The land of the free and the home of the brave? The True North strong and free?
Hundreds gathered at the Peace Arch Border Crossing Sunday afternoon, January 12, 2017 to express concern and opposition for recent American immigration policies and attitudes impacting immigrants and refugees. This peaceful demonstration had originally been planned for January 5th but had to be postponed due to poor weather conditions.
I was invited to say a few words; this was my text:
I am an immigrant, first to the United States, and later to Canada. I am Hispanic, I am Latina… I am white skinned. I am a citizen of Colombia by birth—and a citizen of Canada by choice. I am a transgender woman. I am a lesbian
Like every single person who has ever lived, I had no choice in which country I'd be born in; Nor into which religious tradition. I did not get to choose my parents, I had no choice over my mother tongue. I had no choice when it came to the color of my skin. I did not choose my sexual orientation And I did not choose to be transgender.
Of all these things I have listed, only one did I choose for myself. I chose to become a Canadian citizen.
I had no choice over anything else on my list.
Isn’t it ironic—indeed, isn’t it tragic how the very things none of us got to choose are the things which historically have been used to justify vilification, then discrimination, then persecution, and ultimately—and potentially—annihilation and erasure?
Isn’t immoral how any one of these unchosen things can become a liability when a group needs someone to blame for their woes and needs a convenient scapegoat?
That is what we are witnessing today, and it’s not just the immigrant and the refugee who is being singled out. The same mentality that has resulted in the Ban and the Wall is casting a wide net. Women's reproductive rights, race relations, LGBTQI rights, to name just three, are threatened.
As a transgender person, I am particularly aware of how my trans and non-binary friends in the United States are losing protection from discrimination, medical coverage, and access to public restrooms, to name a few.
The seriousness of the situation cannot be underscored enough. I personally know of one 21 year-old trans woman from Boston, who one week after the new President took office, chose to end her life.
She could no longer envision a hopeful future for herself. Executive orders wiped out her access to trans-related healthcare, and she feared future executive orders would make her life less safe.
Her parents buried her on Monday, January 30th. This was so unnecessary. This is tragic. This is so incredibly sad. Her name was Amber.
It is a travesty how so many people in America are suddenly made to feel: Devalued and Marginalized; Ostracized and Rejected; Hopeless; and The convenient scapegoat!
When I trained to be a multi-faith chaplain, I chose to embrace the radical and downright scandalous teachings of inclusion proclaimed by Jesus, the Nazarene.
He dared to challenge the notion of exclusion on the basis of where someone was from, what they did for a living, their economic or social status, or how they chose to live authentically. He spoke against intolerance. He challenged the gender hierarchy.
He championed the inherent worth of every person, of the prostitute, the beggar, the leper, the physically disabled, the tormented by personal demons, the prisoner, children and the aged.
More importantly, he invited us to seek the face of the Divine in the face of the orphan, the widow, the imprisoned, the hungry, the untouchable, the homeless and the refugee.
This was good news to me.
But these are not the good news I hear coming these days from those who are consolidating power in the United States. Indeed, these are not the good news coming from those who support these policies, yet claim to be Christian.
Shame on them for their hypocrisy!
What happened to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as your would have them do unto you?”
I am sickened by how some in the United States—and Canada—have been emboldened to spew out their bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and islamophobia, in recent weeks—with tragic consequences.
While we shook our collective heads at the headline: “Hate crimes soar after the election,” we were jolted by the senseless shootings in Quebec City!
Our countries are better than this.
The United States’ anthem ends with the phrase “The land of the free, and the home of the brave.” A similar sentiment is expressed in the Canadian Anthem, “The True North strong and free.”
Would that both refrains be true and not just wishful, empty claims in patriotic songs.
There is nothing freeing about banning or rounding up people on the basis of their creed, race, or color.
There is nothing brave about building walls or placing handcuffs on grandparents and children.
Let these refrains inspire our two countries to be lands where there is freedom from rejection, marginalization, discrimination, and violence for being different.
Let our countries be known as lands where one’s freedom does not come at the expense of another’s;This is true freedom.
Let our countries be known as lands where one’s bravery is not measured by valor in the battle field alone, but by the resolve that it takes to welcome the refugee and the alien, the courage to protect the marginalized, and the generosity to feed and house the destitute, This is true bravery.
Let our countries demonstrate their strength by how they lift the burdens off their neighbor’s back. This is true strength.
And truly Strong!
But more than anything else, let our compassion be what truly defines how we as “Brethren dwell together in Unity” as the monument behind me proclaims.