Restaurando Esperanza – Part One

By Miluska E. Aquije

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Milly, my dear friend was featured in the book, “Keeping the Faith,” a collection of reflections from several authors on Politics and Christianity during the 2016 – 2020 presidency edited by Jonathan P. Walton, Suzie Lahoud, and Sy Hoekstra.

With the announcement from Texas on DACA this week I found it comforting to reread her passage on “Restaurando Esperanza.” We stand together in good and bad. Still we keep rising.

– Oscar

Restaurando Esperanza

It was November 9, 2016 and I stood on the subway platform, waiting for the 6 train. New York City scurried around me, always hustling and bustling. The train roared in and screeched to a stop. Like the train, my soul roared and screeched with the pain of hopelessness. I wondered, am I living a nightmare or a repeat of antebellum times? I am a first generation Latina immigrant and the first to graduate from college in my family. My Peruvian mother made the brave choice to cross the border, bringing me when I was only four. Being undocumented, I already dealt with discrimination, but now I was hearing Trump claim that Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs, bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Though I am not Mexican, I have many dear friends who are and they are by far the most hardworking people I know. How can he say that about my hermanos/as? Our community hasn’t brought what he said in his speech. Actually, America has contributed to the rise of gangs in Latin America, like MS-13 that originated on American soil. I thought the American people would actually correct Trump’s racism but I was shocked when they did not.

As I watched my Facebook feed throughout 2016, many people who I called friends all of a sudden started posting material from the Trump campaign, agreeing with him. I froze as I saw long-time friends and others who worshiped with me on many occasions expressing anti-immigrant beliefs. At the time, I was taking a seminary class entitled “Slavery and the Church in the Antebellum Era.” It opened my eyes to how American Christianity manipulated scripture to support slavery instead of stoking compassionate concern for human freedom and salvation. I read many works of preachers in the 1800s who used Scripture and the science of their day to explain how slavery was of God, and how enslaved Africans were subhuman. The same undertone I read in these writings of the 1800s was now in my Facebook timeline as friends posted in favor of Trump. Fear washed over me. Was history repeating itself for our immigrant communities? Or had white Americans always thought people of color threatened them? Had racism always existed in their “Making America White Again” hearts and I just never saw it? So many questions left me overwhelmed.

When Trump was elected, I saw so many on the TV screen jumping up and down in excitement while I was in disbelief. Even the Ku Klux Klan came out of hiding, emboldened by Trump. The celebration of his racist, sexist and xenophobic campaign was unbelievable. What would this mean for us, the immigrant community? Would our undocumented family and friends be safe? Would I be safe as a Dreamer/Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) recipient? As I recall my post-2016 election memories, it was a miracle that I continued pressing forward trusting in God beyond the xenophobia that was so prevalent. Personally, the Trump administration made me distrustful of the white American community. I felt unsafe calling this country that raised me, home.

People misunderstand the immigration system. Not everyone has the same path to citizenship. I’ve heard judgmental comments about “illegal entry” implying all of us from our respective countries had equal access or opportunity to be accepted by the strenuous visa process. Or, the age old “just get married” in order to become a citizen. Being undocumented, I feel targeted by both narratives. The first implies my parents had all the means necessary in our home country Peru to file for a visa. They did not. The second implies the complete stripping away of my human choice of my life partner. Shouldn’t we who are suffering in the margins have the same opportunity to pursue happiness in marriage and choose someone to say “I do” to without the limiting factor of him/her being a U.S. citizen?

These narratives kept me skeptical and guarded. Unfortunately I didn’t properly process my feelings and my anger grew into hate. I couldn’t for the life of me see a white American the same. I wished I could ask those who said, “You don’t belong here,” then where do I belong? I’ve been in the United States for the past 29 years. Its culture and customs are my own. I don’t remember anything from Peru except what I’ve been taught about our language, traditions and music. Still, I am questioned. Are you purely American? What’s your ancestry? The pride of white Americans due to their privilege can feel insurmountable.
What really crushed my heart was seeing my Christian white American brothers and sisters saying “yes” to sending us, the undocumented community back to “where we came from.” People practiced patriotism and xenophobia and uttered lifeless words as they sang worship songs such as “Jesus at the Center.” How could I ever trust my Christian white American community again?

And a woman was there

Theologically, this time wasn’t such a whirlwind for me, thanks to my amazing Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS) graduate experience, which helped me see God loved all parts of me, and grieved with me. The study of God, ourselves, and our viewpoint of our world is part of our theology. My professors helped me understand God to be present with all His children’s stories regardless of gender, marital status, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, and documentation. God loves us all. They encouraged me to always go back to the text to accurately interpret Scripture and to learn the history of misinterpretation.

I held onto the story of Jesus becoming a refugee child as God revealed to Joseph in a vision to flee to Egypt to escape the killing of children. Jesus, the promised Messiah, had to flee for safety in disobedience to the law of the land. I embraced the story of Ruth who as a foreigner clung unto the God of Naomi and trusted him without understanding what would come next after she lost her husband. Her story of being found in the field by the kinsman redeemer Boaz helped me understand God’s heart for me and all who are undocumented.

In 2019, I read the book Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence. Co-author Noemi Vega Quiñones wrote an essay called “Mija Leadership” about the atrevida, the courageous woman with the issue of blood. I was captivated, tearful, and forced to see this woman in a completely different way. The bleeding woman understands my hurt and pain of being undocumented. She faced this terrible condition of bleeding for twelve years. Though it was a physical condition, as a Jewish woman, it meant much more for her. She would be avoided and had to avoid others because people with unclean conditions in Jewish law were perceived to contaminate the spaces they occupied. As Ms. Quiñones’ put so eloquently:

Thus, they were most likely void of community, relationship, and touch until they were healed. Even then, they had to provide sacrificial offerings to the priest in order to be declared clean. Days of uncleanliness and separation from community might have been difficult to bear, but can you imagine years of such void?

I cry just thinking of what it means for a woman in our society today to be without support, especially those who share my undocumented status. We are taught to cook, clean and work, yet keep our secrets to ourselves. It took me years to trust anyone outside of my immediate family with my status.

I, too, am the bleeding woman, stuck in a system which doesn’t see my humanity. Trump’s administration doesn’t see the tears I shed as I watch both my parents suffer from their status. They were not able to say goodbye to their mothers, my grandmothers, who only live through their stories in my heart. I never had the opportunity to meet my grandmothers before their passing due to the ten-year ban I would receive as punishment for my “illegal entry” as a child. Most of us who are undocumented enter without a visa. This is considered “illegal entry” under immigration law. The punishment for “illegal entry” is a ban on reentry into the United States for 10 years unless one receives a pardon. Undocumented people, including those like me who came as children, are subject to deportation and have no means to adjust that status because there hasn’t been immigration reform since 1986. Trump’s administration doesn’t see my struggle with anxiety which resurfaced strongly with their attempts to dissolve DACA, a program which is erroneously thought to grant amnesty but only protects us from deportation, never giving us a status except permission to work. Trump’s administration doesn’t see the societal pressures I have to overcome to find my voice in the midst of the fear, hate, and distrust they use to dehumanize us and justify their discriminatory policies.

Continue reading Part Two

About the Author
Miluska E. Aquije
(Milly) is many things. As an educator, a spiritual advisor, a mentor, and a Dreamer - among so much else - Milly supports her community with a unique passion and vibrancy. Her current professional experience includes serving as the Discipleship Pastor with Reconcile Brooklyn, and as the founder of Hoping Greatly, where she uplifts others through her story of resilience as an undocumented immigrant. She holds degrees from Nyack College and Hunter College, as well as a certificate from the City Seminary of New York.