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On Being a Migrant

Migrants Come Through the Sea, Through the Desert, and By Train
by Angel Valdez

King is a student at the Univ. of Notre Dame. He spent eight weeks at Casa Juan Diego this summer.

One fateful day on September 18th 2002, I – King Fok – and my family of five left our apartment in Hong Kong and settled into a small suburban home right outside of Portland, Oregon. Being only six at the time, I did not understand the challenges my family faced and the sacrifices my parents had to make for us: abandoning the place of their childhood memories, leaving behind their friends and family, and quitting their dream jobs that they worked so hard toward. What took its place was isolation, alienation, and uncertainty; however, at the heart of it all, was hope – a hope for a better life for us all, a chance for a shot at the American Dream.

It is this hope and ambition that helped us persevere, and it is the same hope that I see burning in the eyes of the residents at Casa Juan Diego today.

On my first day at Casa Juan Diego, I was unexpectedly approached by a young man who pulled me aside and wore a worried expression on his face. Walking behind him were three Cuban men in their twenties, who he found sleeping at the bus station for the past couple of days. This man, who was also Cuban and used to be in their shoes, empathized with them and took them to Casa Juan Diego. At the time, I knew that the capacity at the men’s house was full and I told him that I would need to ask before they could stay. It was a sad reality for the both of us; and upon hearing it, he pleaded for mercy to allow them to stay for a couple of days just so he could take another job to earn enough money to rent an apartment for them. For him, this wasn’t simply a good deed for someone – it was personal. They were his family.

If there was anything I learned as an immigrant, it is that family stick together. As I saw the man fight for his family, I couldn’t help but think back to my own experience as an immigrant, and how a little mercy can go a long way.

I could have very well been the one standing along the sidewalk that day outside of Casa Juan Diego. I could have very easily been one of the guests at the house, as opposed to being one of the volunteers. I did not realize how much our lives were subjected to faith, how vulnerable and humble our condition can be. If it had not been for my aunt, who showed us a little bit of mercy back then and helped us get citizenship in the United States, I would not be writing this or have the opportunities that I do in front of me today.

The more time I spend as a Catholic Worker, the more I’m reminded of the blessings and mercy that He has shown me; at the same time, He gives me the strength and compassion to turn those blessings into sources of hope for others. At Casa Juan Diego, He calls on me to serve other migrants by reminding me that there is a duty for all of us to know and help those that need it most. I believe that this echoes Dorothy Day’s words in her autobiography, in which “we cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.”

We don’t choose our family. They are God’s blessing to us, but it is up to us to guard and cherish His gifts. So on that fateful day when the man came, and brought with him three others, it reminded me of myself, my family, and the man I aspire to be. We are all migrants at heart: each of us on our own journeys, searching for a way to achieve our dreams.

Houston Catholic Worker, September-October 2015, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4.