It took over seven years for me to come to the United States. My dad came when I was four. My mom came when I was six. During that time, my parents went through a divorce, but they had to remain in contact because they had to figure out my situation.
I was left to live with my grandma in El Salvador until I was 12. They were fun years of playing soccer on the street, helping out with the family business of selling school supplies, and sneaking into my grandma’s closet to “borrow” a dollar each day because I didn’t like the snack she would pack for me at school. I still haven’t paid her back. (Sorry, Grandma.)
My childhood was pretty normal for someone growing up in El Salvador. It wasn’t until I was about nine that I noticed there were bigger things than my school snack to think about. One day my dad called. Usually, when he called, we talked about how life was going and how we would go to Disney World when I came to the United States. My grandma would talk to him after I did. She’d tell him about the cool things I was doing and all the dollars I was taking from her. I would be handed the phone again and told not to do that. I would agree, but I never stopped.
But the conversation this time went a little differently. I heard my grandma say, “This process is taking too long. I want him to get out of here. Things are getting bad. I am tempted to send him.” She was referring to sending me to the United States illegally.
Over the next three years, I started to understand what was going on in my country. There was violence. I feared getting off the school bus. Everyone’s doors were closed around 8pm. Not a single person could be spotted on the street. I remember speed walking home with my grandma on her Bible study nights, her telling me to speak to nobody or to not stare at anyone (like all little kids do). Gangs and violence were all around us. Kids my age would be threatened to join gangs, or else the members would go after their families.
Fast forward: I came to the United States legally when I was 12. It was absolutely painful. After years of waiting, my residency was approved on May 14, 2006, and I was on a flight bound for Los Angeles the morning of May 18, 2006. In two short days, I had withdrawn from school and said goodbye to my friends, family, and everything I had come to know as home. I still remember the tears on my grandma’s face as she hugged me goodbye. I held it together for her until the car backed out of the street I grew up on, but then it was all tears for weeks to come. The violence in El Salvador continued. Many of my childhood friends came to the United States—both legally and illegally—in search of the American Dream. A handful stayed and a couple became gang members.
Now, I am almost 24 years old, marking the year where I have lived just as long here as I did in El Salvador. My years in the United States have been incredibly impactful (becoming a follower of Jesus, graduating college, and starting my career). I’m a citizen of both countries, but the political world of immigration around me also seems so confusing. All the news articles and pictures are trying to draw a line between right and wrong. Between humane and inhumane. Between right and left. Between pro-immigration and anti-immigration.
Everyone asks me, “What do you think?” I say, “I don’t know.” Not because I want to avoid a political topic, but because I simply don’t know. I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t even know how to process a lot of the things I hear in the media. It seems the world wants me to stand with one side or with the other. I don’t, but here is how I am processing it all:
I talk to God.
A great portion of my summers are spent traveling, which means walking through countless airports. I see magazines and newspapers filled with headlines that want my attention. I talk to my friends who live abroad, and they often tell me they don’t understand why our country is doing certain things. And they ask me why. Quite frankly, I don’t know. Last year, I started journaling on my phone, and I found myself going to that journal in those moments. I ask God a similar question: “Why is this happening?” I haven’t received an answer, but it has made me approach Him as a father who genuinely wants to hear my thoughts, cares for them, and wants me to grow. In the midst of all that, He has transformed my heart to be more humble, attentive, and loving. I’m sure our world could use more of that. Now I’m able to look back and see areas in which God has grown me, instead of feeling angst in reading the newest headline.
I’m a foreigner in this world.
If there is one thing I have come to understand, it is the fact that I am a foreigner. Yes, for a while I felt that way in this country (you can probably tell since people refer to me as Rico and I have a somewhat-sexy Salvadorian accent), but I’m also a foreigner in this world. As a believer in Jesus, I know that ultimately my citizenship is in heaven, and I want all the people I know and love to come to that kingdom. One that will last forever, not one that will cease to exist. Knowing that my citizenship is in heaven helps me remember that the things of this world will come to pass, no matter how hard they are. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world. He kept his eyes fixed on the kingdom that was to come.
I’m called to live a life of love.
I don’t know the right answers. I am not sure what Jesus would say about the immigration debate. But I do see things that hurt me, like when followers of Jesus resolve to arguments on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. It’s OK to have convictions, but it’s another thing to post hateful comments. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Not by the opinions we express, but rather the way we love one another. I am called to love the person who is on the right, the person who is on the left, the person who has no opinion, and the person whose Facebook post really ticked me off. And you know what? The most loving way to respond to that post that really set you off is sometimes saying nothing at all.
Hear it from someone else’s perspective.
My family and close friends hate talking politics with me. I hardly ever say anything, and a lot of times I just listen. I bet they think I am dumb because I just smile and nod. I only speak to ask questions to understand their perspective a little bit better. There is value to that. Many times their story and the things they have been going through helps them shape their perspective. I don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but it helps me understand them better. I think part of loving is understanding. We don’t have to see eye to eye, but that should never get in the way of loving and understanding someone.
It’s OK to not have answers.
I teach Spanish and not history, but here is one thing I know: Trials, tribulations, and problems often push people closer to God. God is ultimately in charge, and I pray that his will be done. I am not saying to not have convictions. Have convictions, and when you do, let them lead you into action. And it’s totally OK to not have answers. It’s OK to feel confused. It’s also OK to feel whatever you are feeling. Trust that God is good, and bring those thoughts to him. He’d love to hear them, because he loves and cares for you. In turn, let’s show that same love to others.
Let’s love one another. Let’s understand one another. Talk with people that are different than you. Understand their story. They have something valuable and unique to bring into your life, just as you have something valuable and unique to bring to their life. You don’t have all the answers. Your opinion will not change the political parties and their agendas. The hard part is choosing love and clinging to Jesus’ promise that he will be with us always until the very end of the age. Until then, let’s take the humble steps to grow into people who look like Him in all we do.