Los seres humanos (Human Beings)

When I write, I always want the migrants to be the protagonists, the good guys. But I have known for quite some time that this characterization is not always true. I have written many drafts about the sins that I encounter here, by the nature of working with human beings, but never published anything. It feels like a betrayal, a dangerous acknowledgement that could give ammunition to hate and prejudice. But here is the truth: the humans I meet here are far from perfect.

For example, I deal frequently with deep-seated machismo. Many objectify women both physically and in a role as a housekeeping servant. Others leave their wife and children behind but end up forgetting their Central American family in favor of a woman in the US. Still others simply take advantage of women along the journey north. And for some I can hear the abusive relationship behind what they say about wives or ex-wives. These attitudes or tendencies are not true of all who pass through here. But it is the case for some.

The same is true for the selfishness I see as a response to the stress of the journey. I can recount beautiful stories of migrants supporting each other. But I can also tell of the teenagers who went back on their word and in the process ruined the chance three migrants had to return to their country. When we pointed out to them the consequences of their actions, they said “What do the lives of others matter to me?” Or two friends who left from the same town in Honduras. When one saw that the other would need to stay the night in the shelter to rest and recover from an injury, he said, “I am leaving. He will hold me up too much.”

Even looking at this reality, we are often uncomfortable with the word “sin.” It sounds far too judgmental. But acknowledging that sin exists is recognizing that we all live far from the perfection that God intended and desires for us. Sin is tragic. But not exclusive. It is in all of us. I look at myself and see my sin as well. If the migrants here are not idyllic heroes of their stories, neither am I.

The hero of the story is God. A God who loves us unconditionally. And because of that, when we acknowledge His love and recognize our sin we can be free of it. In fact, Jesus said, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” His ultimate sacrifice on the cross was in penitence for our sins.

How is this all relevant for my work with migrants? It means I am disillusioned by their imperfections. Just as I am frustrated by my own sin. But that sin should not stop me from waking up every morning and loving them. I work with human beings, loved by God. Admitting their humanity does not make for as tidy of a story line from an advocate’s perspective. But it helps me enter with love into a complex reality.

What are your thoughts on my engagement with this topic? I have written many un-published drafts and know this entry touches on controversial areas. I am interested in hearing your perspectives – either in the comments section or in a conversation in the coming weeks.

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4 Responses to Los seres humanos (Human Beings)

  1. Peg Bowden says:

    Hi Joanna,
    I am in total agreement with your assessment. I tend to idealize the journey of the migrant. They are certainly stronger and more tenacious than I am in fighting against the odds of getting caught by U.S. authorities, or getting attacked by the thugs of Mexico. But they are human, and their imperfections are there as well. There are always holes in their stories. I can never get the facts straight. And I see the men’s behavior outside the comedor in Nogales and am concerned for the safety of the women and children. Better to see the realities of people migrating under enormous stress and danger. The abusers have most often been abused themselves. Thanks for this dose of reality. –Peg Bowden

  2. Agnes Stipetich says:

    Hi Joanna
    What you wrote about is truly a sad reality. I certainly can see why respect for women is the theme in posters in the comedor and in some videos shown there. I am going to hear even more about machismo when I travel to Guatemala in August. This is one of the worst countries of violence against women. I will be a delegate with the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/U.S. and will get to hear survivors of violence and activists speak and become an advocate for Guatemalan women when I return. Don’t know if we will accomplish much, but we have to try.

  3. Carla says:

    I think of the brokenness (sin) that you describe on two different levels. On the personal level, each individual makes choices, and no one is wholly good or bad, we are all sinful and broken. And yet we yearn for the world that was created in harmony and order, so the sin troubles us and the good gives us glimpses of light and redemption.
    At the same time, on the macro level, we deal with the brokenness of social, political and economic systems and the causes of migration and poverty. We yearn for a just world, as it was created in harmony and order. We yearn for “thy kingdom come” and we are troubled by the injustice and work toward just systems, knowing that even they will be a flawed attempt, because they are based on broken humans.

  4. Dawn says:

    In acknowledging the brokenness (sin) in ourselves and others, we open the door to the possiblity of speaking in ways that may lead to growth. Jesus often spoke. He used many different methods including personal invitation to change, parables, and angry action. When we speak firmly and with compassion with the poor. We acknowledge that we see and care for them. When we write to our congress we again are opening the door to change. Learning when and how to speak in growth inviting ways is a life long process.

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