I have three immigration stories so share on Valentine’s Day, with a message that love and hope survive despite every hardship. The first is a story of love and marriage, the second a story of food, and the third a story of solidarity.
The Love Story
Julissa and Fernando had three marriages, because their families were not able to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. She begins their story with Fernando’s wonderfully romantic proposal in Paris, and continues:
“The joy that had been radiating from Fernando’s face faded. My future husband told me that having a wedding in Mexico would mean some of his family members wouldn’t be able to attend—they were in the middle of an immigration case that prevented them from leaving the U.S.
“I was well aware that immigration cases can have heart-breaking consequences. While I was undocumented for more than a decade, I missed my dad’s last breath because, without papers, I couldn’t travel to Mexico to be with him. Since I was 14 years old, when I found out my very presence in the United States was viewed as criminal, every decision I made—from where I went to college, to how open I could be with significant others—was centered around my immigration status. Fernando was born in the United States, but he too had experienced the devastating fallout of immigration policies that separate families every single day….
“Each time Fernando and I said ‘I do,’ we were assured that the universe, God, had been looking out for us all along. And faced with our first challenge, our love overflowed—with three beautiful celebrations as proof. It’s as the Mexican proverb says: They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds. Our love transcends borders.”
The Food Story
Asylum seekers trapped on the Mexican side of the border by the U.S. Remain in Mexico policy still find solace in families, food, and friendship. Individuals cook, share, sell food. A few pool their resources to form a cooking cooperative. Team Brownsville volunteers, led by co-founder and U.S. military veteran Mike Benavides, join with chef José Andrés and his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. Together, they cook with love to sustain hope.
“To prepare the steaming vat of caldo de pollo, someone has to tend the fire. Another person must deal with the wind that kicks up the dirt and garbage. And still others run to the grocery store, chop the vegetables, and haul drinking water from the communal cistern. Here at the tent camp under the Gateway International Bridge, which connects Matamoros, Mexico, with Brownsville, Texas, everything is made fresh out of necessity. There is no pantry, no refrigerator. People must cook and eat as they live: in the open air, with more than 2,000 other asylum seekers, on a levee perched on the southern banks of the Rio Grande River.
“The aroma of chicken broth soon fills the air, a ribbon of goodness twisting its way through the stench of trash and car fumes and feces. Jose, who came here from Nicaragua, is in charge of the fire. Marisela, from El Salvador, loses her footing and nearly slides down the slope while carrying buckets of water with Melissa and Areli, who coordinate the makeshift restaurant operation and are both from Honduras. The simple lean-to that they use as a kitchen was a gift from a Honduran couple who gave up hope and left. Like everyone else at the camp, Marisela, Jose, Melissa, and Areli are waiting for their asylum cases to be decided just a few yards away in the U.S.
“At the largest tent camp along the U.S.-Mexico border, cooking is a means of survival—not just for the body, but for the mind and soul. Cooking is caring for families, a means to earn money by selling meals to other migrants, an expression of human dignity to sustain spirits while living through a brutal humanitarian crisis that worsens by the day.”
The Soiidarity Story
Mark Prosser recently retired after 30 years as police chief in Storm Lake, Iowa. He was one of many people in that community who welcome immigrants as part of a thriving, diverse community.
“Storm Lake is a community of 14,000 or so people with 30-plus languages spoken, public and private schools systems with a super-majority enrollment of immigrant students, a huge diverse workforce, two large meatpacking plants, and a community bucking the norm of rural America — Storm Lake is growing, thriving and reinventing itself all because of the blessings of our new immigrant neighbors from around the world.
“Everyday I worked for a diverse community that embraced change and recognized the value in our immigrant neighbors. Storm Lake had become a mosaic of the world over my 30 years as police chief. It hasn’t been without challenges, mistakes and the need to adapt. But the pros outnumber the cons beyond my ability to express it.”.
In January, after retiring, Prosser headed south to the border to see with his own eyes what was happening there.
“My trip to the border caused me to sit quietly every night and process what I observed that day.
“People seeking safety and escaping from threats of harm or death.
“People seeking a better life for their families.
“People asking for help and consideration from the strongest, most wealthy, most prosperous nation in the world.
“People willing to withstand the accusations of being evil in order to prove their worth and value to our nation.
“I saw my neighbors. I saw Storm Lake and all its success in the fearful faces of refugees at the border. I saw an opportunity — truly a duty for our country to lead from the front — to welcome the stranger, to feed the poor and to cloth the naked by using just a fraction of our wealth. I saw a way to fill open jobs, grow our economy even more, fill dying rural school districts, and bring youth and vibrance to dwindling communities across our country.”
That’s it for today: three stories of hope, embodied in different ways in people from across the United States and beyond.