Yesterday I left the city of Tampa, FL. to start the beginning of my great adventure. I arrived in Chicago, IL. four days earlier than my YAGM Orientation, so I could spend time with some of my family that lives in the area. As is typical when visiting people, the first question that gets asked is, “What do you want to do/see while you’re here?” And I, being the unprepared tourist that I am, have no idea. But it’s not hard to come up with ideas about Chicago because people know all about it, even if they’ve never been there. There’s the Navy Pier, the Willis (Sears) Tower, The Bean, and Wrigley Field; various other aquariums, zoos, and museums are all peppered around The Windy City and pretty much anyone can name one or more of those things when you tell them you’re going to Chicago.
But what about Mexico? Because ultimately, that’s where I go from here. The Chicago trip is fun and meaningful to me because I get to spend time with people I love and experience things I don’t get to experience on a regular basis, but it’s not the end all be all of my purpose. In less than two weeks I will be leaving the US to go live in Mexico for a year of accompaniment with our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ.
But when I talk about Mexico, I don’t hear about all of the fun, amazing things I could do or experience there, minus the occasional mention of a beach resort someone went to during their cruise through Central America. The number one concern I hear is, “Is it/will you be safe?” and I want to address that the concern for my safety is being fully covered. The ELCA/YAGM Program have tons of safety protocols in place to assure our safety first and foremost, plus we will address all of those concerns during our orientation. So if you’re worried about me in Mexico, please find peace in knowing that plenty of people will be taking care of me and I will always be my appropriately cautious and thoughtful self. Of course pray for me and my well-being but I want you all to know that I feel confident that I will have a safe and amazing year.
But why is everyone so concerned about my safety? It is it just because I am going to be in a new country on my own for the most part? No one seemed that concerned when I was going to the United Kingdom. Is it the high crime rate? Chicago has some pretty significant crime rates, but no one really mentioned that much when I came here either. These questions are rhetorical really. Some people have said it outright, I need to be careful of the abundance of gangs, drugs, violence, the origin of our “illegal aliens”. Others don’t say it, but it’s easy to tell by the shifting of weight, trailed off sentences, and references to stories they heard one time that they share the same ideas about what it means to go to Mexico in a non-beach resort fashion. It means going to that place with those people.
This isn’t about shifting the blame. It’s about shifting the narrative. I appreciate deeply how loved I am that everyone wants nothing more for me to be safe. And how much can I blame them for stereotypes exacerbated by the media and by politicians who use Mexicans as their platform to be elected? But it is too high of a cost to perpetuate these stereotypes about Mexico and its people. For every story of violence, why aren’t we also talking about the beautiful firefly forest that’s not too far from where I’ll be living? Why aren’t we talking about the simple things like families? Parents who are working hard to make a living, to send their kids to school, who join hands to pray for their meal?
If you’re reading this blog and you’re starting to get a little frustrated by what I’m saying, if you feel like I’m mischaracterizing you because you have a strong opinion on immigration, then I ask that you be patient and continue to listen with an open heart. There’s a story unfolding here and to be quite honest, I don’t even fully know what that story is yet. But what I know so far is that there’s a lot more to Mexico than what it’s known for in our society and we have the choice to choose how we either change or further that narrative in each and every conversation.
Choose which narrative you want to share. This is mine. This is what I feel God has called for me to share with you all and why I’m being called to service and accompaniment in Mexico. Being understanding of those in a different place, a different culture, listening their stories, and sharing in the Eucharist with them… those are the things I want to be known for, what about you?