I serve in California, Missouri which is a small town of 4268 residents. My ministry is through the Annunciation Parish in collaboration with El Puente ministry based in Jefferson City, MO. I have been working here since October of 2010, so almost seven years.
I serve the Hispanic community here, which is mostly made up of Mexicans from the areas of Michoacan and Guanajuato, and also some families from Central America. Most come from small farming communities, and have immigrated to the United States in search of work and better opportunities for their families.
The biggest need is the lack of English language fluency in the older adults, and so I assist them as an interpreter, accompanying those who need translation help to doctor appointments, hospitals, lawyer visits, court appearances, and to the immigration offices.
In the parish, the most urgent need is to prepare leaders so that the community can grow and little by little become more self-sufficient. It is a slow and long process because many lack strong formal education, however their faith, inherited from their elders, is a great value that they bring with them.
One of the challenges of the immigrant communities in California is for the newest generation growing up who were born in this country. They can speak with English fluency from attending the schools, and are less fluent in the Spanish of the older generation because they prefer to speak English with their friends and classmates. They are called the “nini” generation because they are neither (ni) from here, nor (ni) from there. That is to say they don’t have the strong roots their parents brought from their country of origin but at the same time they aren’t anglo and don’t fully fit in here in the U.S. Their challenge is to find their identity as Hispanics born in the USA.
Daily living and accompany these simple and wonderful people I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “that which you did unto the least of these, you did unto me…”
Some of the most impactful experiences I have had these past few years has been accompanying people in their legal processes, going with them to court appearances, visiting in jail, seeing them denied their freedom and even deported. It is truly a painful process to witness. Many families are separated due to convictions of having entered the country unlawfully. I have had the opportunity to get to know the judge, and he is a very humane person who cares, but who also has to comply with his duty to enforce the law. However, ensuring that the human dignity of all people is respected brings to life in me the mission of the Congregation.
During these times of uncertainty with the new laws being passed, the Hispanics I work with offer me an example of hope and faith in God. Their trust in the providence of God which will not abandon them is great. One woman told me, “If God wants me to stay, I will stay, and if God’s will is that they send me back to Mexico I will go, because it will be what God wants.”
I am grateful to Sr. Marinela Flores who invited me to come to this small town and serve our immigrant brothers and sisters. It has been a great opportunity, challenge, and way to make present the saving and healing love of the Incarnate Word.
By Sr. Guadalupe Ruiz
Originally published in CCVI’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation’s Blog.