My family immigrated to the United States in 1973, before war and genocide destroyed Cambodia.
As I reflect on my immigrant experience, I’m grateful that time and again, I was blessed to be in relationships with people who treated me as neighbor rather than as other.
To be clear, there have been times when I’ve been “otherized.” Once in college, I was filling up my gas tank and a car drove by in which a guy yelled out the window, “Stupid Chink, go back to where you came from. We don’t want you here.”
The guys in that car saw me as other; that is, as different from them. Since I am different, they could treat me differently.
Often to treat someone as other is to treat them without dignity. “Othering” can mean offering different resources to different people. It can be used to determine who is worthy and who is not. Tragically, it can result in the loss of life when someone determines that people are so different they deserve death such as what happened to Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
There’s a revealing story in Christian scripture found in Luke 24:13-35. Two disciples were sad and scared because they watched their teacher get murdered. As they were walking, their teacher joins them, but they do not recognize him. Then something beautiful happens, they invite this stranger who had joined them on the road to share a meal with them and it is at this point their eyes are truly opened.
Notice their actions include rather than ostracize. There were no preconditions for inclusion. They didn’t ask about his ability to pay his part of the meal or if he would use the meal to lead a productive life moving forward. The invitation was to join them, not prove anything to them.
This current administration chooses to “otherize” more of our immigrant brothers and sisters. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can deny a green card or even initiate deportation for anyone “who is likely at any time to use or receive one or more public benefits.”
This “otherizes” green card applicants and their dependents, including American children. It does not just include a laundry list of new possible benefits received (from Medicaid, SNAP, housing benefits and considers income, education, and language proficiency) but even benefits applied for. This change in public charge could affect 20 million people.
If these criteria were in place when my family came to the United States and we needed Medicaid benefits or housing assistance, then it’s likely that we would have been denied a green card that would have affected our application for citizenship. My life would have been drastically altered; my experiences completely nullified.
This is a decisive time in our country where we are being confronted with the choice to discard immigrants as other or to follow the Christian sacred text to engage them as neighbor. You and I have a choice. Will you stand with me and be a neighbor to those who need us most?
We need to recognize that a person seeking help as an immigrant in our country could be facing one of the most challenging periods of their lives. Please support the work of informed service providers who advocate for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. For those experiencing displacement, social isolation, mental illness, food insecurity, domestic abuse, and addiction, people working with these poor people provide health, justice, and hope.
Write to government officials asking that all government workers treat all people with dignity. Share this with others and invite them to be a Christian neighbor with you.
Posted on Fri, July 26, 2019
by The Lafourche Gazette