Today I spent the day showing my cousin from Philadelphia and her family around southwest Georgia. We visited some of my favorite places – The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, Koinonia Farm, Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village and Discovery Center, and Cafe Campesino’s fair trade coffeehouse. (Interesting note: Each of these places understand that, ultimately, to address the issue of unauthorized immigration you have to, first and foremost, address root causes like health care, education, trade policies, racism, the need for sustainable development, housing and job creation.)
It was a bit odd having someone else drive me around in my own car, especially an out-of-town guest but I was glad I had a car to offer and was appreciative that they respected my Lenten fast, even if it implied they would have to drive me, the host, around.
However, I was reminded today as I was being driven across the pecan orchards and small towns of the eastern end of the Black Belt, the reason for my choosing this fast. This fast was selected for Lent as an opportunity to show justice to self, justice to God, justice to the earth and justice to others, the oppressed immigrant, her oppressor and those of us who benefit from this system of oppression and are either ignorant or silent. As I drove by a courthouse under construction, I knew was not surprised by what awaited me this afternoon.
You see, upon seeing the hues and hearing the accents, I immediately recalled from my memory that just a few years ago it was mostly unauthorized immigrants who built the courthouse in my home county. Almost as soon as I remembered that tiny bit of historical data I also remembered how area immigrants would often refer to the courthouse with the double entendre, “look at the court we built,” meaning built by their physical labor and paid for in great measure, not only by the one-cent sales tax that they also contributed to with their consumption but also by the payment of fines for driving without access to a license.
Yes, unauthorized immigrants build the structures that supposedly uphold the rule of law, while that same government uses their loyal, low-wage labor and their excessive, humiliating fines to boost the bottom line.
And that’s the bottom line (another double entendre).
So it was deja vu as I spoke with the construction crew building of this second, seperate county courthouse under construction. Perhaps it was Latino face or my Spanish communicative abilities. Maybe it was my t-shirt bearing Cesar Chavez’s recently plagiarized “¡sí, se puede!” (“yes, we can”)… I’m not sure.
But as I spoke with the mostly Guatemalan construction crew working on this new, spectacular testament to the “rule of law,” I found out relatively quickly and easily that many of the crew members were also well acquainted with the incongruent posture of a State which denies them the opportunity to lawfully drive to this house of cards, I mean, laws that they are building with pride and with excellence.