The UUA Mid-South District’s Annual Healthy Congregations Conference focused on Immigration as a Moral Issue.

This  multigenerational conference, presented on October 8, 2011 had a number of tracks, including political, congregational, and social media responses.  The multigenerational faith development track included reflection, an immersion experience field trip and an introduction to a long-term social justice project. For a project, the District has planned a mobile library of bilingual children’s books to be located near an indoor playground. Pat Kahn reports on the multigenerational track written for the Mid-South Faith Development Council. 

Plaza Fiesta!

As part of the Mid-South District Healthy Congregations Conference hosted by Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta on Saturday October 8th, 14 people (5 children ages 6-9, 1 infant, and 8 adults) participated in a multigenerational workshop and field trip.  In the morning session, all ages heard the keynote address by Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO, followed by a workshop during which UUCA member Laura Murvartian (helped by her children Claudia and Nicolas Murvartian-Rhim) shared her own immigration story.

We listened to a recording of Laura on NPR’s StoryCorps and looked at pictures from Mundo Hispanico, a local newspaper, which featured Laura in September for Hispanic Heritage month.  Laura’s father was an undocumented worker, who was in the US for a year before Laura and her mother and sisters joined him.  They came into the country on a tourist visa (to Disneyland) and never returned to Mexico City.  They moved to a small town in Minnesota, and although they were “different” from everyone else, they felt very welcomed by the community.  In those days, there were no ESL classes, so Laura and her sisters were sent to a speech pathologist (Laura explained this is probably why she does not have much of an accent).  Her family lived in a trailer park and Laura worked along side her mother and her father in a chicken-processing plant and in the bean fields weeding.  When Laura wrote an essay for college about her experiences growing up, a professor wrote “not believable Laura; children do not work in the US”.  Laura was the first in her extended family (she has 33 first cousins) to graduate from college.

Laura then shared pictures of what to look for on our “treasure hunt” – things from popular culture, traditions, religious items, food and candy and off we went!  We had lunch first (the children enjoyed the playground while the adults ordered lunch), then divided into multigenerational teams for the treasure hunt. We came back to Food Court and enjoyed dessert (churros) as we talked about what we saw. The children enjoyed the playground for a while longer while Laura showed us the space for the library and talked about the [mobile library] project.   After returning to UUCA, we talked about our experiences together, citing favorite things (treasure hunt) and new foods tried (horchata, a rice drink).

As we thought back to the key note address by Jerry Gonzalez that we had all heard in the morning, the children most remembered the story of judge’s son at a family gathering who was playing basketball with his cousins and speaking Spanish, when 2 kids (12 and 13 years old) came up and slapped him and said “this is America – speak English”. Or the teacher who referred to a Latino child as a “beaner” and said she didn’t know that the term was offensive. Or the children who are afraid to go to school in case their parents are gone when they get home.  These things are not fair!

So what are some of the things we can do? Go to marches, carry signs, say “this is not right” when something is unfair, be nice to others, help new children by showing them around and helping them make friends, and most of all, SMILE.

Children were asked, “is it better to follow rules (laws) or to be fair?” Their first response was “follow the rules”. But what if the rule is a bad rule? “Being fair is better than following a bad rule. We should fix the bad rule!”

We learned to say many words in Spanish, but the two most important are “hola” and “gracias”. When you know how to say hello and thank you, you can make friends anywhere!

For more information about the Immigration as a Moral Issue Healthy Congregations Conference, or about the work of the Mid-South District on this issue, contact Rev. Fred L. Hammond, Acting District Program Consultant.  Read about some of his work on the Interfaith Immigration Coalition blog and on the Standing on the Side of Love blog.

How is your congregation, cluster, or district exploring immigration issues in your area?  What learning experiences and justice-making projects are your children and youth involved in?  Share your stories by contacting the editor.


Pat Kahn, former chair of the Lifespan Faith Development Council in Mid-South District, is Children and Families Program Director at the UUA. 

About the Author
Gail Forsyth-Vail
Gail Forsyth-Vail is the Director of Adult Programs in the UUA Resource Development Office. She is a Credentialed Religious Educator, Master’s Level, who served congregations for 22 years before coming to the UUA in 2008. The 2007 recipient of the Angus MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education, she is the author of Stories in Faith and Adapting Small Group Ministry for Children's Religious Education and co-author of Harvest the Power and Bridging: A Handbook for Congregations. She is a parent of three young adult Unitarian Universalists.

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