Immigration and the ChurchOne of the newest difficulties for East Tennessee socially and politically is how to deal with the influx of immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. It is a fact that a good number of these (if not the majority in this part of the country) have come here illegally. Many take jobs in the apple orchards and the commercial tomato gardens that are abundant in this part of Tennessee. Others work as day laborers on construction and carpentry projects, with foremen happy to have cheap labor that they can exploit.
As a Catholic living (albeit quite happily) in an area where Catholics make up less than two percent of the population-indeed in a town where there is no parish church-I have mixed feelings about these new arrivals. On the one hand, there is a certain instinct in my mind which says "this is good for you, it will increase the surplus Catholic population." On the other hand, I also believe that many of these folks aren't doing anything to embrace America. I have met a number of aliens who know little English and aren't making an effort to learn. Instead, I have been told that I need to learn Spanish. I do know some rudamentary Spanish, but I live here-this is my home. In this part of the world we speak English. It would go a long way toward convincing me that this wave of immigration is good if some of the new arrivals make an effort to learn the language, and learn something of the history and culture of their new home (think, for a moment, of the snotty Americans known to visit France, Italy, and Germany and demand that they be addressed in English by everyone-this is beyond rude). I have no problem with people from Hispanic lands bringing their customs and culture with them, but I do think they need to learn to respect the customs and culture of the land to which they come.
Some will say "but David, many are afraid that if they try to learn English, they will be discovered as illegal." We do have laws for a reason-those who don't break them should not have such a fear to begin with. In light of these realities, however, the Church is coming to the aid of some who came here illegally, trying to inculturate them and help them become legal-the response has not been altogether positive.
As some may know, I am an active Knight of Columbus. Currently I am a member of Morristown Council that is affiliated with St. Patrick Church, where Nicole and I are members. The Knights have a standing reservation on a large room in the Parish Center that has traditionally been used for Knights-related functions-largely because the KofC has done so much for the parish over the years. The Parish Center serves as a sort of hub for Catholics for miles around, as it is part of the only Catholic Church in Hamblen County, so lots of church-related groups use the facility. In addition to Knights of Columbus meetings and meetings of other church ministry groups, the room is also used to teach Spanish-speaking children religious education on certain nights of the week. Keys to the building were given to members of the Hispanic community deemed to be trustworthy, since other members of the community at-large also have keys.
Keys suddenly appeared in everyone's hands-at least those that are Spanish speaking-and these people have taken to the habit of barging into the parish center without permission in the form of an appointment to use the place. In several cases, church functions have been altered because some of these folks have thought it their prerogative to take control of the center for use without consulting parish officials. Last week, the Council of Catholic Women was ready to prepare a meal for several priests who came to hear confessions from many miles away. They couldn't do this because certain people hijacked the center for a Quincinera without asking if the rest of the church had any plans, and had done so before anyone arrived to stop them. This is but one example of the many "miscommunications" that occur constantly (and yes, there are bilingual members of the parish who have tried to communicate reality to these folks).
That's not to say that all Hispanic people cause such problems, or that Hispanic or Latino people are unwelcome. Indeed, the K of C Council to which I belong last week inducted a brand new Hispanic member, and we are consciously trying to reach out and find more. As it is, we have several active Hispanic members-but all of these are legal and they understand the local culture enough to respect how daily affairs are conducted-and they love America. I see no desire on the part of so many of the newcomers to our part of the country to become part of the American landscape-those that I have met that have that desire came here with that intention in mind.
I embrace people who come here from Mexico and Latin America (and all parts of the world) with a desire for freedom and opportunity and a desire to join us as a part of the American mosaic. What I do not like is our country and our hospitality merely being used as a prop to make money and send it home. I welcome those who thirst for freedom-I do not take too kindly to those who have no respect for our home and, in many cases, do not wish to make it their own.
Labels: Holy Mother Church