The Immigrant Experience, Then and Now

As our wider Unitarian Universalist world throbs with increased awareness about contemporary immigration in preparation for a “Justice General Assembly” (GA) in the hotbed of Phoenix this coming June, I am inclined to personalize the issue. As you may have heard, we are all immigrants.

Some years back, Barbara and I took my father to Ellis Island, there in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, overlooking the lower Manhattan skyline of New York City. This was his third time on Ellis Island, having also done Basic Training there for the WW II Coast Guard. But even earlier, in 1922, his poor Dutch immigrant family came through those portals when he was a young child.

The three of us wandered through an impressive 21st century museum about the 19th and 20th century immigrant experience, and located the manifest of the vessel that brought my dad’s family here from Europe, with one-way tickets. We also looked over the relatively new and moving American Immigrant Wall of Honor (which soon afterward had my father’s name and his parents’ names engraved on it, now among 700,000 others).

Our visit to this National Monument was stirring on a number of levels, and the visceral nature of that experience returns to me as I gear up to both lead a community interfaith study group on “Immigration as a Moral Issue” (beginning next month) and attend the GA in Phoenix, which almost got moved out of Arizona in protest of the harsh political and enforcement climate down there that has endangered so many of the latest generation of American immigrants.

Instead, the Unitarian Universalist Association decided to alter our “business as usual” and recast this year’s annual gathering of thousands of UUs to focus on “multiple ways of engaging in justice work for people of all ages. Joining with the people of Arizona, we will worship, witness, learn and work together.”

One of the resources they have already put together to help educate and inform us about the complex angles of this issue is a six-session discussion guide, which I will soon team up to lead with Betty Petras and Kathryn Keve, two local leaders much more experienced than I am in this field. The Interfaith Council has also agreed to co-sponsor this group, which will be advertised to the wider community.

Betty is not only one of our Cedars worship associates, but a longtime researcher and teacher of immigration-related subjects. Kathryn is a retired psychologist, art therapist and photographer who is on the board of both the Kitsap Immigration Assistance Center in Bremerton and the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple on Bainbridge. They will bring their valuable awareness into play and help deepen our conversations. I look forward to collaborating with them, and other guests they will steer our way.

Immigration as a Moral Issue” will meet on the 2nd and 4th Monday evenings in February, March and April, as part of our current line-up of Spiritual and Ethical Programs for Adults, registration for which is done through the Brown Paper Tickets site, at very minimal cost. (Please sign-up by Feb. 8 so you can get the first session readings beforehand.) This group or any of the other offerings might just be what can spice up and enhance your path toward Spring.

If you’re like me (with immigrant roots—which is most of us, as they say), you may still not be as alert as you’d like to be on the particulars—especially the moral dynamics—of immigration today. I invite you to investigate and grow with me. And consider joining me as well in Phoenix for the also-stirring 2012 Justice General Assembly (June 20-24). Feel free to inquire with any questions, etc. (and/or follow any of the above links).