the ‘right way,’ ” an attitude which dismisses in a few words the hope that the Senator would ever represent this part of his constituency.
I had heard her state the Senator’s opposition to immigration reform several times before, but today she was standing with the rest of us in the chilly weather.
Perhaps, listening to Ramona, she was thinking about what it would take to cross a deep river, not knowing how to swim, how much it would cost to leave what is precious and dear behind and set out for that foreign country to the north, about what she herself was capable of doing, out of love for her own children.
Perhaps she was thinking that people like Ramona, with their drive and their vision and their courage, were the true heart and soul of this country, and were blessings to us all.
Perhaps she would figure out how to explain this to the Senator.
I hope so.
*(Not her actual name. We impatiently await the day when good people have no fear of publishing their names. Could there be a more basic human right?)