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May 7, 2006

immigrants like Nutella too

it's been a long week of work, on several different shows. it's nice to have today, Sunday, as a true day of rest. as a little kid, i had a hard time understanding why the "day of rest" was so stressful -- my family was always very deeply involved in church and church-doings, so our day started very early, and ended very late. sometimes there was a quiet afternoon in there, but not often. it was only after i got older that i realised "rest" sometimes just means "cessation of regular work." it takes more energy to give of yourself to bigger things -- like helping others, doing soul work, sharing home and family with those who have neither -- all regular Sunday activities in my growing-up years. i am thankful for this life lesson learned. more on that in a moment...

T.T. is still in Germany for another week, and the house is quiet without him. usually there is conversation, movement, laughter when we are home at the same time. even if he's hard at work on a project in the office (that's the second bedroom), he can't work in silence, so music will be playing. lately it's been all Johnny Cash, all the time. i gave him an iPod Shuffle for Valentine's Day (since he so generously let me commandeer the sweet video iPod we got as a wedding present) and last week he loaded the thing with all Cash (plus a random recording of "Stand By Your Man" -- why, i cannot say). after hearing "Five Feet High And Rising" for the squillionth time in a 24-hour period, i must admit that hearing only birds chattering in the lemon tree outside is a nice change. i've baked some homemade whole wheat bread and just had a piece, steaming hot, with real butter. now i'm having the only thing better than that: another warm piece, with real Nutella. ahhhh, Nutella, how i love thee... i've brewed a fresh pot of green tea, which i'm drinking out of my favorite Japanese mug which depicts a surprisingly realistic penguin family. i think i've always liked it because one of the small child penguins looks like it's imminently going to commit some mischief. of course, i long ago decided that one was me. go figure.
now normally, HadashiWorld is not a current events soapbox, but all this peacefulness and good eating has led to the following reflection:

one of my jobs this week was working on another installment in the "documotional" series i've been doing with my friend. part documentary, part promotional, we're shooting short programs showcasing L.A.-area charities. the charity then gets as many copies of the show as they want to use for volunteer recruitment, fund-raising, and awareness. so far we've done one on an after-school program for homeless children, one for a crisis pregnancy home, and several more. the projects are enormously satisfying to work on -- it's a tiny crew, so it's like working with family. plus we get to see the day-to-day business of what it takes to rebuild human lives, and be part of that in a small way. this week, we shot for a small, grass-roots organization that provides food and clothing -- the most basic of physical needs -- to needy families in a mostly Latino neighbourhood. in addition, a bilingual pastor donates his time to do house calls to provide the most basic of spiritual needs -- compassion and care.
now, you'll remember that this week also featured the nationwide "Day WIthout Immigrants" marches, and that the topic of immigration, illegal and legal, has been THE Hot-Button Topic O' The Times lately. so it should come as no surprise that the people we encountered at the center were a bit nervous about being on camera at first. most likely the "clients," as the center calls those who use its services, are either undocumented themselves, or are family to those who are. their lives are spartan and difficult, and they must live in a constant state of looking over their shoulder for things that will threaten their, and their children's futures in America. these risks they took knowingly, and these choices they made deliberately. whether they are wrong or not is not mine to decide.
i'm not going to climb on any political soapboxes now, mainly because i am still confused and rather torn over this issue of what to do with immigration law and reform in this country. America is not the only nation with immigrants or immigration problems, but it is the place where the debate is escalating faster than the price of gas. no one disputes that the system is broken, but any fixes are going to anger someone, somewhere. there is no blanket solution to this complex mess, because it is composed of human beings, each with a different story, each with different reasons for being here. undocumented immigrants do indeed cheat the system, but it is an arcane, expensive, beaureacratic, quota-filled, privacy-invasive one that changes the rules constantly, often leaving those who "play by the rules" at the back of the line. as i said, no one will argue that reform is needed. the big question is what that reform will look like -- will it be only greater punishment and more barbed wire of both the literal and the red tape sort? or will it also include ways to address the nation-shaking impact of immigrants, and their needs and rights?
i have been spending a lot of time thinking, reading, talking about this because i have a high personal stake in this debate. i’m the daughter of the classic immigrants, the family who literally gave up everything they had to escape a dangerous and oppressive government, that sailed to America, and never returned. the kids grew up, became naturalised citizens, all married English-speaking Americans of various ethnicities, and had adorable biracial children. one of those adorable biracial children (that's me, ha ha!) married another immigrant who originally left his country for an education. he then realised that said country was inhospitable to who he was and who he was becoming, and he stayed here, where he can be a crazy, iconoclastic freelance creative who gets to keep nuturing the little boy inside.
the main idea that keeps emerging from the most thoughtful bits i hear and read is this: at the end of the day, an immigrant is first and foremost a person. and while debate rages on, we must not forget their intrinsic human dignity and their worth in the eyes of God. that pastor who donates his time to do house calls made the comment that no matter what your political affiliation, no matter what you think about the situtation, the "issues" are still composed of real, live people. you can firmly believe, he says, that an undocumented person was wrong to come to America, and yet show compassion to her family. you can think immigrants should "pay their dues" (whatever that may mean) and still help them however you can.
those lessons i learned as a child on those long Sundays about how to treat others -- that God talks more about caring for the poor, loving your neighbour, and easing the suffering of the needy than anything else -- this is what seems to be the most important thing. it's not easy, and it is a challenge to separate very valid political and moral discussion from the immediate, tangible needs of people, because it can be an uncomfortable call to action.

i think that Johhny Cash, the "Man In Black" would agree.

Posted by hadashi at May 7, 2006 10:41 AM

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