Friday, October 9, 2009

Discussing Postville at Holden Village

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I did a presentation last night on the immigration raid in Postville. There were a lot of people there, especially considering the fact that it started at 8:15 p.m.! We were “officially” done at 9:30 p.m., but people stayed until about 10:30 p.m. Lots of engagement and questions. Many people expressed appreciation for the way the presentation helped them connect to the topic and broaden understanding of the issues. Immediately, however, some of the questions focused on asking for “where is the hope.” I need to find a better balance between presenting the complexity of the situation and our own complicity in it, but then also motivating people to get engaged. I haven’t really been doing this for very long, and I think I could learn quite a bit from others about that. What I do normally – preaching – is of course about preaching good news. There’s that balance that needs to be present – of the Law and the Gospel. At the end of the presentation, I felt as if I had focused primarily on the Law and didn’t leave enough time to get to the Gospel, other than to point to some hints of hope in the response. 

Heidi, a student from Luther College working here on staff, talked about some of her experiences during student teaching at the Postville High School. She talked about the segregation in the school – some of it seems related to ESL classes – between the “farm kids” and the “Hispanic kids.” She mentioned also that the “Hassidic kids” attend their own school all together. In her comment I think was the sadness and alarm that the next generation is not learning to do this any differently! During her time at the school in Postville, she felt that there was little to no conversation about this huge event that happened in their lives. “That is history, now let’s learn arithmetic…” Like many in town, it seems Heidi felt the school administration and teachers want to move on, but the kids are paying a high price for it. She saw much division and misunderstanding between the Hispanic kids and the farm kids.

Questions and comments reflected deep compassion, frustration and also puzzlement. “Who ever thought this was a good idea? Government should just get out of immigration all together… Even trying to tie it to the economy is something that government couldn’t do well,” said a frustrated Sean, self-identified as a Republican from California. Another person, who has two cousins who live in Postville, talked about the differences in the reactions and opinions of each of his cousins. One was a meat inspector for the USDA and is now retired. She said he mostly seems to be glad that things have calmed down in town and was fairly disparaging of the presence of the company. All that activity, she seemed to indicate, disturbed the peace of his retirement. The other cousin, on the other hand, works at John Deere in their production line and has co-workers who personally knew some of those affected and who themselves were impacted by the fear caused by that raid and enforcement in general. “Your reaction seems to depend on whether or not you know the people directly or not,” she concluded. Her experience names the complexity of a conversation that, like many others, is often avoided even in families because of its controversy.

So… Where are the signs of hope? In the students who – in the midst of finals – worked in the response. In the volunteers who continue to come 14 months later. In the staff at St. Bridget’s and the people at the churches in town who have given so much of themselves and have taken on a huge machine that came to destroy their town. In the thousands of donations that have added up to over a million dollars, all without any broadly-organized fundraising effort. In the success of the Project Jubilee. In La Historia de Nuestras Vidas and the voices of the stories being collected by Luz and Virginia and the other play some of the women in Postville have worked on. How does all this translate into the church’s involvement? How can we – as I said at the conclusion – avoid Martin Luther King Jr.’s assessment of the church as often being the taillights of society, rather than its headlights?

I was left with that question yesterday, and also at the end of my time in Yakima. It has often been the question at the end of forums at churches and other community conversations. Am I in the position of providing those answers? Is it sufficient for me to bring the awareness or am I also responsible for providing direction? Who am I to do that?

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