As a scholar-practitioner, I offer this brief reflection with two aims. First, I invite your participation in the work of survival and liberation currently germinating from within the walls of the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. Second, I encourage deeper scholarly reflection on how one migrant detainee’s theological reflection relates to the postcolonial/anti-imperial analysis of a Chicano biblical scholar—Dr. David Sánchez.
On Monday, July 22, 2013, nine transnational activists entered the United States of America legally, crossing the border that separates it from los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, in an effort to petition for entry on humanitarian grounds. These activists became known as the “Dream 9” and have been likened to Rosa Parks, though to reiterate—their actions were entirely legal. Upon entering the U.S.A., the activists were placed in immigration detention while their case was considered. Some were then placed in solitary confinement, leading one of these to be put on suicide watch. Once their requests for humanitarian parole were denied, they applied for political asylum, recounting their fears of persecution in México and need to escape into the U.S.A. Journalist Aura Bogado has been in frequent communication with the Dream 9 and even visited them in Eloy. She dispels several myths about their case and describes various acts of solidarity that have been comforting and supportive to the detainees:
“Aside from vigils outside of the Eloy Detention Center, Dream 9 supporters are writing letters to the detainees, participating in daylong hunger strikes and holding other events aimed at bringing them home. And the momentum is growing. More than 30 lawmakers have signed on to a letter penned by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Ca.) asking President Obama to use his discretion to allow the Dream 9 to return home. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the House floor asking for the same. Ad-hoc groups, 19 major unions and Human Rights Watch are all demanding the Dream 9 be released. The National Immigrant Youth Alliance, which organized the border crossing and maintains constant contact with the Dream 9, is asking supporters to sign their petition.”
While encouraging support for humane immigration policies consistent with the universal human right to movement across state borders (See Article 13), I also invite deeper reflection on the moral and mythical/theological significance of this border-crossing. Bogado recounts how one detainee from the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, a man of indigenous Mixtec heritage who has not been in México since he was three years old, has begun the theological reflection for us:
“During the Ustream live feed from the Dream 9 crossing into the U.S., Marco Saavedra was heard paraphrasing 1 John 4:18, saying, ‘There is no fear where there is perfect love.’ Saavedra later explained to me that he chose that quote because John was the only one of the 12 Apostles to ever be exiled. He added that he himself felt like he was in exile during his recent visit to Mexico—and remains in exile while he’s in detention.”
This reflection reminds me of David Sánchez’s analysis of modern counter-imperial narratives built upon the first-century biblical writings attributed to John of Patmos in response to the Roman Empire—the same literary “John” referenced by Saavedra. In his book, From Patmos to the Barrio: Subverting Imperial Myths, Sánchez analyzes the ongoing life of these biblical texts within communities struggling to survive amid and against colonial/imperial forces. He examines how these texts were used to counter particular empire-justifying myths in the first-century Roman Empire, seventeenth-century New Spain (México) and the twentieth-century U.S.A., and how they have been deployed to delegitimize imperial power more generally.
In her review of Sánchez’s work, Dr. Jacqueline Hidalgo emphasizes the importance of asking, “How are actual wo/men either implicated or abandoned in these particular patterns of resistance?…[And] why were these counter-imperial myths codified, written down, and ‘scripturalized’ at all?” To answer these questions, we must remain attentive to lo cotidiano, the daily and dynamic struggles of five women and four men who comprise the Dream 9. We must also listen to journalists like Aura Bogado who have real connections to these detained bodies and marginalized voices, and who are courageous enough to risk their journalistic privilege by transcribing this material and mythic resistance. Only in this daily practice of listening can we discern what is divine and which actions reflect “perfect love.”
New York, NY
POSTSCRIPT: Reflecting the initial plan for eight activists to engage in this action, the U.S. Jesuit Conference and the Kino Border Initiative professed support for “the eight young ‘DREAMers’” just one day after their action. A few days later the President of Santa Clara University endorsed the joint statement of these organizations.
POINT OF CLARIFICATION: I refer to John of Patmos as “the same literary ‘John'” as the John of the Johannine epistles. My use of the modifier “literary” and “John” (in quotes) links the author(s) of The Book of Revelation and of The First Epistle of John while alluding to debates among scholars concerning the true historical authors and authorial intentions in attributing these works to a “John.” My choice of phrasing is also meant to acknowledge Marco Saavedra’s implied contention that John of Patmos IS John the Apostle (as well as the author of The First Epistle of John), a position long-held (and debated) within the Christian tradition.