Responding to Our Calling in This Time

By: Greg Jobin-Leeds

Cristina Jiménez is from Queens, a special place to me. It’s where my mom, an immigrant refugee at age 11 first lived with her family when they arrived in the United States. In the 1940’s my Mother went to Queens College. So did Cristina. Not only that but Cristina was the commencement speaker at Queens College last year. But Cristina’s experience was different than Mom’s. Cristina was brown-skinned and undocumented (and Queens College was absolutely free back when Mom went there). Being undocumented and brown-skinned made Cristina’s experience more like what it was like to be a Jew in Germany in the 1930’s before the death camps happened. My mother was a big fan of strong powerful women, I imagine she would really like Cristina. I wish she was alive to hear this episode. 

Now, Queens is the epicenter of COVID-19. My cousin Ann, who survived Auschwitz and the Nazi extermination camps, did not survive Corona. She died last week and I could not go to the funeral. We are of course isolating ourselves in our homes and we aren’t able to be with loved ones at such difficult moments. For many of us we are experiencing isolation for the first time. Not being able to be with loved ones when they are sick or traveling to go to family funerals, this is what undocumented folks have experienced for decades. While we fear the virus, they fear Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

My hope in doing these podcasts is to explore how folks with privilege — as citizens or as people who have money, or who see themselves as “white” — how do we stand up and be in solidarity with those who are not citizens? How do we respond to our calling at this time?

What a time to be alive, what a time to be alive!

Today’s headlines are mind blowing: a moratorium on all housing evictions in Massachusetts; 45 immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention camps are being released to prevent COVID-19 deaths… the sheltering in place is working so schools will be closed for the rest of the year. How do we respond?

In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to interview folks (for our live webcasts that we launched in response to the crisis) including those working to get families out of detention centers, protect undocumented caregivers and today we release our second podcast with Cristina Jiménez of United We Dream, the largest immigrant student led organization in the country.

What is the role for those of with privilege? At our website we list many ways to get involved, learn more and support those bearing the brunt of our horrific immigration policy.

For those of us who have privilege, we often think we know better. We see our acts of helping out as charity. Especially for those of us raised as men, those of us with money or who are not people of color, the hardest thing to do is to show up and not think we know better.

In each episode, we ask what are the biggest or most common mistakes that allies, who want to be in solidarity, make? The answers are surprisingly similar. The first time Cristina answered this question before the sheltering in place began (I got to interview Cristina twice for this episode) she said the most common mistake we make is:

“Thinking that you know better. So often we hear, allies joining who want to work alongside us, who then say, this should be the strategy, or you should get behind and support this candidate or you should be organizing your community in this way, or your messaging or your voice should be this.”

And so I think that that’s where we get it wrong, when we are not directly impacted and we think that we know better — whether that is a strategy or a message or tactics. As an ally your voice and your contributions matter so much as your understanding and awareness that those directly impacted should be the ones that are defining strategy. The most helpful question that allies can be asking is, how do we support those most impacted, to be fully empowered, to be fully supported, to lead, to develop strategy, to speak up for themselves?

And if you’re called to do something, respond to that call.

When folks are facing deportation for example, their family members or friends or community members ask those with citizenship to show up at ICE offices because those that are undocumented have more vulnerabilities. The protections that those have that come with being a citizen, you are being called to use that. Use that privilege to support the communities directly impacted. When needed to, be the ones that show up to ICE offices because the undocumented communities are at a further risk of deportation… 

Be mindful and thoughtful for how you engage.

This is when the “switch flipped” in my brain once again. Sometimes, despite thinking I know better with all my privilege, I need to show up, shut up and do what I am asked. It is not always easy.