D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: neighbors

Lent 2017: Stories

Obviously, I haven't been posting every day like I had originally envisioned. I can't imagine doing that going forward, either--but I hope to post to links and resources at least twice a week until the end of Lent. The thing is, this is an incredibly heavy topic. Not to mention all the complexities involved. And it is impacting my real life and my neighbors in really big ways. I will share that at my daughter's school (which is 57% Spanish-speaking) we cannot advertise any sort of informational night when it comes to immigration for fear that ICE will target the event. This is my world. This is your world, too, no matter how far away you might feel from it.

I have become deeply immersed in this book. Sometimes the stories are so troubling and so sad that I have to sit down and cry for 30 minutes. This is not hyperbole. One of the reasons that these stories impact me so deeply is because so much of it takes place in restaurants, factories, and fields of MY country. The human rights abuses, the continual de-humanizing, the fear that people face . . . all so that they can work and support their families. My life is propped up by their sacrifices, and my country created policies and laws that ensure that they will work in sub-human conditions due to their lack of ability to get papers.

Papers. That's it. That is all that separates me from them. Don't you feel how thin the veil is that separates the perpetually suffering from the blissfully ignorant? It seems almost see-through to me these days. 

Please read the stories from Underground America (and other places) yourself, and see if you don't find yourself as shaken as I am. Here is an NPR interview about the book, and I will copy and paste two short excerpts below.

 

 

Polo, 23
Gulfport, Mississippi

Polo comes from a small town in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and speaks both Spanish and Zapotecan. He worked for a subcontractor to a subcontractor to a subcontractor to Kellogg Brown and Root—which until recently was owned by Halliburton—cleaning up the Seabees Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

We went down to Mississippi to the Naval base at Gulfport, and started to work. Our job was to clean all the mess—the houses, the trees, everything—all that the wind had damaged, had destroyed. We collected all the trash from the streets. We cut up the fallen trees, piling them in one spot. This is the type of work we were doing. It was a big, serious disaster, and there was so much cleaning up to do.

The bolillos, the white people, drove the machines. We were more like the helpers. There were other people living on the base, black people. They were people who had lost their houses. They were like refugees. I imagine that the black people went to work, but with their own people, with people of their same race. We were pretty separate in our work.

We returned to our cots at about seven at night. We slept there, in an airplane hangar on the base. We weren't allowed to leave the base at all because the poyeros—human smugglers—guarded us strictly. They would charge us if we wanted to go out. Once all our debts were paid, then they said we could leave.

Our boss kept a notebook with our names and all the records of our hours. We'd been promised eleven dollars per hour. We worked every day—Monday to Monday—and the first three weeks we weren't paid at all. When we complained about this, the bosses would say, "it's fine, don't worry. I'm going to the bank right now." Then they would come back and tell us that the bank wouldn't give them the money, that we would have to wait. That's the excuse they gave us.

After two weeks, they started to take away some of the cots. We were totally taken aback. Some of us had to sleep outside. We didn't know what to do. We worked it out according to who needed the cots most. The people on the floor had some blankets, but that was it. There was intense heat during the day and intense cold at night.

Well, then the boss disappeared. We tried to find her so we could get our checks, but she was gone. After three days, the military men came. They spoke to us in English. As they were soldiers, they had their guns. They came up to our cots—the few cots that we had—and took them. Then they shut off the bathrooms. And they took us out, like they were cleaning out the base.

After that the group of us stayed next to the cemetery, under plastic tarps. I felt so sad. I hadn't been paid. I had nowhere to go. I didn't know where they wanted me to go, what they wanted me to do. That's what I was thinking: What am I supposed to do now? I thought about my family because they were thinking that I was earning money, and there I was, without work, and without any payment for the work I had done. I really wanted to go back at that point. My idea was to get to Mississippi, to start working, and to earn money to send to my family. I thought that here it would be easy to earn money. I couldn't imagine this kind of humiliation. Yes, humiliation. They humiliated us.

[Editor's Note: After a complaint from an activist group to the U.S. Department of Labor, the direct subcontractor to KBR paid the workers a total of $100,000. Another payment of $144,000 is forthcoming. Polo is currently working in a furniture factory in Mississippi, trying to save up money to build a house for himself in his hometown.]

Rose, 43
Galesburg, Illinois

Rose was born in Beijing, China in 1965 to working-class parents. She married a laborer and graduated from nursing school in 1989. She remembers attending many of the student lectures in Tiananmen Square. In 1990, she gave birth to a son and named him "Sunrise." After divorcing her husband, Rose found an opportunity to come to the United States and make a better life for her child, then nine years old. By way of San Francisco, she went to Chicago to stay with a friend who got her a job waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant. There she met her boyfriend, a cook, whom she would later follow downstate. Surrounded by corn and soy, Galesburg, Illinois lies between the Mississippi and Spoon Rivers.

When I arrived in Chicago, I wandered the streets of Chinatown, which didn't seem strange to me. It was clean and prosperous, just like Beijing. Lots of merchandise in the windows. I thought I would learn English and then apply for nursing school, but I had debts to repay. So I changed my mind and went to work at a restaurant in Chicago. Working in a restaurant is simple physical labor. Although the restaurant was owned by Chinese, these Chinese were from a different region, with different customs and dialect, which made things hard. I missed my family and friends and often wanted to cry, but didn't dare in public. One time a cook found me crying during a break. When he saw me, he tried to console me. He took care of me and we became close. We started to date and have been together for eight years. Before, we laughed together more. Now, we are silent more.

Now that we live in Galesburg, I work in a different restaurant but it is all the same. The pressures and monotonies of work and lack of social activities in this town make me feel like I will go stir-crazy. I love to watch television when I'm not working. I cry with the people on TV and sometimes my eyes swell up from the crying. The tears on my cheeks feel warm and I think it's relaxing. It doesn't seem normal.

I wonder what I will be like eight years from now. Will I be insane? I worry. Did I do the right thing? I left my son and everything I love back in China. My parents are more than seventy years old and every day they hope for my return. Whenever I think about them, I think I couldn't face them. When I was little they went to work every day, came home, cooked, and did laundry. My mother did physical labor, loading and unloading crates. Every day she came home stressed and tired and still tended to our needs. During the New Year, she bought cloth and made clothes for us under a single light bulb. She sewed one stitch at a time and it took her a month. I didn't understand and complained that the clothes were ugly. When I think of this, I feel embarrassed and full of regret.

My son is growing older and getting more and more distant with me. On the morning he was born in 1990, the sun rose bright in the east so we named him "Sunrise." I had great ambitions for him. I wanted him to be like a dragon! I wanted him to be outstanding. I tried to teach him to be virtuous, like my father. He was bright and remembered all the stories and fairy tales that I read to him. But before he was big enough to understand, I had already gone.

 

 

 

God, be merciful to us, those who have willfully turned our eye to the oppression that we demand. God, be with those who suffer, even now, under our unjust laws and our unequal societies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fasts We Choose: Lent 2017

Lent is here today. I didn't grow up observing this season of prayer, fasting, and a re-turning to Christ--but like a lot of people, it has become more attractive to me with time. As my life spirals out to include so many others--my husband, children, neighbors, extended family, friends, readers--rhythms have become so important. And so here we are, with Lent such a perfect opportunity to step back from the frantic pace of worry and stress I have found myself in. 

My neighborhood is struggling. People are afraid. As my pastor mentioned on Sunday, people like my neighbors--immigrants and refugees, Muslims, people of color, people who cannot afford health insurance, kids who qualify for free school lunches and depend on the local public school--they are getting the message that they do not matter. Some of these populations are actively being vilified for political gain. This is heartbreaking to me. So I'm not giving up coffee or chocolate. Instead, I am re-setting in a different way. I am choosing to focus on one injustice that has been bothering me, and I am prayerfully going to immerse myself in reflection and education about that topic. For me, learning how to best care for and understand our undocumented neighbors is at the top of my priority list. I figure that others might want to learn more about this subject as well, so I will share what I find. 

Please join me? I will be posting several times a week, and hope to have a mixture of articles and podcasts and videos to share. On Fridays I hope to have some tangible action steps and plans. And of course, if you have access to resources about how to best understand/support our undocumented neighbors, please comment and let me know!

To start with, a simple request (something I saw from Lynn Hybels twitter account. What a world we live in!):

Start each day of Lent by reading Isaiah 58.

Print it out and hang it in your bathroom. Keep it in your journal by your bedside. Or just read it on your phone. What would happen if we let these prophetic, challenging words shape our imaginations when it comes to fasting, when it comes to how we think God is at work in our world?

This gorgeous chapter is not just about social justice, or a reprimand against how corrupt the people of God had become. It is also a guide for how to be resilient in the face of injustice and inequality. More than anything, I want to be here for the kingdom coming. 

"And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in."

https://www.esv.org/Isaiah+58/

So here's to strong bones. Here's to choosing to fast by focusing on one of the most vilified and least understood populations in America. Here's to becoming repairers of these wide, wide breaches that we find in our world. 

Let's choose our fasts carefully this year.

 

 

(Tomorrow I will be sharing resources for books to read on the topic of undocumented immigrants in America. I can't wait to hear your suggestions.)

 

 

 

 

Holla

We went to Imago this morning to catch the Holla if You Hear Me Tour, a panel of some amazing minds talking about justice and mercy and the American Black Male. It was waaaay too short (25 min), and it stirred up so many questions I felt dizzy. Here is where I want to be honest: in the past, I thought racism was simply not a thing. That is wasn't around anymore. That we had solved the problem many years ago. Now, the light is slowly dawning that things are not right. In fact, something is horribly wrong.

I struggle with this hidden racism, the tendency to only draw towards people who are just like me. Living in low-income housing has shone a spotlight on this unlovely part of myself, my complicitness in a culture that only glorifies the majority (which happens to be white, educated males).

Where we live, you can classify residents in two ways: refugees and immigrants, and (mostly) single-parent families of a lower socio-economic status. Many of the latter are African-American, although there are plenty of Caucasian families as well.

They are divided into tribes, of sorts. The refugees and immigrants have racist undercurrents all their own, but they are bonded by the commonalities of their experiences--past horrors, present confusions with American culture. I have cheerfully flung myself into this tribe, immersing myself into whatever the culture is of whatever apartment I am visiting: drinking chai and playing with babies with the Bhutanese, watching terrible TV and having loud conversations with Somalis. I love them, know most of them from years spent doing homework clubs, art classes, English classes. They know me, know my husband, know my baby. We chat on the elevators, on the playground, at the mailboxes.

The other tribe scares the hell out of me. I don't get their cultural experiences or their expectations of me. They all seem to be bonded together as well: sharing cars, watching each others children, lending toilet paper and cooking supplies when needed. I hear them, engaged in loud and bitter arguments in the parking lot, but back to being best friends by the next day. They smoke, they swear, they scream at their children. They blow up, forgive quickly, laugh and commiserate together. They never talk to me. I have made it clear which tribe I am in.

I don't know how to change this. The neighbors who surround me are strangers. They speak the same language as me but for some reason this makes it all the more difficult. I am not good at loving these people. It has been easier to stereotype them, to "tut, tut" under my breath, to walk quickly into the apartment and not engage in what is taking place in the doorways around me.

But something has to change. Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hours in America. We can't even pray together with people who are different from us, much less be good neighbors. And I have it easier than most: they are my literal neighbors. Most of us have taken life paths that have led us to places where our neighbors tend to look exactly like us. But proximity isn't everything, of course. Moving in does nothing, if you have not love.

I want to grow in love. I want to walk slowly down the hallways with my baby, and engage (the slow-baby-walking actually has down wonders for getting to know people. I can't rush around to more "important" things, plus babies are the best ice breakers in the world. Period). I think about trying to not glorify whiteness, about shifting my perspectives. I think about learning how to laugh and commiserate, to lend food, to appreciate new thoughts and new music and new styles. Sometimes I think stupid things like "what if I got my ears pierced and then wore big hoops?" or "what if there was like this awesome lady-rapper who threw down beats about social justice?" or "what if I am supposed to be a rapper?" And it is ridiculous. And I laugh, instead of cry, which is what I really want to do when I sit down and stare all this sin in the face.

But mostly, I want to stop thinking about things in terms of tribes. Instead, I want to think about opening wide my doors. To whatever makes me love Jesus more.

Neighbors

Sometimes, when you live in intentional community, you get dissapointed. Like last week, when I slaved over  a bunch of indian food for a bunch of Bhutanese people and they didn't show up (headaches and working and at their aunt's house in Beaverton, respectively).

 

And sometimes, you are blessed.

 

It's the strangest, littlest things. Like the hubs, making small talk with the big bear of a man in the elevator: "Nice haircut."

"Yeah," said the guy. "I was starting to look like an ax murderer." [note: he really was] "I looked at myself in the mirror and thought: 'that's not who I am, man'".

We all nodded in agreement. The baby blew kisses at him. Just making strange small talk, just making strange neighbor friends.

 

Or like the past couple of days, when some of our neighbor kids have started to come over after school, to hang out and ask all sorts of questions. They seem to delight in making my cranky baby giggle, and they even have contest to see who can clean up my living room the fastest. I know! It all started when we stopped remembering to lock our doors. It sounds so awful to type it out, but it is true. And I am loving the interruptions these days.

Yesterday, one of the kids hanging around asked me a question: "what do you feed chickens?" It was Ani, a feisty ten-year old Bhutanese refugee, who asked. I stammered out a reply about birdseed (?) and stale bread. "Why are you asking?"

"Oh," said Ani, "because we have a chicken."

"What?"

"We have a chicken."

I was floored. "A chicken? Where do you keep it? On the balcony?" (they live on the second floor).

Ani looked at me like I was crazy. "No, it stays in our living room. We tie a rope to its foot and keep it by the couch."

I just stared at him. He went on. "We eat the most delicious eggs, and it is so great."

I wanted to go check out this chicken situation, which is the stuff of refugee urban legend. But alas, it was not to be. Ani's younger sister came over an hour later, and I asked her about the chicken.

"Oh yeah," she sighed heavily. "We DID have a chicken. But he's dead now".

"What?"

"Yeah, my dad put a big spike in his neck and there was so much blood in the kitchen and me and my cousins were screaming so my dad said we had to come to your house." Her cousins stood behind, all little girls with thick black bangs cut straight across, nodding solemnly. "None of us will ever eat chickens anymore," Ani's sister said, sweeping her arms around.

 

It was all I could do not to laugh. I just counted my blessings, exalting in how strange they may be.

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