One of my spiritual sisters approached me several days ago and asked, “Did you know that in our Constitution, African-Americans were considered 3/5 of a man before the 14th Amendment of 1868?” I looked at the hurt that was on her face and felt her pain. I answered her, “Yes, I knew that, but the thing that is even sadder is that full citizenship, which gave protection under the law, did not come to African-Americans until 100 years later.” I also reminded her that when the Constitution was written, most African-Americans were in their homeland or slaves in this country with a few exceptions. I explained to her that that is why my heart is heavy for the immigrants who willingly came here looking for a better life just as the earlier immigrants had done many years ago.

It is hard for me to wrap my thoughts around understanding how hard-hearted these same immigrants have become knowing that their background is the same. I shared with her how my heart hurts to see the little children of immigrants sitting on the steps crying after the Mississippi ICE roundup some days ago. Through tears the little girl was saying, “My Daddy is not a criminal. All we want to do is work and have a better life here.” The little girl said, “Mr. President, please send my Daddy back to us.”

Earlier in the month of August, I had to come face to face with a situation which made me realize that over 11 million people live with this reality every day in this country. For the last 10 years, I had been looking at the immigration problem through long-distance lenses.

These are life-changing episodes that we witness in the lives of other human beings, and yet we just go on with life as usual. We think nothing about the long-lasting effects of things that we witness. We are shallow people. Last year I made reference to us as being hollow people as T.S. Elliot had written in his poem, “Hollow Men.” He wrote that we are like men filled with straw. I have concluded that we are not even like the Scarecrow in “The Wiz.” The Scarecrow at least had the desire to be better so that he could do better. He had the inward ability to know that something was missing in his development. If it does not take food from our table, harm our children, create fear in our lives or home, we just are not moved to compassion for others who are different.

Several days ago we had a spiritual son to run into some financial problems and needed us to pick him up from work. My husband and I arrived at the work site some minutes early. We were able to observe workers getting off from work as well as those reporting to work. The place evidently hires 80% immigrants. The majority of those coming and going were Guatemalans and Latinos. They were most serious about getting to their stations in a timely manner as they moved back and forth going and coming. I tried to imagine being in a strange country, unable to speak the language of that strange land and yet having the overwhelming desire to find a better life in that strange land among people who did not want me there.

As I reflected, I became very unhappy with myself because I get upset when many of my Caucasian friends say black people all look alike. I realized that even though I had also worked in GEAR with Hispanics, Latinos, Guatemalans, Asians, etc., I was not able to identify the immigrants by culture individually. Sad.

When our spiritual son finally came to the car and we were driving away, I asked him to share with us some of the experiences of working in a place of that nature. When he began to share, I wished I had not asked. In some cases, ignorance is bliss. He shared with us that there are times when someone will text an individual on the work-line warning that ICE is in the building. “ICE is in the building!” would get yelled out, causing everyone on the line to panic and run for the doors speaking in their various languages. He said most times it would be a false alarm. The instigator would be someone in the building simply wanting to cause chaos, not realizing and/or not caring about the long term emotional and psychological damage that he/she was creating in the lives of other human beings. He said that out of a hundred people on his line maybe 15-20 would be left, and without thinking, the few blacks and whites left would think it to be a laughing matter.

Operating in a hostile land is most uncomfortable spiritually, psychologically and emotionally. I pray that one day our empty, straw-filled hearts will be filled once again with the love and compassion of our Creator. I pray that we will see the beauty of God’s creation in every living creature and realize that the Creator did not make a mistake. Those of us who cannot accept that must have a problem with his/her Creator.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of American Connection for the Performing Arts Inc.

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