Hello everyone! Since I last wrote to you in late August, I’ve been a busy little bee. I would like to explain to you a little more about what we did during YAV orientation, and then discuss (fairly briefly) what I’ve been up to since that week. (For any YAVs and YAVA reading this, yes, I know a month has passed since orientation, but I hope these thoughts will rekindle good memories for you.)
Halfway through orientation, other YAVs and I got to spend a day visiting a Sikh Gurudwara, or temple, in Glen Rock, New Jersey. Having originated in India, the monotheistic Sikh faith is marked by pacifism, a deep respect for God, and a profound commitment to community. In the few hours I spent as an outsider in that Gurudwara, I encountered more love and acceptance than I’ve found in some Christian churches. (If you see a man wearing a dastar, or turban, in all likelihood he’s a Sikh, not a Muslim. We were told that if you identify a Sikh as a Sikh and not a Muslim, you will make that person’s day—so talk to people wearing turbans!) On our last day in New York, we fanned out to various Presbyterian churches in the area for commissioning. I attended Palisades Presbyterian Church, a 151-year-old congregation just north of New Jersey, in a town that is home to several world-renowned celebrities. Although we didn’t glimpse Al Pacino at a café he patronizes regularly, we did eat lunch with our host pastor before strolling down to the banks of the Hudson.
The next day, August 25, we went our separate ways, fanning out to our various service sites. (The folks heading to Chinook, Montana—twenty-some miles from Canada—left the retreat center at 3:00 A.M. Those traveling to Zambia arrived last, in the evening of the next day, I think narrowly beating the Philippines-bound travelers for the title.) After a day of travel across the U.S., all seven of us San Antonio YAVs were met with tacos made fresh at a local Latino eatery. Tacos, and Tex-Mex food in general, have become major components of our diets. As part of this culinary fusion, I’ve made some very tasty peanut butter and jelly quesadillas!
We live on the Westside of San Antonio, the city’s original residential area that, in recent decades, has developed a predominantly Latino population. It also is a poorer neighborhood, often deprived of public development funds. On a typical day, we are treated to nearby roosters crowing from deserted lots, stray dogs running after us as we walk to the bus, and seeing boots hung over telephone wires—an indication that drug dealers are nearby. But it also is a rich neighborhood: a vibrant mixture of Latino and U.S. cultures, tortillas sold next to peanut butter and jelly, Spanish and English intermingled so they form one language. There is the very real sense that this is a place where Latin America and the U.S. are intertwined through the creation of Texas. I think this may well be (or at least be part of) the famed Texan spirit: Anglos, Latinos, and other ethnicities and cultures united for positive change and a better world.
Here in San Antonio, I experience that unity everyday in my employment. I work at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). Started as a response to the wave of Central American refugees who came to the U.S. in the 1980s to escape civil wars at home, today RAICES serves immigrants of all stripes, by both helping clients themselves and advocating for immigrants’ rights nationwide (including, most notably, through extensive contact with the U.S. Congress). As the preeminent nonprofit immigration law firm in Texas, RAICES has offices in Austin, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio. During the last several months, RAICES has been responsible for processing all of the approximately 1,600 child refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua who were housed in a temporary immigration detention facility at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio. As for me, I am wading into my work, but already I am working with refugees and learning immigration law. I have visited the San Antonio Immigration Court a few times and witnessed cases brought before it. I also am starting work as RAICES’ Policy Advocate, serving as a link between the law firm and members of Congress with regards to immigration issues and cases.
Here in San Antonio, we YAVs are supported by Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a century-old PC(USA) congregation. The church is bilingual: each Sunday, two services are offered—one in Spanish, the other in English and Spanish. We also serve under the direct supervision of Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR), a Mennonite Church USA- and PC(USA)-affiliated urban ministry organization. Both Divine Redeemer and DOOR allow us to grow closer to our community by forging personal bonds with the members and affiliates of those entities.
As always, I am grateful for your prayers and support (please click here for more information on how you can support me). May God be with you until we meet again!
Disclaimer: Please note that in addition to my earlier disclaimer (see below), this blog (as my own work), along with any and all links on this website, in no way whatsoever represents Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES); any other attorney, legal professional, or law practice; any legal or bar association; any local or state government or authority; any part of the U.S. Government, such as the San Antonio Immigration Court, Executive Office for Immigration Review, U.S. Department of Justice; or any employee, staff member, contractor, affiliate, or client of, or person or group otherwise related to, any of the entities listed above.