What do we know of other people's lives, really?

I was driving through one of my city's concentrated "international neighborhoods" recently.  The busy street is lined with apartments and restaurants of all sorts.  Noodle houses, taquerias, Korean places, Vietnamese places; restaurants with names I can't read or pronounce.  A few businesses were interspersed, but the strip is heavy on the eateries.  

People were riding the red bus that serves the Latino community - getting on, getting off and walking here and there.  The traffic is heavy on this street.  Workers of various types were also doing their thing from their trucks.  City workers trimming branches, big trucks pulling in and out of the "mulch dump" with loads of yard waste.  A cherrypicker fixing a streetlight.  Busy, busy.

This neighborhood is familiar; I drive through it regularly. But I don't really know much about it, especially I don't know much about the people who live and work there.  I don't know what kind of lives they lead, about what's important to them, about how they spend their free time, about their political inclinations.  It occurred to me, as I watched a young mother getting on the bus with her toddler and after a young man got off the bus and headed toward the business district, these are the people that are suspected of being "illegal immigrants."  These are the people who are being targeted by new immigration laws in several states; they are suspected, all of them, of being in this country illegally and without good reason, and "taking all of our jobs."

I don't really know them, though, and I don't think the legislators and politicos who spend so much time vilifying the international community know them, either.  They don't know the woman with the baby or the young man going off to work or the busdriver.  They don't know the restaurant owners or their customers.  But they are willing to make broad generalizations about them and to make life more difficult for them because they are afraid of that which they do not know.

It says in the Bible (Exodus 22:21)  "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."  My ancestors came to this country from Ireland, many of them; others came from England and France.  Most of them were trying to get away from oppressive legislation in their own countries - the Irish Roman Catholics were prohibited from holding public office in their home towns; the English were Anabaptists who were vilified at home; the French were Huguenots driven out of that country.  My ancestors were part of the huge international community that became the United States of America.  But some of us have forgotten that our ancestors were once resident aliens, too, as were the Hebrews in the land of Egypt, and have been busy with the work of becoming oppressors ourselves.

Lord, have mercy.


Ray Barnes said…
Nice post Penny.
It doesn't hurt to remember each one of us, taken out of our comfortable cocoons is an alien somewhere.
It's so easy to generalise about people we don't know, and easier still if we don't speak their language.
Thanks, Ray. I think you are right.
Dom said…
Thanks Penny for a very nice post. My dad was an immigrant from Italy, and I know that he faced difficulties being accepted. It is very sad that as each group becomes assimilated, we forget what it is like to be an immigrant. We forget that we are all aliens. I appreciate your nice post on this subject, and I like your quote from Exodus.
Thanks, Dom. I think many of our ancestors wanted to become assimilated and then forgot what it was like to be an alien because it was so painful. The formerly oppressed are in danger of becoming oppressors themselves if they cannot remember what it was like for them. We see it all the time. It's important that we remember our heritage - and our religious heritage, too. It's part of our faith tradition to have had the alien experience.