This month we publish a series of reflections and stories about partnership with those whose communities are most deeply impacted by immigration injustice. Today’s post by Jesse Jaeger reflects on his experiences and the work of UU Mass Action in building partnerships. – Ed.
As Unitarian Universalist faith-based activists we need to come to our work with open hearts, open minds and, most importantly, open ears. This is particularly true when we are working with communities that have been marginalized by the wider society. Because privilege based on race, gender, education, economic class or immigration status whitewashes our perspective so we think that the experience of the privileged is the experience of everyone, the corner stone of progressive faith based activism needs to be the spiritual discipline of listening. By working to acknowledge our own assumptions and deeply listening to the truths of the communities with which we work, we are able to open our hearts and minds to the reality of their lives. When we enter this authentic space we are then able to be in true partnership with our community partners.
As part of UU Mass Action’s work to mobilize Unitarian Universalists around immigration, I take part in a monthly strategy meetings organized by our partner organization, Centro Presente. Participants at these meets include a mix of people from immigrant organizations and people from Anglo organizations allied with them. Most of the people in the room are native Spanish speakers. Some of the Spanish speakers are equally fluent in English and others speak very little English. I am one of the few monolingual people to attend the strategy meetings.
My greatest spiritual challenge as I attend these meetings is overcoming my discomfort in being the one for whom Spanish to English translation must be provided. I don’t understand every word that is spoken and sometimes feel that my points are muddled through the process of translation. I don’t always feel fully heard, and that is hard.
While it is hard to feel constrained by having everything I hear and say to filtered through a translator, there are gifts this experience offers. My experience gives me a peek into the everyday life of those who do not speak English well and the challenges they must face to accomplish even the smallest tasks. I also receive the gift of their truths spoken in unfettered ways, and it guides and directs my work. Those who are most affected by our unfair and unjust immigration laws must have a central role in over coming those laws, and speaking in their native language allows people to fully tell their truths about their experience and take leadership in the liberation we all seek.
So what have I learned in attending these coalition meetings organized by Centro Presente? What directions has UU Mass Action been given? The immigrant community has told us that they need us to organize the Anglo faith community to join the fight to support them. UU Mass Action is starting by getting our own congregations organized. Through the month of March we are holding a series of workshops across the state called Immigrant Rights: From Massachusetts to Arizona to educate Unitarian Universalist on the issues and to get them thinking about what they can do to partner with immigrants in their community. If you live in Massachusetts please join us!
Jesse Jaeger is executive director of UU Mass Action.