Sermon audio – Lessons from El Paso – Rev. DL Helfer
COMING HOME . . .
by Rev. DL Helfer
El Paso, Texas
Saturday, February 2, 2019
Somehow, I hadn’t recognized my own privilege, entirely, in the midst of these two weeks of volunteering at the border. I hadn’t realized how I take for granted my driver’s license, my passport, and the other pieces of governmentally approved documentation that allows me to come and go as I please.
As I waited in the security line early this morning in El Paso’s airport, I was surprised by the presence of two uniformed and armed border agents. “Really,” I thought, “isn’t TSA and immigration checks already big-brothery enough? Do we really need border guards just before the baggage screening, too?”
It made me wonder what they were doing there, why their presence was called for. Certainly, we’ve made it incredibly hard for anyone without ‘proper’ documentation to travel. Quickly, and to my dismay, the answer to my question became rapidly clear.
Anyone not Caucasian, and especially men, were pulled out of line; this is after the check in and passport and immigration check. Papers were demanded again, questions were asked without kindness, and people were forced to (re)justify their right to travel freely.
I was – am – furious. And yet I said nothing this time, truth be told. I was afraid of TSA’s retribution, of traveling while trans*, and I also (if I’m honest) wanted to get on my flight. I feel like I made the wrong decision. I wish I had said – “do you see, do you care, that you’re profiling by color of one’s skin? Did you see that 4-year-old boy when you pulled his father from the line, already aware to be afraid of anything that looks like police?” I wish I had called a local paper. I was I had somehow stood on the side of love and justice in that moment.
I acknowledge that it seems a complicated matter in Texas (and this is a broad brush statement based on finite experiences, though; this is observation, only). It’s not solely a racial issue, locally either; ICE agents, border agents, and most of ‘law enforcement’ is Latino, appropriately reflective the population there. Many El Paso-ans are openly supportive of these individuals, and of their portion of the wall that exists. I was told repeatedly of how El Paso is a ‘very safe place,’ but that wasn’t always so. Separated from Mexico by only a water channel and a freeway, before El Paso’s portion of the wall, they tell me, it wasn’t uncommon for fleeing Mexican (or other countries’) citizens to run straight through someone’s backyard locally on their way into Texas.
I’m understanding, anew, that what happens at the border if far more complicated than I understood. But that doesn’t in any way justify our country’s actions.
The power structures, those that say who does and doesn’t enter, are white. The power structure which perpetuates this cruelty is because of wealthy white men and their never-ending need for money, power, and control. At the core, it’s about racism and greed.
As I head home, I notice anew the way we – and I – inure ourselves from that which is too painful too see. That if we open our eyes to white supremacist structures, it’s everywhere and we can’t not see it.
And they’re everywhere.
More than maybe ever before, I feel both utterly committed and somewhat despairing. What I’ve seen has changed me. Angered me. Connected me.
I come home ready and needing to talk about this. I come home to support those entities dedicated to the dismantling of ICE and every other form of cruelty we impose.
And the irony here is that I can come home, that I can travel where/when/how I want, because of the same privilege I commit to dismantle.