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Listening to our Differences Around Immigration

Listening to our Differences Around Immigration

Published: April 14, 2011
Jordan Garcia facilitates brainstorming at an AFSC Executive Committee meeting.

Jordan Garcia facilitates a discussion on immigration.

Photo: AFSC / Jon Krieg

By Jordan Garcia, Immigrant Ally Organizing Director, AFSC Colorado Immigrant Rights Program

In late January, Jennifer Piper of AFSC and I presented a Solidarity and Allyship Workshop for 40 people at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) “Social Change in a Multicultural World” gathering. The gathering hosted UU members from the Rocky Mountain and Desert Region.  We started out discussing a graphic depicting the “Web of Oppression” and the “Four I's of Oppression” (Ideological, Institutional, Interpersonal, and Internalized).

We broke up into small groups to identify ways that we could be allies to the immigrant community in each of the four “I” areas. During this time, we provided people the opportunity to come to us for clarity or to ask questions. A woman from Grand Junction, “Jane” and a small group who were interested in getting some "facts" about immigration came up to me.

It quickly emerged that Jane’s more conservative viewpoint and fear of immigrants made her a minority among the UUs in the room. Thankfully, because she was very interested in engaging with the material and because all of us in the small group were curious as to how she came to some of her more anti-immigrant viewpoints, we had a very rich discussion. Through listening to Jane’s story, we were able to help her identify where some of her misconceptions about immigrants originated, and we were able to dispel some, but not all, of the myths she had come to believe.

At the end of the workshop, Jane thanked us for not writing her off or shutting her down because she wasn't on the same page as most of the other people in the room. As we went around the circle discussing what our commitments to allyship would be, she excitedly got on board. She said that she would spend time, particularly as a card carrying member of the Republican Party in her Republican caucus and circles, starting conversations based on her faith and the worth of every person, hoping to infuse discussions about immigration with a human face.

Jane also requested that Piper and I come to Grand Junction to connect with her community there about immigration and dispel some of the myths. I learned a lot from her and her approach to the topic -- not just how to draw someone in to a humanizing conversation about immigrants, but also my own capacity to see differing views and be changed by them.

I often say that at AFSC, we are not in the business of writing people off. But that can be difficult, and it's easy to go to a place of self-righteousness and get preachy. Understanding her perspective on a deeper level brought us closer and maybe brought us both closer to a collective liberation.