Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Pasarela


Many times there is just no choice.  You just have to suck it up, be brave, make eye-contact, and cross to the middle. From there you just have to suck it in, steady your nerves, and wait for a break.  I'll confess, I am not too proud to play the "helpless gringa" card if I am caught in a particularly snarly street-crossing situation.  With a smile and a wave I can usually still stop traffic.

Sometimes, there is a better choice:  use the pasarela.

"What is a pasarela?" you ask.  Well, if you google translate this term you might call it a "runway" or "catwalk."  "Catwalk" is a pretty good description.  In El Salvador, a pasarela is the walkway which pedestrians use to get across busy streets.  Typically, pasarelas require the user to ascend 2 or 3 flights of stairs, walk across the catwalk and then descend 2 or 3 flights of stairs on the opposite side of the road.

Now, as you might imagine, climbing up a bunch of stairs in 90°F sun or 85°F pouring down rain (the two basic seasonal options in El Salvador) is not exactly on most people's list of favorite things to do before catching the bus to work or school.  In the city, when traffic is moving at a snail's pace, pedestrians forego the pasarela  and snake their way across the road, weaving between between cars and trucks and keeping watch for the darting motorcyclists.


Depending on the location, pasarela stairs can be steep, open and just plain scary.  In places where buildings, concrete walls, and bus stops surround the base of the pasarela,  ascending or descending the stairs in shadow and seclusion can feel quite unsafe.  And in some neighborhoods, finding oneself enclosed on a catwalk simply does not seem like a good idea.


Last year 577 pedestrians were killed on El Salvador streets.  Most families have a story about some family member being hit and injured or killed while crossing a busy street.  Anyone who drives or rides around El Salvador has certainly seen close calls, and has certainly wondered at the wisdom of a mom with two kids in tow running across 2 lanes of highway, climbing on top of the Jersey barriers in the middle, waiting, and then running across the other two lanes.  Pasarelas can save lives.  Especially in locations where traffic moves swiftly or erratically, where lighting is poor, and where there are no medians, pasarelas are really beneficial.

Clearly the placement of pasarelas is a challenge.  When a busy road or highway cuts through a community, and the nearest crossing point is 2 miles in either direction, there is a problem.  This is especially difficult for children who need to get to their community school which lies on the opposite side of a highway.  One choice is to pay a micro-bus to drive a child up the highway, make a u-turn at the nearest retorno, and drive back down the highway.  That costs money.  Another choice is to walk a couple of miles to the nearest crossing, and walk back a couple of miles to the school.  That is not realistic.  The common choice is to run across 2 lanes, climb the barriers, and run across the other two lanes.


In some places, pasarelas provide shelter for streetside vendors (I walk past a woman with a little pupusa stand under a very under-used pasarela on my way to the church offices each day).  During a march or demonstration, the pasarela can provide a great vantage point from which to snap a few photos of the crowd (with a caution of safety - I once saw a group of US teens hanging off of the outside "cage" of a pasarela to take photos).

August 6, 2016 Lutheran Church March
The next time you are in El Salvador, keep your camera at the ready and grab a shot of your favorite pasarela - and, when crossing streets, please be smart!


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Funeral

The coffin was so small.  She was a tiny woman.  Cut flowers rested in a vase on top of the casket and in another on top of the altar:   bright white lilies and creamy calla lilies.

Death brings white flowers.

Rows of red, aqua and beige plastic chairs were set up in rows under the covered corridor along the back of the parking lot.  This is where church happens on Sunday, where pastors and community groups meet, where fiestas happen.  This is where I found a young woman sitting alone.  There had been others with her during the night, but for a little while the young woman and the body of her mother were alone.  Four white candle flames flickered in the breeze.  We hugged.  We sat.  We talked a little.

As synod workers arrived for their day, some glanced in our direction.  Others paused to give a "good morning" or a hug.  Cars parked and people began their days.

The body had arrived at about 10:30 PM.  Five or six people, including the mother's pastor, stayed until about 4 AM.

"Do you want to go take a shower?" I asked.  "Don't worry, I will stay with your mom.  She won't be alone."  In El Salvador, it is customary for family to stay with the body from the moment of death until the internment.

The mother and daughter are my friends.  The daughter is a physician, and over the early years of the Mission of Healing she saw hundreds of patients and stayed side by side with us in the community.  As she developed her own career, she helped with organization and made connections for us with other doctors.  Once, my friend and I spent a week with her studying the work of her clinic in a rural community.  Her only sibling, a sister, was killed during the civil war.

The wind picked up and the candle nearest to me sizzled.  Each of the gold, spray-painted candle holders stood about 3 feet tall near each of the four "corners" of the coffin.  A few more people came to sit, and the pastor returned.  Usually a few members of the congregation gathered at this time for a weekly Bible Study.  Many of the adult and child members of this congregation have special needs.  The change in the routine was a little difficult.  One of the men helps to take pictures for the church.  He had printed a large photo of the mother and propped it up against the vase of flowers on the coffin.  A little later, he returned to the vigil carrying a plastic bag from Dollar City.  He pulled a simple black frame from the bag, unwrapped it and put the printed photo into the frame.  He placed the photo carefully on top of the coffin, angling it just right so people would see it as they walked over from the parking lot.

Usually, a small glass window allows people to see the face of the loved one who has died.  The mother had been badly beaten and did not look like herself.  The framed photo was a beautiful gift.

The pastor led a few songs.  We said the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed.  We sang a little more.  We sat.  In the mid-afternoon the funeral home team arrived with their pick-up truck.  It was specially outfitted with what can best be described as a "little house made of glass" over the bed. The driver turned on a recording of Ave Maria.  The tailgate was opened, and one by one the four candle holders with their burnt candle nubs were loaded in, underneath the platform that would old the coffin.  The small wooden lectern was next.  The team asked for some help, and they slid the coffin into its spot, closing and latching the glass doors behind it.  The flowers were set on small ledges on either side of the glass house.

People found rides.  The daughter and I sat in the back seat of the synod's micro-bus.  "Why did they choose only those sad songs?" a pastor remarked.  I noticed that aside from myself and the daughter, all of the others in the micro were female pastors.  The mother was a strong feminist, admired and imprisoned for her work in protecting mothers and children during the war.  These faithful women took leave from their work of the day to sit, to pray, to accompany and to support a daughter in recognition, admiration and love for her mother.  The women of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church have a depth of strength and solidarity, rooted in the love they have for God and one another, which is humble in style and mighty to feel.

The Bishop had donated the burial spot.  There were two men of the church buried there already, deep in the earth below where the mother would rest.  There will be room for one more above her.

We sat in folding metal chairs in a brisk, warm breeze and under the shade of a metal cabana supplied by the cemetery.  The workers stood off to the side, leaning on their shovels. A tractor with a small boom and tripod of chains pulled up and parked nearby; the lid to the concrete sarcophagus gently swung from the chains. A pastor had brought his guitar.  We sang and prayed and said the creed and then the bishop spoke a eulogy.  "As a girl she must have been quite a little princess, because as an adult she was still a beautiful princess."  He said she had been tortured and suffered, but now she was in the arms of Jesus.  We sang the song Salvadoran's sing on Mother's Day.  Neither the daughter nor I could sing at all.  The mother's burial was taking place on the anniversary of the mother's birth.  It was just too much. All of it.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Those words are universal.  The Bishop and two pastors beside him held handfuls of dirt over the coffin and sprinkled it down, forming three dirt crosses.

"Will you say some words?" the Bishop asked the daughter.  She shook her head, no.

The cemetery administrator walked over to where the daughter and I were seated.  "When you're ready, let us know to continue."

"I can't," she whispered.  I nodded to the man.

The coffin was placed over the hole and gently lowered down with straps that were connected to a hand-cranked winch.  The squeak, squeak, squeak sound pierced the air as the coffin sunk lower and lower into the earth.  "Isn't it there yet?" whispered the pastor behind us.  We were all thinking the same thing.  The floral arrangements were dismembered and people walked over to the hole to toss the flowers onto the coffin.  A worker climbed into the hole with a bucket of cement.  He slathered the gray goop onto the edges of the concrete sarcophagus which held the coffin.  This was work which we envisioned, for we could really only see his head and hear the scrape-scrape-scrape of the trowel.  He climbed out of the hole, and the tractor lowered the lid into place.  The worker jumped back in with his cement bucket and sealed the tomb.  We sang You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore while he worked.

Two men with shovels then peeled back an astro-turf carpet, revealing a pile of dirt.  They shoveled and tamped, shoveled and tamped.  The mourners left.  The micro full of women pastors left.  The daughter stayed, accompanied by a best friend nurse, a friend from fourth grade, and me.  In El Salvador, it is customary for someone to stay beside the grave until the dirt is completely replaced.  That's the only way to make sure your loved one is really buried.   The concrete corner post-stubs that mark the boundaries of the plot were replaced as well as the two grave markers.  A third marker will be added.  The salesman left his card.

The fourth-grade friend hopped onto his motorcycle.  He and the daughter had not seen each other for 20 years, but there he was, keeping an eye on the women and making sure everything was OK.  The nurse's brother drove us back to the synod offices, in what might be one of the most harrowing car trips the daughter and I have ever had.  When we were safely deposited at the offices, we burst out laughing at just what a terrible driver that brother was!  But we were grateful for the ride.

Later that night, we went out for pupusas.  Comfort food after a long day.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day at the Migration Table

On May 13th, our little team headed up to our sister church to meet up with the youth group and do a workshop on the theme of migration.  This is the same workshop that my husband has been leading around and about - an introduction to US Migration laws and how the laws and enforcement practices impact Salvadoran families.  The two of us spent some quality time retooling the workshop to make it a little more interactive and appropriate for youth.  We added in photos and removed some of the detailed slides.  The biggest change was the introduction of written scenarios or character stories.  We planned for youth to read these as discussion-starters which we would then follow with the informational power point slides.

We started strong, singing Caminando en la luz de Dios (our Spanish version of We are Marching in the Light of God).  Everyone was clapping and the words are easy so the youth and the moms caught on quickly.  Then we shared the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph migrating to Egypt because of threats against Jesus' life.  We don't really think much about Jesus migrating as a baby, and really, migrating from place to place his whole life.  Our next activity was designed to for all of us to learn more about the connections we share between the US and El Salvador.  We began in a big circle, and little by little people were invited to the center:  US citizens (my husband and I started as the example), anyone with a parent in the US, siblings, aunts or uncles, cousins, friends, Facebook friends...in the end there were a big majority in the middle and very few remaining in the outer circle.

In an interactive workshop about migration, it can be very tricky to create a comfortable space for people to ask questions or to share their stories.  More than once, I heard my husband say, "Don't worry, we are not La Migra (migration police).  We learned that in this group essentially no one had any accurate information about US laws.  The group also had very little understanding of concepts such as asylum or protected status.  We also learned that reading small scenarios is very helpful, and most of the readers tried to be pretty expressive with their situations.  Here is an example scenario:

Persona con DACA:  Llegue con mis padres en los Estados Unidos en 2002 cuando era muy joven.   Solo tenía tres años cuando crucemos la frontera sin documentos.  No recuerdo a El Salvador.  Vivíamos en Los Ángeles donde asistía la escuela y ya muy pronto voy a cumplir mi bachillerato.   Mi familia vivía en miedo siempre porque no tenemos documentos, pero hace 3 años, el presidente Obama inicio un programa se llama DACA.    Ya tengo protección y puedo conseguir mi sueño de asistir la universidad de California.    Pero todavía tengo miedo que el programa termina o que mis padres son detenidos y deportados a El Salvador.

Person with DACA:  I arrived with my parents in the United States in 2002 when I was very young.  I was only 3 years old when we crossed the border without documents.  I don't remember El Salvador.  We lived in Los Angeles where I attended school and now very soon I will complete high school.  My family always lived in fear because we don't have documents, but three years ago President Obama started a program called DACA.  Now I have protection and I can complete my dream of attending the University of California.  But I am still scared that the program will be ended or that my parents will be detained and deported to El Salvador.

We then talked about who is responsible for this young person's presence in the US.  We talked about how he or she would feel.  We also talked about what it would be like if the parents were deported or if the program ended and this young person had to come back to El Salvador.

It was pretty hard to read the faces of the group, but toward the end a couple of the adults asked questions about their family members who have been in the US for a long time.  One of the young people said she really enjoyed the workshop.  She said it was very dynamic and she liked my husband's professional expertise.  She is studying to be a lawyer.  We still were not too sure about the reactions of the other youth.

You never know what seeds are planted when you lead a workshop or teach a class.

The next day, Sunday, we celebrated Mother's Day with our sister church.  (Mother's Day in El Salvador was Wednesday, May 10th.)  The pastor pointed out how beautiful it was that the US and El Salvador sister churches were celebrating mothers on the same day.  The church was decorated in pink, with balloons and streamers, hearts and flowers. After worship, the mothers were given the gift of a dramatic presentation by a group of children.  One of the youth who had been at the workshop the day before was the narrator.  This was the story, the narrator said, of a brave, single mother.  The little family - father, mother and child - were struggling financially.  One day the father had good work, and the family had food on the table.  Then he could not find work, and eventually the situation was desperate and he migrated north.  He stayed in the United States a long time, and sometimes he called home.  His little girl grew up and eventually she became a mother to her own little girl.  After many years, the father came home to his family.  It was a beautiful reunion, but he had passed so much time away, it was also very sad.

After the drama we shared cake, sandwiches and a Mickey Mouse piñata.  I congratulated the actors.  When I asked the future lawyer if she had anything to do with the project, she just smiled and looked at the narrator.  She smiled back.

You never know what seeds are planted when you lead a workshop or teach a class.

The youth group meets again in 2 weeks.  They have already planned to continue talking about migration.  The main theme is:  migration to the US is not a solution.  The reality is:  migration within El Salvador is a prevalent, and if it is life or death, migration to another country truly might be the only solution.

This is one of the visuals we used to understand the status of
different groups of Salvadorans who live in the US.  We had
to extrapolate a bit from several sources.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Return to the Migration Table: Why Migrate?

She came to the United States to study at a graduate school with a student visa.  Her husband and children remained in El Salvador.  After graduation, she got a job offer at a business which sponsored her employment visa.  Her husband also secured an employment visa and the family settled in a small city in the US.  The children were young and quickly became fluent in English.  The parents' English was already pretty good, and improved over time.  Eventually the parents applied for permanent residency.  There were times when the family resided in the US "illegally" or without current documents because their document renewal papers were stuck in a bogged-down system.  The family paid thousands of dollars to immigration lawyers to make sure they followed a correct process.  The mother became a naturalized US citizen.

This is one story of migration from El Salvador to the United States.  The pathways by which Salvadoran families establish roots in the US have been and continue to be numerous and diverse.  Since the time of the Salvadoran Civil War, Salvadorans have come by plane and by foot, seeking safety, education, work and The American Dream.  Conscription of children into military forces and threats from death squads during the war, devastating earthquakes in 1986 and 2001, Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the rise in gang culture and gang violence in the 2000's, along with economic crises along the way, are identifiable events or phenomena which have caused Salvadorans to migrate north.  Once established, family members attract other family members or friends with desires for unification or stories of success.  Families established themselves, with documents or without.

In El Salvador, just about every family has some relative living in the US.  Roughly 20% - 25% of living Salvadoran citizens live in the United States.  Salvadorans work in all different sectors of the US economy. Those without documents, find work in a variety of informal ways, and can suffer abuse by unscrupulous employers.  Salvadorans have a pretty strong reputation has hard workers, many holding down multiple jobs to earn enough to live in the US and send money home.  The river of financial support that flows from the US to El Salvador is a river of life which sustains Salvadoran families and makes money-transfer companies a healthy profit.

While economic survival or pursuit of The American Dream have historically drawn Salvadoran family members north, changes in US immigration law enforcement have diminished the desire to migrate for purely economic reasons.

I can't work because
the gangs will not let
me leave the house...
Over the last 15 years, the gangs in El Salvador have wreaked havoc in all sectors of society, but especially in poor communities.  The reasons behind their success are complex:  poverty, lack of opportunity for youth, a weak judicial system, corrupt policing, the US market for illegal drugs, organized crime.  Whatever the reasons, the reality is that threats, fear and acts of violence come in waves to small communities.  The police move to one place, and the gangs move to another.  In 2014, the level of violence and fear reached epidemic levels.  Families were forced to migrate from one community to another.  This internal migration (sometimes referred to as internal displacement or forced migration) is not well-documented with statistics.  People in the US who sponsor scholarship students in sister church communities in El Salvador might know a little bit more about internal displacement than your average US citizen, as scholarship sponsors frequently learn that their students are no longer in the church community or need to change schools or are living with relatives in parts unknown.
My mom sells but what
little she earns she has
to give to the gangs as rent...

I feel helpless because
of the impossibility of
doing something...
Four generations of the family lived in a small compound of cinderblock and laminate structures on a tiny lot in a small community outside the capital.  One adult brother had been threatened; he fled to the mountains; he came back; the family was threatened; the brother fled to the US; he was deported, and eventually he joined the gang.  The family tried to stay apart from the brother's activities. One night, a family member was dragged out of the house and murdered.  The brother became more imbedded in the gang.  One night, rival gang members broke down the door of the house and held a pistol to a teen girl and threatened young adult mothers in the home. The police came into the community and drove out the gang members, including the brother.  One night, the police pounded on the door and turned everything in the home upside down, looking for weapons.  The police threatened the family.  The family fled to an abandoned house in another community.  The police returned and burned what was left in the empty home.  The local Lutheran migration ministry team helped the family to put a roof on the abandoned house and to figure out who the owner was so they could get permission to stay there, and pay rent.



When the threats follow families from community to community, and there is no place left to hide, families make the difficult decision to send their young people north.  Witnesses to murders and victims of persecution by police make the decision to seek asylum in the US.  Family members established in the US try to help their family members who are endangered in El Salvador, sometimes working with the visa system, sometimes paying for a smuggler to bring their loved ones north, sometimes paying legal costs when their family members are in the asylum process.

The Salvadoran Lutheran Church Migration Ministry is working with the regional Migration Tables on a workshop which helps families to talk about migration issues in a safe space.  The pastor who coordinates the office of Migration Ministry wrote a book entitled Pasos y Hellas (Steps and Footprints - the Route of the Migrant.  The conversation points and illustrations in the book help families to identify the fears which exist in their communities.  The book raises up reasons for migration, discourages migration for economic reasons, describes the journey north and what it is like to be deported.  In a recent Migration Table workshop, my husband and I were trained on the use of the book, along with community leaders, pastors, police, and health workers.  We used drama to act out portions of the book, which made it very comfortable for everyone to then ask questions or share real life experiences.

In the plane they had us
chained from feet to
hands, worse than if
we were delinquents or
criminals..
That which was the
American Dream before,
now is the nightmare
of Latinos...


 Illustrations and captions taken from Pasos y Hellas - La Ruta del Migrante ©2016 Sinodo Luterano Salvadoreño Pastoral del Migrante



Friday, May 5, 2017

A Return to the Migration Table - My Story, Your Story, Our Story

In my elementary school, fifth grade was the year during which each student made a family tree,  made a binder of stories and photographs, fashioned a costume from the homeland, got help from mom or dad in preparing an "ethnic" recipe, and put on a big folk fair for all the students in the school gym.  Norway, Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Italy were well-represented.  Most of the students had grandparents or great-grandparents who traveled by ship to Ellis Island.  One girl had parents who had emigrated from Russia.  One girl had come from China. A few had Native American ancestors.  A few had roots of family trees which disappeared into the early years of the United States or even the 13 colonies.  No one had been brought to the Americas in slave ships.  None of us gave any thought to a kid who might not be able to follow the roots of a family tree.

In my community, we grew up surrounded by nostalgia for the homeland.  We grew up with stories of brave ancestors who left their homes to seek adventure, to escape famine and poverty, to escape fascism, to practice their religion freely.  Three or four generations out, we were taught children's songs in German or Norwegian,and we still ate weird foods at Christmas.  Forty or fifty years after being established in an English-speaking country, our congregations still worshiped one or more times per week in a European language.

Today I was on Facebook and through a message ended up on a site which celebrates the building of the United States by the immigrants of the past, who came "legally", who did not come to "suck resources from the country but built it up to what it is today."  The page was filled with hundreds and hundreds of comments critical of "people who do not assimilate like my family did," or "are here for 2 years and still don't know English," or "are here to get handouts and not work hard" and statements like, "my family came here the right way."  Between the lines we can read, "the white way."  This Facebook page really pissed me off.

Look, I grew up white and Lutheran.  I grew up celebrating the cultures of Europe. Good stuff and bad stuff happened in my family.  That is my story.

I am sure you have a story.  It's probably a lot more interesting than my story.  It is not more important than my story, just as my story is not more important than your story.  Neither is right.  They just are.  If there is one thing I have learned during these decades of my life it is that the more stories we listen to, the more we realize we don't know much more than we do know.  It's time we sit down at the table and listen to each other.

On May 3rd we sat down at the Migration Table.  The topic was "Migratory Laws of the United States and Their Repercussions for Salvadoran Migrants."  My husband is accompanying the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and presenting this workshop. He is a lawyer, but not a migration specialist, and has done a lot of work studying up on the laws and the changes in enforcement practices over the Obama and Trump administrations.  The goal of the workshop is to provide pastors and community leaders with the tools they need to:

  • encourage youth and families not to migrate (in fact, the title of the educational campaign is Migration is not the Solution)
  • give advice to family, friends, congregations, etc who have connections with people in the US 
  • receive deportees and prepare for a possible deluge of deportees as policies change

The seats at the Migration Table were occupied by people with hearts and heads full of stories. They listened carefully.  They wrote factual and personally important points on note paper...

People who have the legal right to be in the United States are citizens (by birth in the US, by naturalization, children born to US citizen parents) and people with documents.

  • Permanent residents have documents (green card).  
  • People with valid visas have documents - there are more than 180 different types of visas and all have an end point (examples:  student, sports teams, conducting business, tourists)
  • People with Special Protection have documents
    • TPS (Temporary Protected Status) issued to people without documents who are in the US when a natural disaster or epidemic or war hits their homeland
    • Asylum Status
    • Refugee Status
People without documents do not have a legal right to be in the United States.

  • People who are picked up by migration police typically begin a court process.  They may be detained or released with conditions.
  • Undocumented people do not receive government benefits, do have the right to receive emergency medical care (and pay the bill).  Their children do have the right to go to school. 
During 2014, 16,000 Salvadoran children and youth traveled to the US and were detained after crossing the border.  This is why the Migration Tables were formed.  Thousands more traveled north during the next 2 years.  Thousands more traveled with their mothers or fathers.  Just from El Salvador.  There were similar numbers of children who migrated from Guatemala and Honduras.  Each child, each family has a story.  These are stories filled with gruesome acts of violence in the migrants' home countries and en route.  Most will rely on these stories to apply for asylum in the US.

To qualify for asylum, a Salvadoran migrant needs to prove that the Salvadoran government cannot protect them from rape, torture, death.  Step 1 is a hearing to determine if the child, youth or family has credible fear.  If the migrants don't pass Step 1, they are deported.  If they pass Step 1, the migrants pursue a case in immigration court.

These become part of the 123,000 pending cases ONLY FOR SALVADORANS out of a total 565,000 cases pending in US Immigration Court.

Salvadoran children, youth, mothers and fathers migrate north because they already have family in the US.  
  • A total of about 2 million people born in El Salvador live in the US.  This includes naturalized citizens and people with documents (all the types described above) and without documents.
  • 280,000 undocumented Salvadorans received TPS (Temporary Protected Status) when the earthquakes struck in 2001.  200,000 of these people still live in the US under TPS. 
  • 50,000 young people live in the US under DACA (commonly known as "Dreamers") - these are children who were brought from El Salvador when they were little, and have spent their entire lives in the US.
  • Thousands of Salvadorans live in the US with permanent residency
  • Thousands of Salvadorans live in the US without documents
The faces around the Migration Table were serious. Each face told a story.

Story:  My daughter is up there.  She has the ankle bracelet.  Once she had to go to a school thing for her kids and the bracelet went off.  What happens with her kids?

Response:  There are legal things your daughter can do to protect her children.  Guardianship documents, passports.  It's really important that she has a lawyer who specializes in immigration law.  (A resource list for family members is being developed so they can prepare for whatever changes occur in law, policy or personal migration status.)

What if TPS ends?  Do 200,000 people get sent back?
Response:  The example is set.  After the ebola crisis was over in Africa, all of the Africans in the US from the affected countries who were on TPS received a card telling them they had 2 months to return home.
But those people do not even know how to live here.  They don't know anything about the situations, the dangers.  They hardly speak Spanish.


On May 3rd, people gathered around a table to learn from each other and to share their stories.  At the Migration Table, my story, my husband's story and stories from El Salvador intersect.  And I write these stories in my blog. You read the blog.  Your story is part of the intersection.

Intersected stories become our story.  We are in this together.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Return to the Migration Table - A Month of May Days

May Day.

When my friends and I were little, May Day meant walking home from school carrying cone-shaped baskets made of woven construction paper filled with tissue paper flowers.  On the way home, we would hang the May Baskets on the doorknobs of our adopted neighbor "grandmas" and on doors or mailboxes of random people in our neighborhood.  We were taught that this was an act of kindness.

Later, we learned that May Day is celebrated as International Labor Day.  In midwest suburbia we were shown footage of communist marches and were told workers in other places did not work hard because there was no incentive to get ahead like in the US.  We heard little or nothing about protest marches in our own capital or cities.  We thought May Baskets were for little kids.

On May Day 2017, social media showed us marches across the globe celebrating the hard work that everyday people do to support themselves, their families and their communities.  In many places, marchers advocated for workers rights.  In our home city in the US, 30,000 people marched in solidarity with workers, recognizing the work immigrants do in our community and raising up particular awareness of the widespread contributions of persons from Latin America.  Many Latinx-owned businesses closed for the day to illustrate in a concrete way the impact which the Latinx community has on the local economy.

May Day 2017 in El Salvador was officially a day off from work.  There were marches in the streets of San Salvador in support of workers and in support of the FMLN - the political party historically aligned with everyday working folk.

The following day in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church offices, the women around the lunch table shared their Labor Day activities with one another.  A few had ridden in school buses with community members to the marches.  It seemed everyone but me had gone out to eat and they were really interested in each other's food choices - nothing fancy, but also not typical Salvadoran foods.  For this group of women, Labor Day included recognition of their work in and outside of the home, and freedom from cooking was a treat and a right.  Like in the US, however, clearly someone is working to make pizza on Labor Day.

On the 3rd of May, we accompanied the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in presenting a workshop for a Migration Table (municipality-based focus group which includes representatives from mayor's offices, schools, health clinics, the police, community advocacy groups and the church).   The office of Migration Ministry of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church is establishing Migration Tables in municipalities in which there are Lutheran Churches. (Note:  a municipality includes all of the small communities in the zone surrounding the town.)  The work of the a Migration Table is to understand the realities of migration at the local level, to accompany families who are forced to migrate due to threats or acts of violence, to discourage migration to the US for economic reasons, and to educate families about their options and rights.

The office of Migration Ministry was formed in response to a large increase in the migration of unaccompanied children to the United States in 2014.  Children and families migrating away from threats and acts of violence is not a phenomenon in isolation, but is part of a web of history and complexity which includes the migration of individuals and families from El Salvador to the United States for work.

On May Day, the focus of many marches in US cities was on Latinx workers.  There are between 1.6 and 2 million people born in El Salvador who are currently living in the US.  The Salvadoran workforce in the US is sizable.  Migration to the US for work with or without documents has never been the ideal nor the desired solution for Salvadoran families who are struggling to eat and have roofs over their heads, but migration north has been a reality for decades.  On May Day, society gave some recognition to the work Salvadorans do at home and in the US, contributing to both economies and sustaining families on both sides of the border.  For the Salvadoran Migration Tables and US organizations working in support of migrants, every day is May Day.

At the May 3rd Migration Table meeting, my attorney husband, led an introductory workshop on US immigration laws.   The presentation evolves as US law, policy and practice in the US.   This is a workshop which the two of us are adapting for youth, and is part of a series of Migration Table workshops being done by the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  Education is critical for families who need to make decisions surrounding migration.  As I have been participating in these workshops, I find myself thinking that every US citizen should know this information.  Awareness on May Day or marching on May Day is one thing, but I believe we have a minimal responsibility to be well-informed, and a greater responsibility to communicate with our government representatives and advocate for just and compassionate migration laws and policies.

Would you like a seat at the Migration Table?

This is the first of what will be a series of posts on the theme of migration - sort of a "migration for dummies" approach, of course with some stories.  I have written a couple of previous migration-themed posts, which might be good to check out during the month of May Days.

A previous experience meeting with a migration table

Thoughts about borders during the crisis of unaccompanied minors

Monday, April 24, 2017

Plastic Bottle Art: Part 2

Baby Pastor.  This is the name lovingly bestowed on a painted 2-liter soda bottle.

Why, you ask, would I paint a 2-liter soda bottle to look like my pastor?  To raise money, of course!

Here is the back story.  About 13 years ago, Bishop Medardo Gómez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church had an idea to establish a fund that could produce a basic income for the ordained pastors of the church.  As a church committed to walking with those who struggle with injustice, oppression, poverty, violence, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church is rich in faith, rich in hope and poor in financial resources.  It's not easy to grow an endowment fund when current needs are so great, but this is exactly what the Salvadoran Lutheran Church committed to do, with the help and structure of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

The Salvadoran Lutheran Church Endowment Fund for Pastor Salary Support (yup, the legal name is a mouthful) is set up so that the principal will exist in perpetuity and the interest can be distributed quarterly to support pastor salaries.  The fund is managed within the ELCA Foundation and interest is released upon request of the Salvadoran Lutheran Bishop.

In the early years, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church chose to reinvest the interest, in order to grow the principal.  When the situation became dire for Salvadoran pastors several years ago, Bishop Medardo began requesting the interest annually at the end of the year.  This way, the interest stays in the account as long as possible.  The interest is used each December to pay any back pay owed to pastors and to cover all of the salaries for the last month or two of the year.

Over the years, churches in the US and Europe have done some pretty fantastic fund-raisers in order to grow the principal of this account.  In El Salvador too, congregations have done their part in supporting the fund.  One time a church bought a calf and raised it and then auctioned off the grown cow.  They raised about $100 for the fund!  The fund currently has a balance of about $700,000.

One consistent idea that the Bishop has supported is the "Dollar per Lutheran Campaign."  The idea is for each Lutheran in El Salvador to give $1 to the fund during the year.  This is a challenge for many who can only afford to give 5 or 10 cents at a time.  This is also a challenge because many of the church members (and truthfully the pastors too) have not well understood the concept nor the function of the Endowment Fund.

About a month ago, a friend and I did a workshop with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church pastors.  We talked a lot about money - not an easy topic, but one that is important to discuss openly and honestly.  We and the pastors had a lot of fun acting out different conversations and scenarios, and we dug right into the Endowment Fund with power point slides that helped explain it.  We held up the Bishop's idea for the $1 per Lutheran campaign, and that was when we introduced the recycled-bottle-pastor-piggy-bank.  The pastors loved this little guy (which could also be a girl) and named it "Baby Pastor." (If you look carefully at the photo, you can see a slit in the back so that dollar coins or bills can be dropped in.)

Congregations do want to support their pastors.  They do want to give their coins and dollars (if they can) so that their pastors can support their own families.  This little baby pastor represents the love that the people have for their pastor, and each coin they give is a gift of love.  When the little baby pastor is full or half-full, the offering will be given to the Salvadoran Lutheran Church administration Endowment Fund account. The goal of the administration has been to send a check to the ELCA Foundation once or twice per year.

At the end of the workshop, I gave the baby pastor to his real-life  look-a-like, who will use it during offering time to gather coins for the Endowment Fund.  (He really liked the curly hair!)

Later, one of the woman pastors quietly came up to me and said, "I have an idea."  She was pretty excited.  Her idea is to have each family make a little pastor bank out of a used water bottle.  Then, on a special Sunday, everyone will bring their little pastors and put them together to make their offering together.  We agreed this was a fantastic idea!

The $1 per Lutheran Campaign is one which those of us in the US or anywhere outside of El Salvador could use to raise money for the Endowment Fund.  If you have an interest in staying in touch with the campaign you can follow the Salvadoran Lutheran Church Endowment Fund Facebook page.

And that is the story of the Recycled Plastic Baby Pastor.

Curious about another plastic bottle project?  Check out Plastic Bottle Art Part 1.