By Roberto Martinez, Amate House Volunteer
Roberto shared this reflection as part of the Amate House Little Village’s “Las Posadas” evening of advent reflections.
It is inconvenient to welcome the stranger. Surely Mary struggled upon the first annunciation by the angel Gabriel.
I relate to this because as part of my job at Taller de Jose, I accompany clients to various social service and government agencies. Even though I serve only as an initial reference, I often see larger situations than what I’m qualified for. I’m no lawyer, but I orient clients in understanding their legal situation; I’m no social worker, but I’m setting up appointments for clients; I’m no counselor, but oftentimes I’m the first person who cares enough to hear their situation. I do this because my clients would have little idea how to navigate these services without help. Writing down a phone number or address on a piece of paper accomplishes nothing if you don’t know English or how to use public transportation. Through this I’ve learned that these systems appear inaccessible to my clients. They’re the round peg in the square hole. They’re strangers.
In a very real way, they are strangers. They’re immigrants who look different from the person across the desk from them. They speak a different language, can’t afford day care, grew up with different social norms. In cases of refugees, their abrupt arrival to this country wasn’t even voluntary. They are all strangers asking for help, refuge, or sometimes, just a person that understands.
I am no different. My parents and older sister came to the United States a year before I was born and faced many of these obstacles themselves. We were the ones asking for help. We were the ones lost trying to find my sister adequate special education. We were the ones asking for emergency assistance following a number of Florida hurricanes. We still are the people who have to press “2” for Spanish. We are stranger.
What does this lead me to? I connect very quickly with many of my clients. I understand that each, in their own way or perhaps the way they’ve been taught, wishes to do everything at their disposal for the sake of their children. That is no different from my parents. Oftentimes, I remind them of their child, or relative, or friend, even if it’s a brief comment like, “You know, my child went to college.” They say this because I know that for the Mexican parent, it’s the culmination of countless years of sacrifice. And they wish to connect to me in my journey in this small instance.
Still, it is inconvenient to welcome the stranger. I can tell you beautiful stories, and I can tell you of the frustrations of explaining every step of an impossible application for the fifth time to a client while a 30-min line waits for our turn to be over. Making these systems accessible takes a conscious effort.
Denise Levertov poetically writes of Mary’s own courage in saying yes to the angel Gabriel:
“But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage
The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited.
She was free to accept or refuse, choice integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?”
We are all strangers, yes, all of us in this room, and yet strangely we’ve found each other even for this brief moment in this space. Look at the portraits on the altar; look at another person in the room. Are they a stranger, or an annunciation into something greater?
These small interactions with my clients reflect the call of our common humanity: to welcome each other into our lives. Perhaps in that manner, we can break down the barriers of institutions that keep the people of Little Village out. And then we can place our hope in creating more companions in the world, to make the world a more welcoming place.