Deserving my Citizenship: Reflections on grace and generosity

How much have you considered where you were born and its impact on your life?

My reflections started when I was young. We would visit poor villages in Mexico to visit family friends of my grandparents and mother or relatives of my aunts and uncles and my mom would lecture me before we went, “Christy, people are going to offer us hospitality and they will give you the best they have. You are to eat whatever they offer and say thank you. No complaining and no comments if it’s not what you are used to.”

I didn’t understand words like “privilege” back then. My mom didn’t even use those words. Yet, there were life lessons that began to be built into me that I didn’t have language for yet. I didn’t have a passport back then and yet I could enter and exit the US freely every other year to visit Mexico because of my white skin and birthplace and because it was pre-9-11 days. I never went hungry in my middle class family. Some of the families I dined with on these visits went hungry at times.

My dad had a good job my entire life with the exception of one layoff when I was a baby but he still found work during that time. He is a hunter and in my memory he’d always get an extra hunting tag each year to hunt in a neighbouring state and get the meat processed and given to a family out of work that we knew from somewhere in the community. I hadn’t experienced a dad without work but my parents saw those in our community that might be lacking. I was still slow to appreciate this.

As I got older and got that passport and began to travel extensively, I saw the privilege of my birthright, how easily I could visit countries without a visa because I came from the US and how friends would be locked in place, unable to travel because they were born in this patch of dirt over there instead of my patch of dirt over here.

Once more the realization of privilege started to dawn on me although this time I started using the word.

What do we do with privilege? How do we relate to others who have less privilege? The shock that strikes me is often privilege leads people to lord it over others with phrases that show a lack of understanding of even their own circumstances and how many factors contributed to them having the access/wealth/mobility they enjoyed that they did not create themselves in the fullest sense of the word.

“Why don’t people just work?”

“They should wait their turn and come the legal way.”

“We need to lock down our borders.”

I could have been born in poverty. I could have been born to parents who did not have access to the kind of job that my dad had access to. I could have been born in a country that is rife with civil war or corruption or just isn’t high enough on the eco-system of countries to have the freedom owning a US passport gives me.

But, without any merit of my own, I was born in circumstances that gave me opportunities in life that others can only dream of having and often have to fight to obtain.

What does it mean to wield my privilege for the sake of others? The more I see the grace in my circumstances, how God gave me opportunities I did not earn or deserve, the more it moves me to not hoard them but to steward the power and grace I have been given for those who do not have the access that I have been given. I am also finding it humbling to remember that while I have privilege and access to travel, it does not make me wiser than those who do not, how do I posture myself to learn from those in different circumstances?

I started reading an interesting book on the movement of peoples. This stood out to me and has made me consider my privilege even more in light of what is happening globally with immigration.

“Accordingly, it is also an explicit and extended meditation on how knowledge developed and deployed by Western experts is used to evaluate the particular circumstances of people from poor regions of the world whose lives will be fundamentally altered depending on the ultimate decision about their refugee status. In the settings examined by the authors, knowledge is not retained for contemplation by those in the “ivory tower” but is used to make what may often literally be life-or-death decisions.

The essays also hint at some of the paradoxes of globalization. In the twenty-first-century world, knowledge, as well as data, money, and media, flow across national boundaries with unprecedented ease. However, the flow of people across boundaries has perhaps never been more regulated. In sub-Saharan Africa, the continental home of many refugee crises over the centuries, a common response to unhappiness or crises was for individuals or whole communities to move. It was only in the twentieth century – with the creation of national boundaries developed by the colonialists and subsequently ratified by independence leaders and the ensuing development of notions of citizenship tied to politically defined boundaries – that the concept of “refugee” was even possible. There seems to be every indication that the movement of people will continue to be closely regulated by all nations and those, especially in the West, who have some ability to police their borders will continue to try to control population movements through administrative mechanisms.” – Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness, Expertise, and Testimony (pp. xv-xvi). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

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