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Learning Firsthand How Immigrants Are Treated

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“I’ve learned so much about immigration from your Facebook posts,” wrote a friend on my Facebook page

“I, too, have learned a lot from the articles I post,” I replied.

Since I returned to Texas from Georgia, I’ve had this conversation with many friends. They are surprised to find out that immigration wasn’t a topic that interested me until I moved to Georgia.

I’m a fifth-generation Texan of Mexican-American heritage who likes to say, “We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.”

Moving from Texas to Georgia was the shock of my life. Georgians and co-workers often asked questions and made comments that left me perplexed:

·  “Why are all these immigrants coming to Georgia?”

·  “They are filling our schools up!”

·  “They attend our church. Now what do we do?”

Having lived in Texas all my life, I was used to people having a basic understanding of Spanish and Mexican-American customs and life. People seemed relatively comfortable gleaning the best from both cultures.

Everyone in Texas, for example, enjoyed a good tamale at Christmas. OK, I’m simplifying things, but you get the idea.

In Texas, both Latinos and Euro-Americans were destined to live together after Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on Feb. 2, 1848.

But in Georgia, I had to explain that I was a Texan, and I didn’t know what was driving the boom in immigration.

After being mistaken for an immigrant numerous times and being asked, “Where is your family from?” I would typically reply, “Texas.”

Inevitably my Georgian friends would reply, “No, where are they really from?”

And then I would give a brief history lesson and say, “My family is from Texas.”

The 2010 U.S. census painted the picture that immigrants are moving to Georgia to work. The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that immigrants make up 7 percent of Georgia’s workforce. That’s 325,000 people.

But Georgia isn’t the only state dealing with the “browning” of its population. It’s happening all over the country.

You and I have to determine what our Christian response will be to the stranger. Although I wasn’t an immigrant, I got a taste of how they are treated because I looked like how other people assumed an immigrant looked.

To be honest, it’s an experience I never want to repeat. But in the process, I found myself studying Scripture to see what the Bible had to say about welcoming the stranger.

I have also purposefully sharpened my second-language skills so I can communicate with Spanish speakers. And most important, I have intentionally built relationships with immigrants living near me.

The latest U.S. census documented a more diverse America than we have ever seen. How will you respond to immigrants moving into your neighborhood?

Laura Cadena is a fifth-generation Tejana and a graduate of Baylor University and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. She appears in the EthicsDaily.com documentary “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism.”