Kids play in the fountain, running and shrieking. Mothers call to them in Spanish. A woman sells Mole de Oaxaca and Agua Fresca at a stand next to a man selling fancy goat cheese. A young woman lies down on a bench, sweaty from her run. People of all ages and races browse a used book stand.
As I sit and observe the Saturday market in Columbia Heights (a neighborhood in Washington, DC), it seems to be an idyllic moment of belonging. A moment in which people of many different backgrounds have come together to share in community. I know some of the background to the neighborhood, which includes tenser debates over gentrification versus community development. But I still treasure the moment. Because in spite of all of my questions and confusion I am an idealist and want to believe that it is possible to have a community where all of its residents belong.
I have been thinking about the concept of belonging for a few weeks, ever since I last visited Nogales and met a migrant who had been recently deported. She had been brought to the US when she was 2 months old and almost all her relatives were legal residents – including two young US citizen children. But she married before the residency papers came through, so she no longer could apply as an unmarried adult child – the most viable visa option for her. And then she was stopped while driving, detained, and deported after fighting and losing her case.
The problem is that she doesn’t speak Spanish. She doesn’t have family in Mexico. Everyone lives in the US. There are almost no resources in Mexico to support non-Spanish speakers. Over and over again she cried “I don’t belong here. This is not my home.” But legally she does not belong in the US either. So where is home? Where does she belong?
Migration scholars call it liminality. Simply put, it means that many are neither here nor there. They are in the middle. Which can seem like nowhere. Especially when a person fits into a country on every cultural, linguistic, and familial measure – but not legally.
The point behind the idyllic scene in Columbia Heights is not the naïveté to ignore this frustrating state. The point is that I believe that everyone does belong. Perhaps not legally or socially. But as I told that migrant, “you will always belong to God. You can always have a home in His love.” So I cherish the moments when I get to imagine what true belonging might look like. In the face of the many agonies of rejection that characterize migration, I find hope in pictures of community that represent tiny glimpses of the Kingdom of God.