As Barelas starts to ready for Las Posadas de Barelas (on December 19 this year), I've been organizing my preparations for this event. It starts with a list of people to invite to mi casa for the annual pre-Posadas open house gathering, where we fill up on posole and enchiladas before heading out in the night. Then I move to the next list -- of things to purchase from brown paper sacks and boxes of votive candles to fresh tortillas and red chiles. Last on my list is the annual trip to the rio for a bucket of sand to anchor the farolitos, something that I suspect people have been doing in Barelas for decades, if not centuries.
The posadas ritual is perhaps particularly poignant this year, given the current worldwide refugee crisis (the worst since World War II) and the Christmas narrative of asking for shelter and being denied this request over and over. We all know how the Nativity narrative ends, of course, but the endings of the stories of these particular refugees are mostly as of yet unknown.
Political grandstanding being what it is, our local and state elected officials have weighed in on these matters. (As I get older, I find that I have less and less patience for short term rhetoric calculated in units of reelection and stepping stones to more prestigious positions on the national stage).
Last week Mayor Berry announced that he would, as mayor of Albuquerque, welcome Syrian refugees who relocate to our city. The striking thing for me about his announcement was the timing -- this was after the heinous mass shooting in San Bernardino, and yet another iteration of Muslim/ISIS/Arab/terrorist conflation in the news. (I think DCF readers are smart enough to recognize fallacies of generalization, so I won't belabor the point.) Let's just say that some politicians might have made a different calculation than Berry, leveraging fear mongering and xenophobia into potential votes to be cashed in at a later date.
As we all know, there is a long history of immigrants settling in the Rio Grande Valley, and a more recent history of refugees seeking shelter in the Duke City. In his comments, Mayor Berry referenced just some of the places that refugees in Albuquerque hail from: Rwanda, Cuba, Vietnam.
Well over a decade ago, I once worked with a small group of deaf Cuban refugees. My assignment (since I was the person in the office who had studied political philosophy in graduate school) was to "explain capitalism" to them -- no easy task given my ignorance of Cuban Sign Language, their ignorance of American Sign Language and English, and my broken Spanish, plus the varying degrees of Spanish competency and literacy among this population.
Describing the political and economic system of capitalism through gesture and pantomime sets a high bar for teaching -- it ranks among one of the most difficult tasks I've ever taken on as an educator. Think of it as a lengthier version of the AAAS/Science Magazine "Dance Your Ph.D." competition but with limited rehearsals and an extended Q&A.
A decade later, we have mixed reports of how this refugee community is now faring. Several people have assimilated quite well into our community: getting jobs, paying taxes, buying homes, and sending their children to public schools. Others have struggled. As much as we'd all love to think that arriving here (be it Albuquerque or Anchorage) provides opportunity for a better life to refugees, the reality can be much grimmer. Plugging into an institutionalized network of support helps tremendously, but so does having points of contact outside the bureaucracy.
In addition to reading about Mayor Berry's support for Syrian refugees this weekend, I also read several stories about a former Albuquerque resident, now a denizen of Toronto, Jennifer Nagel, who is making a difference. [Disclosure: she is a friend and professional colleague.]
Canada is unique in the world in offering a mechanism that allows private groups of a minimum of five Canadian citizens or residents to sponsor a refugee family. Provided that the group can raise the amount of money needed to support the family for a year in conjunction with what they receive from elsewhere, and that the settlement plan they submit to the Canadian government is deemed appropriate, any group can take this on.
Albuquerque isn't Canada (a fact for which this sun-loving Bareleña is most grateful), and there is no formal mechanism by which Burqueños or any U.S. citizens can privately sponsor refugees here in this country. I wish there were, as it seems to me a solution that is not so far removed from other ideas Mayor Berry has floated to the populace that cut through the bureaucracy to focus on the individuals, such as his plans to address homelessness by looking for effective solutions that maximize return on investment and minimize extraneous costs.
In light of this, a wild thought floated through my consciousness last night: wouldn't it be cool if we could gather small groups of Burqueños to do something similar -- committing to working together for a year to welcome and support to the refugees making their way to Albuquerque?
Now, I'm no social worker or human development expert, and I know enough to know that my knowledge of best practices for successful transitions for refugees is limited, but the idea of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens banding together to offer additional support to refugees by cultivating relationships just seems like something worth considering.
Mayor Berry's welcoming response to the situation of Syrian refugees is a refreshing change from La Gobernadora's targeted xenophobic posturing against these Syrian refugees -- posturing made all the worse by the fact that governors cannot dictate to people who are here legally which states they can live in. (This is something La Gobernadora, a lawyer who professes to respect the "rule of law" certainly knows, but ignores -- opting for the expedience of exploiting and perpetuating ignorance in order to promote political aims.)
Kudos to Mayor Berry for taking a stand on this issue that not only acknowledges the ethos of the current Christian holiday season, but the history of our nation of immigrants: reflecting rather than repudiating these hallowed sentiments at the foot of the Mother of Exiles.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"