Do Not Be Afraid by Jon Gilbert Martinez


Do Not Be Afraid by Jon Gilbert Martinez

Do not be afraid! The expression is becoming mainstream in the Latinx community. Generation after generation we have been attacked, most recently for being queer and Latinx in Orlando at Pulse Night Club. Now we are being gunned down in our neighborhood Wal-Mart. We are even gunned down in community festivals where we partake as residents and citizens of “X” city. We are hurting, we are weary. Not a day goes by that I either see a news story, read an article, or see pictures on my feed of the horrible mistreatment of our immigrant siblings. Lately, we have also seen picture after picture of innocent children in cages, crying, missing their parents, and feeling lonely and insecure. I have the urge to cry constantly, roll up into the fetal position. I am angry, I am confused, I am sad, I am depressed.


When I am feeling sad or depressed, I love to listen to music, mainly to help me mentally and spiritually. For a long time, one of my favorite songs has been Celia Cruz’s La Vida es un Carnaval or Life is a Carnival. At first, I was puzzled by the title until sometime before my mother passed, I was able to piece the lyrics and title together. My mother advised me before her passing to enjoy life and live. Her advice came to life in Celia’s song, which encourages a person to have fun, live life, and not forget that God is always watching over us. 


Recently, I have come to appreciate another song, Immigrants (We Get The Job Done), which is part of the Hamilton MixTape and sung by artists of color. One aspect of that appreciation is that the song is sung bilingual, or as this Tejano would describe as Tex-Mex. While I am not an immigrant and by genetics am far removed from being an immigrant, my dad (adoptive father) is an immigrant. M dad came to the United States of America as a child with proper documentation. My father graduated high school early and signed up for the U.S. Army before graduating. 


After serving overseas, my father remained a resident of the country he fought for, rather than being awarded citizenship for his efforts. My dad’s story in this respect is not unique. In fact, there are countless immigrants and their children who grow up and have great pride in their country and want to defend it. It was my father who thought me to honor our flag. Till this day, I respect what the stars and stripes mean to me on that red, white, and blue flag. The problem with soldiers and veterans is that they are discharged without citizenship. A problem begins when many immigrants assimilate, they begin to take part in the embedded European imperialism instilled into the rest of us born in this country. 


The embedded imperialism is what allows many people of color, including folks in the Latinx/Hispanic community to support a politician like Donald Trump. A person who spews not only false information about my culture but also practices apparent white supremacy ideologies. One young couple who supported our president and his white supremacy ideologies paid for it with their life. They, like many others, gunned down recently, didn’t deserve to be gunned down for having brown skin.


As if death threats and killings weren't enough, we also have to deal with other forms of bigotry. For example, the young Latinx family enjoying a Texas Rangers game discovered that a blatant bigot sitting behind them, threw the bird at them as they took a selfie. He, along with the Wal-Mart shooter and countless others, have told people of brown skin color to, “go back to Mexico, go back to your country.” 


The emotional toll this has taken on people, including someone like myself born and raised in Tejas is hurtful and frankly dangerous. It’s not important how far a person of brown or black skin color can trace their roots to this country, we are all cherished children of God. We are being spiritually crushed, including immigrants in ICE's custody who lose their rosaries, Bibles, and any other religious effects in their possession. Furthermore, some of the brown folks being told to go back to Mexico are not even of Mexican descent. Chicanxs or Mexican-Americans, like me, can trace not only our roots to the 1800s and beyond to Texas but to the spirituality that has kept us going. In other words, my ancestors lived on the land that is now seen as not wanting immigrants or brown people.


It is here where I return to some of the lyrics of the song previously mentioned.
“Porque la mitad de gringolandia es terreno mexicano…Nosotros les sembramos el árbol y ellos se comen la frutas. Somos los que cruzaron. Aquí vinimos a buscar el oro que nos robaron. Tenemos mas trucos que la policía secreta. Metimos la casa completa en una maleta. Con un pico, una pala y un rastrillo. Te construimos un castillo.”
The lyrics above speak about how the land that is part of our country today was once part of Mexico. Take a look at the maps, and you will see that about half of the United States of America was once part of the Estados Unidos Méxicanos. 


What we must see is that even folks like me, who once felt a certain level of safety in our homeland, now fear for their lives. I will share that I have contemplated, prayed, and reflected on how I can keep my family safe in these hateful, turmoil times. Unfortunately, I have come up with no solution. As a Christian, I find the lack of sight from other Christians fighting the “illegals” as failing to see the Christ, the Divinity in each human life. Christ does not see any person as being illegal, illegal is the act of breaking the law! 


Reading this, you may be wondering, but what can I do to help my siblings? Whether you are a pastor, lay leader, or a typical church member, there are lots you can do. For instance, in the United Church of Christ, a congregation can become an immigrant welcoming congregation or a sanctuary church. Additionally, you can stop giving money to companies that help support politicians who encourage the caging of children and separation of their families. When you eat out, eat local, eat at a restaurant owned by a person of color.
Additionally, you can help educate people in your church, work, family, or friend circle on the realities of immigration. A person can also put money into the cause by electing an official who will help do a better job for our immigrant siblings and all people of color. Donating to a nonprofit that helps immigrants with legal costs and defense is also appreciated. 


But the most crucial part is to check-in with an immigrant or a Latinx person to see what you can do for them. Be a reflection of what Christ would do in this situation, stop folks from talking about how these “illegals” need to get in line. The reality of the citizenship process is it now takes thousands of dollars and years. Unlike when my father became a citizen in the 80s. 


Your mission should you choose to accept is to take a look at how much access if any the Latinx population in your area have to mental health facilities. Out of the mental health clinics in your area, how many are equipped to care for the Latinx community by having Latinx therapists or Spanish speaking therapist trained in Latinx mental health? If you are a faith leader, what are you doing to help with a Latinx person’s spirituality?


Resources:

RAICES. Your gift supports our mission to help separated families, detained families, unaccompanied minors, and others who are seeking asylum in the United States.


The UCC National Collaborative on Immigrations is working at the grassroots level to create more Immigrant Welcoming and Sanctuary Congregations that can lend a prophetic and bold faith voice to the larger movement for immigrants and refugee rights.


As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land, and to love them as we love ourselves. In these times, let us listen to the voice of the still-speaking God.


From legal work to advocacy to grassroots mobilization, these 7 organizations highlighted below are fighting to ensure that immigrant rights are human rights.

Jon Gilbert Martinez is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. A multi-generational Tejano and Chicano. Gilbert Is a member in discernment on track for ordination with the Chicago Metropolitan Association - Illiniois Conference of  the United Church of Christ. He serves as the Community Pastroal Care Minister at San Lucas UCC. Additionally, he has completed the Mental Health First Aid course and is a new board member.