Guest Blog by Sami DiPasquale
Editor’s Note: Yesterday, President Obama gave a major address on the subject of immigration in El Paso, Texas. We’ve embedded video of the speech below, or the text is available online via The New York Times. What follows is a reflection on the speech from Sami DiPasquale, who leads a ministry called Ciudad Nueva in El Paso.
Yesterday, as I sat at the Chamizal National Memorial waiting for President Obama to deliver his immigration speech in El Paso, my mind drifted to other occasions when I had spent time at this same park; listening to live music performances under the summer stars, watching 4th of July fireworks, flying kites with a crew of kids wondering if our kites might get blown a hundred yards over into Mexico and what we would do if they did. The Chamizal Park tends to invoke a lot of memories, both for me personally and for the region as a whole.
In order to give a better picture of the setting that Obama landed in yesterday, let me briefly attempt to place El Paso on the map. The city of El Paso lies at the far western tip of Texas on the border with New Mexico and directly adjacent to Ciudad Juarez, our sister city across the border in Chihuahua, Mexico. This El Paso-Juarez community forms one of the largest bi-national metropolises in the world with a combined population of about 2.2 million. When viewed from above the two cities appear as one, and in many ways the aerial view reflects the unique interconnectedness of life in these twin cities.
Prior to the U.S.-Mexico war in the 1840’s, the two cities were unified and the region, known as El Paso del Norte, was part of Mexico. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, Paso del Norte found itself divided into two countries: the U.S. side evolved into what is now known as El Paso, and the Mexican side was later named Juarez. Over the years an interesting problem arose. The Rio Grande marked the border between Mexico and the United States, but the river continually meandered and so the border kept changing.
The very land where the president delivered his speech yesterday was actually part of Mexico as recently as fifty years ago. The Chamizal National Memorial was established in 1963 to commemorate the Chamizal Convention, a treaty between the U.S. and Mexico that essentially stabilized the Rio Grande making the national boundary markers permanent, thus eliminating land disputes that would arise over fluctuations in the river. Twin parks were then established on each side of the new permanent border, and both parks were named Chamizal.
Needless to say, Obama landed in a complicated setting filled with deep emotion and symbolism. He spoke of laws and undocumented immigrants, of security and economic promise, of deportation and a path to citizenship. He spoke of all these things against a backdrop of American flags and in full view of a gigantic Mexican flag a stone’s throw across the Rio Grande in Mexico. He spoke of these matters in a region that has grappled with these issues for generations.
This setting certainly informed the topic of the speech. The bridge spanning the Rio Grande behind the presidential podium processes about eight million border crossings per year. Many families in the El Paso community love family members on both sides of the border, and those who are able often cross back and forth multiple times per week (I can leave my house and drive into Mexico in under 10 minutes). Companies with twin plants have business interests on both sides of the border and truck shipments pass through this border to the tune of billions of dollars per year. The area is interconnected on so many personal and economic levels that it’s impossible to consider El Paso in isolation from Juarez, and the people of El Paso in isolation from the people of Juarez.
The Chamizal location, like the President’s speech, spoke of conflict and pain, but also of peaceful settlement and hope. It spoke of a land and a people intertwined on a myriad of different levels—ethnically, historically and economically. Chamizal National Memorial was created according to the National Park Service, “to serve as a symbol of what can be accomplished when two entities come together to discuss their differences and peacefully settle a dispute.” The entities concerned and the differences involved certainly shift over time, but I live in hope that differences can still be discussed and disputes can still be peacefully settled, and progress can be made regarding issues such as just and comprehensive immigration reform.
Yet even if these efforts fall short, it is always good for me to remember how I must continue to act as a follower of Christ regardless of the shifting laws and disputes of our nation. I know beyond a doubt that I must love my neighbors, the people who I run into daily, those who are vulnerable and hurt and lonely. And for that assurance I am grateful. I don’t need a Presidential speech, or an act of Congress, or a change in the law in order for me to love my neighbors.
Sami DiPasquale is the executive director of Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach in central El Paso, Texas. Sami is married with three daughters, and he lives and works in a low-income neighborhood primarily composed of first generation immigrants from Mexico. He holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (International Development) from Wheaton College, and an MBA from the University of Texas at El Paso. Sami grew up overseas, spending the majority of his childhood in the Middle East, and has spent the last ten years working among refugees and immigrants in the United States. Sami’s driving motivation is to join others in bridging divides and moving toward reconciliation with God, his neighbors and the rest of creation.
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