Somerville is a city of immigrants. That’s why I want to include this article by Sergio Inestrosa, a colleague of mine at Endicott College who has a very interesting perspective on things…
The immigrants that I have in mind are the majority of Latinos that came to this country “undocumented”, but this idea also can apply to immigrants from Africa, Syria, or the Middle East trying to find a place in Europe, or the US.
The reasons to immigrate can be very different: economical needs, political reasons, the search for freedom in its multiple forms, the pursuit of happiness, and the desire for adventure. The truth is that immigration is a big component of the global perspective that we are facing now.
I will use the three moments of a hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell to build the reflection.
- Stages of separation
- a) Departure or the call to adventure.
The immigrants as the “mythological” heroes are also exposed to an atmosphere of irresistible fascination, “el otro lado”, meaning US, is a “magical” place, the land of the opportunities, the place where the dreams comes true, “gringolandia, a special place, a call for success, but not without a price. This is a call to adventure where the destiny has summoned the hero and transformed his spiritual center of gravity from within the pole of his society to an unknown place, almost a mythical place where both success and danger may be encounter.
The hero can go in his/her own will, or can be sent by another force: a great economical need, the lack of opportunities in his/her own land, running away from a father that wants to impose his will, escaping from political persecution or fear, running away from military service or as a simple desire for adventure.
- b) Refusal of the call
In many cases, an immigrant can be defeated by circumstances: homesickness, lack of a sponsor to get some money to start the trip, lack of energy to carry on the challenge, fear of failure or death, a specific relative situation, a girl friend or boyfriend, the work of immigration officers, even bad luck can lead a person to refuse the call, etc.
- c) Supernatural aide
For those who have accepted the challenge to start the trip, one of the first encounters is with a protective figure that provides them with amulets for good luck, and success. Many Mexicans have gone to the basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico city to visit the Virgin and ask for help and protection, people from Guatemala may go to Esquipulas for the same purpose; also in Tijuana there is a very famous “goddess” La Santa Muerte, and many immigrants pay tribute to her before crossing the border; some adopted her as a protective divine when they established in the US. Most of the time it is a feminine divinity but it also can be a masculine figure like Saint Jude, or Jesus himself.
- d) The crossing of the first threshold
This is the moment of thrust; reaching the shore of Italy, Spain, Greece or Turkey or crossing of the border in US, facing La Migra, this is a dangerous time, and territory; it is the entrance to a magnified power, and territory.
But for the immigrants, crossing the border is not the end of the problems; the immigrants have to face new challenges, and difficulties: violence, hunger, discrimination, nostalgia, a bitter reality, (US is no longer what use to be), unfamiliarity with the language, and culture, new rules, new set of values, even the weather can be a factor; and let’s not forget those personal needs and desires, a companion, a lover, a family member, a friend.
- e) The belly of the whale
Once the immigrant crosses the border, reaches the shore, he or she will be swallowed into the unknown. For the Latino immigrants, “el otro lado” is the unknown, the new territory, if the immigrant survives, and the majority does, he or she will be born to a new life, new opportunities may be presented. Here starts for the immigrants, our heroes yet a new stage.
- a) The road of trials
Most of immigrants start from the bottom, they use the social connections, a safety net to get shelter and food, to get a job or two, to buy false documents. At that time they are trying to survive, they are learning how to move in this new environment, suddenly they are able to move into a new place, get into a school for night classes, learn the basics f the new language, get a GED, use the social network in the community to succeed, get into a church and express their faith.
If everything goes well, soon the immigrant would be able to sent money home to repay the debts, to help a relative to start the journey or simply to help the family to improve their conditions.
For male immigrants (and probably for female too) companion, alcohol, gambling may be distractions, temptations; the new culture and language, new set of rules, very low education background, social and racial discrimination may be obstacles to succeed. Defeat of those obstacles can be the real measurement of the achievement.
- b) Apotheosis
If the immigrant find a job or two and starts sending money to his/her family this should be seeing as an apotheosis, meaning that the journey had paid off, all the effort, and suffering have been rewarded. The immigrant can be seen as a hero, even for the cynical politicians. He or she is now a good son, daughter, husband, father, mother, a brave person that made a sacrifice, and finally is collecting the fruits of that effort. Everybody would exalt the kindness, the great heart, the courage ofthis ordinary hero and this “fervor” will be contagious, others will try to imitate him/her, and will start their journey. Success is contagious.
- The return
If by any chance that immigrant returns having been deported, he/she will seen as a victim, a person that have suffered the injustice of the system; but if that person returns as a legal immigrants people will recognize his/her achievements; if returning by air people will receive him/her at the airport, how sweeter return, so different from that day when the hero departed.
From the first moment we will see a change in his/her clothing, or maybe a testimony to their success will be the purchased of a house, or improvements to his/her property or the increase in his/her positions; if a car is purchase or driven around people will notice the good luck working in favor of the immigrant. In any case of those cases, the immigrant would be seeing as a victorious person; everybody will recognize and even celebrate his/her success.
So many times that immigrant will compare his/her current situation with his/her home land, and people will notice that the new land has taken hold of him/her. The hero, the immigrant, looks like a Master of the two worlds. The hero has gained the freedom to live, to pass from one side to the other without risking his/her life.
Finally the immigrant stands victorious as true hero.