I watched my great-grandparents land in America from Cuba.
Not in person, of course. I never met my great-grandfather. But it was a digitized copy of the video of their plane landing in the 60’s. My father wandered through the frame, a small boy at the time. My grandfather (who also died before I was born) and my great aunt and others greet them there on that Florida runway.
My dad showed me the different houses around his neighborhood where families gathered on the weekends, celebrating the end of another long work week. Immigrants (the legal version, in case you’re wondering) who transported a bit of their old neighborhoods into Tampa. Cuban food. Cuban dancing. Cuban traditions. In America.
My father’s family, before they came to this country, was poor. They grew what they could to survive. When they got here to this country, my grandfather worked like a dog to have more for his family. My father worked like a man while he was still a boy, unless he was busy playing baseball like a man. He worked and worked and worked like every man in his family before him.
And… America happened. My father stood on his father’s shoulders and boosted me and my siblings to a different kind of life. Everything is different now for my line of Rodriguez’s.
It’s truly the fairytale American dream. Courage and tremendous hard work and a little luck= success.
I really do think there are very few places on Earth, in relatively few times in history, when this could have happened. But it happened for my family in this place. I’m grateful for this country. I’m grateful this place, this strange, delightful providence that placed my family here. We are profoundly privileged. I am, of course, very grateful for the buckets of sweat that the men of my family expended for me, someone that almost none of them would meet. This special place was a part of the formula that none of them could have sweated into existence. Their sweat dropped like seeds here. And the seeds grew.
I’m very grateful.
And I’m sad.
I’m sad because within the documents and ideas that forged this special place has been woven strands of qualification of that hallowed statement: “All men are created equal.” The laws of this country, the courts that interpreted the laws, the social institutions… they consistently said, “All men (who we decide are actually men) are created equal (or as equal as we’d like to allow).” July 4, 1776 is a day I’m grateful for. And it’s also a sobering day. How blind we can be about ourselves. How easy it is to delude ourselves.
“All men are created equal… except those men. And those. And those.”
I’m sobered, today.
And I’m worried today.
It seems an increasing number of people in this country are ready to adopt, again, an increased mistrust of people with a last name like mine, if their skin is a couple shades darker than mine. There seems to be a fear that those border-hoppers are just criminals which are all pretty much MS-13 members which are invading which are changing which are stealing which are raping which are overrunning….
There seems to be a fear these days.
“We’re a nation of laws and that’s what this is about,” we’re reassured. But what about the fact that the laws themselves have a sordid, embarrassing history? Are we not even a little bit worried about our dark love affair with the Law?
I’m worried because, instead of cleaning up immigration laws and collaborating on reasonable border security measures and rethinking how we control the normal flow of people in and out of our country (which every nation must manage), politicians have, for decades, passed immigrants back and forth like a stick to beat each other with, currying favor and scoring points with their voters. They’re more intent on crushing each other than writing just laws, ensuring just enforcement.
And I’m worried for all the families that might be like mine. The stories that are being squashed. The specter of losing sight of that refrain again. “All men are created equal.”
We have a hard time with those words. We have a hard time knowing what they mean. And it feels like more people today are disinclined to see the possibility of families like mine. Instead, they just see invaders. Criminals. We’re on pace to let in a historically low number of refugees this year. Refugees are not illegal immigrants. And yet it seems like we’re afraid of them too.
I actually believe this country is really great at a lot of things. I think there’s a good reason that so many people want to come here. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have goals for controlling immigration flow. And I think that enforceable, just laws are a good thing. I believe we can believe all of those things and still see something different than what we’re seeing right now.
We don’t have to be afraid. We can do justice and love kindness.
I hope my country is around for a long time. I hope we take a turn here soon and we see numbers shoot up for refugee acceptance and we figure out the immigration system thing. I hope we keep moving towards that “All.”
But for all the people who are scared in our country, whether because they’re afraid of the invading army of foreigners or afraid of how the Law will work, there is a kingdom out there, in here, that won’t be shaken. There is a kingdom that promises to crush all that is sinister and fearsome in the world. All of those allied with the powers and authorities that oppose the kingdom of God, they’re on notice. Only for so long will God allow such evil in the world. Why one second longer? I don’t know. I know that empires have always fallen and someday every other empire will collapse in the dust. I don’t know why that day isn’t today.
There is a citizenship that transcends this one. There is a place where you can grow and flourish by virtue of, not your sweat and effort, but the blood and death of the Head of State. He extends citizenship to all who trust his all-conquering life and death and resurrection. He takes account of every twist and turn of injustice and evil and he will not let it pass by unpunished, uncorrected. He establishes an identity and a place for you that cannot be compromised by any law, any invasion.
We have so much freedom in this country and I am so, so grateful. But this isn’t the land of the free.
That other country is the land of the free.
We fall so short of those ideals, that all people are created equal.
But in that other country there is no difference between man or woman, slave or free, native or immigrant.
It is right and good to give thanks for all that is here in America. Just don’t be confused today. The thing you crave will not be satisfied by this president or the next one or the court or the politicians or the Law.
We want good things. We crave them.
But you’ll only find them in the Land of the Freed.