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Gustavo Vasquez Speaks About Immigration, the Role of Faith, and our Current Political Season

Recently, Rethink Church spoke with Gustavo Vasquez, Director of Hispanic Latino Communication at United Methodist Communications, about immigration, the role of faith, and our current political season. This is an excerpt of that discussion.

Gustavo: I want to talk about how the issue of immigration is being used within political campaigns. It’s a real concern for me and many others. It concerns me how political candidates are using human beings for their own benefit.

My second concern is that churches are not taking any position about how much humiliation and suffering this issue brings. It’s very sad that several of the candidates are using immigration as an issue to fuel hate in others for their own support.

The Revs. Saul Montiel (left) and John Fanestil pray on opposite sides of the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico during a cross-border service of Holy Communion at El Faro park in Tijuana, Mexico. Montiel is on the Mexico side of the border. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Politicians tell people that a specific group are rapists, came to the U.S. only to receive benefits, or they are lazy. Things like that make others feel hate towards other people—and in most cases, they do not know the people they are talking about.

Rethink: Those generalizations place labels upon an entire people group. Do you think people even realize that it can be hurtful? Isn't that offensive?

Gustavo: Yes, it is offensive. It is not just because someone took a microphone and said these kinds of things. It is offensive because we feel that the leaders (people who are supposed to be prepared to be leaders of this nation) are taking the immigration experience as an element around hate and racism. Their bottom line is, “I will protect you against those invaders.” This is absolutely unacceptable, ethically. You are talking about human beings, but they are acting like they are talking about animals, as if we are pets.

Rethink: Some people are being seen only as a commodity.

Gustavo: Ethically, you are talking about human beings. This has to be an issue where the church has to say something, because human beings are the main love of God; the main creation of God. We see that in the biblical history of God. So, this is one of the things that I’m very concerned that the church is saying nothing about.

Sociologically, there are other implications. What happens in a society like ours that has some history of racism? What happens when you open again these gates of hate towards others— especially those speak another language, have accents, or are immigrants? We must think through how we can close those gates. Who is going to deal with the consequences of this hate that is being spread around?

Rethink Church: It will be passed down from generation to generation.

Gustavo: So, it is a concern. It is amazing that the churches are not saying anything really loudly and getting serious about it.

Rethink Church: How can a traditionally white church tear down those barriers? How can we get the church to come to the point that says, “I want to become a voice that shows value and worth of a people and not allow them to be manipulated?” What needs to happen now, so that future generations are not tarnished by racism?

Gustavo: I feel like we must use the media, since this political campaign is taking place there. As a church, (and I’m not talking only about the United Methodist Church, but all churches) we must show the worth of all human beings—with all of those values that are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, I think in the same way that we find a panel of candidates in the media, it would be helpful if we could see a panel of church leaders telling the media what is the position of the Christians. It might not be representing all Christians, but at least all of the churches that have a history of supporting human rights can say to the nation: this is not the way that we have to do politics.

How does this translate to the daily lives of people? Imagine that you are white. Your leaders and the media are telling you that those who come from other countries are terrorists, rapists, and thieves.

So, when we go to a gas station, for example, or the supermarket, when we go to any store, and we need to receive some kind of service, what would be the attitude of people towards the minority?

Rethink Church: How can we can rethink church? Where can the church be a voice that shows worth, love, care, grace, mercy, and justice in the world?

Gustavo: It is not just on the local level, with local churches and local pastors. We need that voice in the national media. A message through TV can go inside homes and reach families where people in the church might not have access.

Ask this question: In the same way that people are planting hate against those that are different from the dominant culture, what do you think is emerging in the hearts of people who feel marginalized? Love? Compassion? We must try to find a way to stop this dynamic, because this is our country, too. This is our home.

We work hard here, we pay taxes here, and we love everything we have here. In the states, we have to defend our presence and identity. Why do you have to use politics or strategies of hate and racism? That is my concern.

Rethink Church: Thank you for joining us during Hispanic Latino American Heritage Month and bringing this important topic and issue to the forefront of our daily lives. Where could people go if they want to learn more and continue the conversation?

Gustavo: They can Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to continue the conversation, but please remember that our Facebook and Twitter are written in Spanish and Portuguese.

To learn more about how we are celebrating diversity and seeking deeper healthy Race Relations go to the Rethink Church website, and Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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