This morning in Buffalo, checking in at Immigration with the guys, I had a little surprise. We got on the elevator, and for the first time, I wasn’t the one standing by the buttons, so I asked one of the guys to do it. He hesitated, touched the circled number next to the button and asked, “This one?” It had never occurred to me that knowing how to use an elevator was a skill our guys might not have. So after that I made a point of always asking one of them to press the buttons.
Are you aware of the power you have? Power to come and go as you please, power to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in your life, knowing how to get things done, knowing how to use the basic stuff around you. That’s called cultural capital. When I’m in El Salvador, I’m like a baby. My friends take me everywhere, deal with all the little things necessary to get things done. But when people come to this country without documents, they don’t have anyone to take care of stuff or show them the ropes. They just survive as best they can.
What does it do to a person, to live like that year after year? You might start to believe that you are less than the people you see around you. You might start to believe that you’re not very intelligent, or that you’re a “dirty Mexican.” You might have a hard time recognizing the gifts and talents that you have.
One of the tasks of a pastor is to call forth the gifts in the community; to recognize and identify and celebrate what people have to give. So right now I want to tell you about one of the really amazing things I see in the migrant church, and that is their physical strength. Do you know what they’re doing right now? They’re planting onions, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Bent over, seven people follow a tractor. They’ve got about 100 onions in their left hand, and with their right they grab an onion and plant it. Capo estimates he plants 40 per minute. And everybody has to go at that rate so they all stay together. All this while bent over. I don’t think I could do it for ten minutes, and they do it for twelve hours. At that rate, each person must be planting about 20,000 onions a day. I think that’s absolutely amazing. They have pushed their bodies to a point where they can perform marvels of stamina and endurance.
For many years I worked as a research technician at the U of R. The doctors I worked with had pushed their mental abilities to great extremes, and accomplished wonderful things. They make important contributions to the common good, and for that they receive respect, honor, and quite a bit of money. How is it that people who use their minds so well are lauded and paid well – and people who push their bodies to extremes for entertainment are lauded and paid well – but people who push their bodies to extremes in order to provide us all with food are at the bottom of the social ladder, and paid minimum wage?
They taught us in Divinity School to “preach the questions, not the answers.” So today I will simply share with you these questions that I’m carrying, in hopes that you will carry them, too. Let’s be bothered by these questions. Let’s let them nag at our souls, until we are forced to do something about them, and maybe turn over some tables and point out just how wrong things are. We’ve got to get mad enough – to care enough – to love enough – to push our own creativity to extremes and find a way to change this filthy, rotten system.
Love and light to all
“ The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation. Maybe we do.”
-Edward R. Murrow’s final words at the end of the documentary “Harvest of Shame,” 1960
PS I came home from Buffalo to find two kitchen chairs, a crockpot and a cardboard dresser on my front porch --- thank you, Caryl Marchand! We could still really use a shelf unit or two if anybody’s got one. And a kitchen table, as it turns out. But the bathroom floor is painted at last!
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620