Ashes in Our Mouths, Fire in Our Hearts

no-arizon-hate-austinAfter the inauguration of the new president, and with the clear signs that he intends to bully immigrants, the children of immigrants woke up afraid. One mother told me that her son came home after school, weeping, claiming that he didn’t want to go to Mexico. His mother, holding him in her arms, told him, “We are not going to be deported. We are United States citizens. You were born here.”

“But mom,” he insisted, “The president is going to deport all Mexicans. I am a Mexican.”

Another woman, an undocumented mother of American citizen children, said that her children refused to go to school. “We are afraid that you won’t be here when we come home.”

It is with this taste of ashes in our collective mouths that the residents of the Rio Grande Valley prepare for Lent.

But, before Lent, there is Mardi Gras! And this coming Tuesday is Mardi Gras, a day in which millions of people across the world will dress in costume, join parades, dance and simply enjoy being alive.

On this same Tuesday, tomorrow, here in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, 150 hardy souls, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, will board buses at 2 o’clock in the morning. Members of ARISE and LUPE, Proyecto Azteca and Proyecto Juan Diego, FUERZA del Valle and ACLU, they too will be preparing for a parade—although one quite different from those happening in New Orleans, or Mobile, or Rio de Janeiro.

These good citizens will be headed to Austin, the state capitol, a six to seven hour trip on the bus.

This is a hard trip for working people—the 2am departure means little, if any sleep. Taking a day off from work is a tough thing to manage for the many who are hourly wage-workers. Finding someone else to do all the things that are necessary to keep a family on even keel is yet another ball to juggle in the complicated life that marks the poor person’s lot.

However, this is a community of believers. They are people who share the conviction that all of us are called to live as fully human, truly alive beings who reflect the divine. Most all of these 150 travelers believe all people carry within them this spark of God. These good people share the conviction that many of the proposals that Texas legislators are considering regarding immigrants are laws that, if enacted, would demean, dehumanize, and terrorize many Texas communities and Texas residents. An insult, in other words, to God.

The bills target, specifically, immigrant communities, places like the towns and cities of the Rio Grande Valley. Senate Bill 4, for instance, would force towns and counties to lend their police to the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration law.

austin-arise-01SB4, wrong in so many ways, would fracture the necessary trust between a peace officer and the community he or she serves. The smaller towns in our region, for instance, will find it hard to weather the denial of state grants and the fines that will be levied should the police refuse to become immigration agents. SB4 places the people responsible for the protection and the defense of the community—the police–between a rock and a hard place. If the sheriff takes federal dollars, people with families of mixed-immigration status will be reluctant to cooperate with his deputies. If the sheriff refuses this new job description, he stands to lose a bundle of money. Not that this is an impossible decision to make—Harris County’s sheriff opted to build bridges and not walls when he decided that his department would not cooperate in immigration enforcement). But “being tough on immigrants” is presently a sweet tune for most Texas elected officials. Whether the bill ultimately helps or hurts the well-being of the community seems to be beside the point for those legislators who wrote the bill, who support its passage and who obstinately ignore the harm these bills bring to Texans.

The 150 pilgrims from the Valley, and the hundreds of others making their way to the Capitol, are part of a collaborative effort called Texas Together. Coming from all corners of the state, they will form a chorus of voices insisting upon the rejection of the irresponsible voices of those who mess with Texas’ values of neighborliness, hospitality, and optimism.

This Mardi Gras parade, marching through Austin, will not feature floats or costumes. It will, instead, feature people who carry in their hearts a deep sense of rabia and coraje—rage and guts–and the power of a people whose children will suffer the most when their families and communities are attacked.

Beware the power of those whose children have been threatened.