I Exist.

By Raquel Velazquez

It hurts so much when people talk about my friends, family, and other immigrants as if we’re some invasive species and not children of God. 

My family immigrated from Mexico when I was seven years old. Unlike less fortunate families, we could afford to come to America because my father had an engineering degree that landed him a job with a major aeronautics corporation. However, my aunt and uncle came into the country a few years later without being able to pay for their whole family to come; it was two years later and only after working 70 hours a week each that they could finally afford for their highschool-aged children to join them from living with my grandmother in Mexico City. 

Our lives have been so blessed to not only be in such a safe and prosperous country, but also to be welcomed into the Catholic Church here in America. They say that Catholicism is the universal church where you can go to mass halfway across the world and it is the same exact mass that is being held everywhere else. This is so true and so beautiful. I was a little child who had just received first communion when we left our home parish to move to America. We had one priest, Fr. Jorge, who always would pick me up after mass and look me in the eye and tell me “Dios te ama, Raquel” (God loves you). My faith was my first love and it was my constant in the move from my old home to my new home. 

As we went to our first mass at our new home outside of Chicago, things were different. The songs were more somber, some customs were new to me, and the people around us were not the ones I had grown up with. Even though we were raised bilingual and I spoke English, it was hard to keep up with how fast the priest was talking during mass. However, when He held up the bread and wine and said the words of the Eucharistic Prayer and the transubstantiation occurred, I felt at home again. I knew we were in the same Catholic Church here in Chicago, Illinois, USA, that we were in Mexico City. In that moment I realized we were part of something great. We are one faith and one church.

I don’t need to tell you the inherent racism that this country is facing. I don’t need to tell you about the comments that my family, friends, and I have received throughout our lives here in America. I don’t need to tell you what some politicians are trying to do to treat me like less of a person. I need to tell you that Jesus Christ is OUR Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ came for Gentiles and Jews, Blacks and Whites, Hispanics and Asians. We are all God’s children, whether you were born in America or not. Also, in God’s infinite goodness, He has gifted us to each other as brothers and sisters to support our goal of getting to heaven, and we are called to see one another and love one another.

My family was welcomed into our community with loving arms, yet so many other families aren’t. Yes, some people are in this country illegally and some are here legally. I am not advocating for any political agenda, nor saying we should have unlimited and unrestricted entrance into our country. But we need to stop pretending that people’s dignity revolves around their legal status. Putting their legal status aside, it is simply unacceptable as Catholics that anyone is poorly treated by other Christians. We have a duty to welcome the stranger (“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:19) and to rejoice as one Church in Christ. There is no life-changing wisdom I have to share on this topic and there is no conversion of hearts that I can perform to make those who disagree with me change their minds. The choice to treat people with respect to their dignity is simply that: a choice. If you can’t make that simple choice to respect others, why are you calling yourself Catholic? All of us are so loved by the Father, and He commands us to love one another because of the love He has for us. It is our duty as Catholics to see the person in front of them, rather than the political issue. We must use our hearts and minds to preach the Gospel Message.
Our country may be divided, but our Church is not. The Catholic Church is the largest and statistically most supportive organization in the entire history of the world when it comes to supporting immigrants. If any of my brothers and sisters who have immigrated are reading this, and you need support, please reach out to me, to Born Dignified, or to your local Catholic Church for help. If anyone is reading this and wants to know what you can do: be a friend. Without being welcomed into the community, we create a divide amongst ourselves. Be willing to get to know the immigrants in your community, and I promise you won’t regret it. We have beautiful stories to share, just like you, and we want to share in your life and community. We must remember these truths: God made us, God loves us, and God gave us to each other to build His kingdom even higher. So as new people enter into this country, let them enter into God’s kingdom as well.