They have built an altar in our parish center.
They have decorated it with colorful tissue paper cut-outs and pictures of their deceased relatives.
They have placed fruit, loaves of bread and bottles of beer on their altar.
Last night, after their Mass, they came into the center and stood around their altar.
They stood quietly talking.
They explained the meaning of the altar to me, how the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls are huge celebrations back home.
How, if they were back in Mexico, they would take these days to visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of their deceased relatives with flowers, and with the things they loved in life.
(If we did that here, I would put a bottle of Miller High Life and a stick of butter on my daddy's side of their headstone, and a Snickers bar and a cup of coffee on my mom's. A box of Toaster Strudels on Helen's. Pictures of little kids on Mrs. Christopher's.)
Immigrants don't have an easy time of it here in our little town. There are some wonderful programs for them, and some wonderful people who are working tirelessly to improve conditions for those who have come here to work. And live.
But there are townsfolk who aren't so nice. I've seen it in the snide glances of the Wal-Mart cashiers, and heard the sarcasm in their voices when they ask, "Is this parsley or cilantro?, " knowing full well that the customer on the other side of the counter probably doesn't speak much English.
Last week, while standing in a long line at the post office, I watched as the clerk let a blonde woman jump the line to show her ID (which she had left in her car) and pay for her shipping, but told a Mexican couple who she had been helping that they would have to go to the end of the line to pay for a padded envelope; they stepped away from the counter momentarily to get one from the rack behind them.
I watched. I didn't say anything. And as pissed off as I was at that clerk, I am more pissed off at myself.
For not letting that clerk know that perhaps her actions were unwelcoming, unloving and little (edited to remove unloving comment on my part.)
For not knowing enough Spanish to tell the couple that I was sorry that the clerk was an unwelcoming, unloving (ditto)
For not knowing what to do to make this Us vs. Them situation better.
I have jumped on the e-mail bandwagon, asking my Congressman and Senators to pass "comprehensive immigration reform." They sent back eloquently-worded notes, thanking me for my input and explaining the legislative challenges they faced in this issue, which caused it to fail in Congress.
I have downloaded Spanish lesson podcasts and subscribed to peace and justice newsgroups.
I have helped out at Spanish liturgies (which in turn, has led to invitations to fantastic meals afterward.)
But I don't know why we just can't get along.
I know, I know, it's historical. I've been to Ellis Island. I know that every minority group who has come to America has been faced with discrimination, usually from the minority group who got here right before them.
But I've also been to the Statue of Liberty. Right there, carved into the icon of American freedom, it says, "Give me your tired, your poor/your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me."
Don't we believe that?
And in this Christian country, shouldn't we pay attention to the Bible? It tells us, "When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don't take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember you were once foreigners in Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34)
I like law and order. I like things on the up-and-up. If you are doing something illegal, you should quit doing it. I like people to stop at stop signs, pay their taxes and follow the rules.
But I like people more. And I like justice more. And I like peace most of all.