by Laura Dravenstott> “Some Eastern religions have called the correspondence between who you are and what you can make happen or what will happen *karma*. And Jesus said it this way:
Do not judge, and you will not be judged,
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned,
Grant pardon, and you will be pardoned,
Give, and there will be gifts for you….
The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”
From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation 10/13/14: Your Response is Your Reality, Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 160–162
I taught an ESL class at the immigrant detention center in Aurora, Colorado. The second class in my curriculum focused on a fable called “The Sparrow and the Hare” or, “El Gorrión y la Liebra.” In the story, the famously alert and speedy hare falls asleep while sunbathing. An eagle spies its unsuspecting prey and swoops down, grasping the poor liebra in its talons.
As the hare dangles mid-air, an unpopular sparrow (el gorrión) circles at a safe distance, laughing at his misfortune. The hare begs for help but the sparrow refuses, exulting in the other’s hardship. The sparrow mocks his acquaintance for being caught unawares, and in the midst of his taunts, a hawk dives out of the sky and gobbles him up. The hare watches in astonished yet satisfied silence as his tormentor meets a sad end.
When our class discussed the moral of the story, one of my students (we’ll call him Roberto, though it’s not his real name) said: “You shouldn’t look down on someone who has a bad time. Like some people look down on us in here.”
A few of the other men nodded, and my gut twisted at the sad look on Roberto’s face, the way he studied his hands, folded tightly over his tiny, eraser-less pencil. Though GEO Corp. didn’t even trust the detained men to wield normal-sized pencils, they were emotionally and intellectually tuned in.
Most of my students said they felt a lack of sympathy from mainstream America. Even though the majority of citizens remained unaware of the magnitude of detention, have never even heard the voices of the detained, my students experienced enough judgment and scorn prior to being locked up. They expected more of the same upon their release — if they were fortunate enough to be allowed back in the U.S.
Roberto added, “You say we should practice the English, but when I try, sometimes the people laugh at me.” I shook my head in sympathy and he hammered a fist on the immobile round table.
“It’s true, it happens. We work so hard, only to get caught one time, in the English, in the job application, whatever. Why don’t people try to help us, instead of laugh? Not you, maestra, but other peoples.”
I had many responses, but no answer.
Assimilation is difficult. Attaining legal documents can be nearly impossible. Acquiring a new language poses serious challenges — especially as an adult. How would I function in Roberto’s situation? I experienced a sinking sensation each time I taught at the detention center, sputtering sentences in Spanish until my mental well dried up. Drowning in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary, I could always turn to the students for help. They rushed to supply the necessary phrase, never laughing or giving me a hard time. I wished we could keep this in mind for folks learning English, trying to find work, laboring to provide for their families.
Karma. The thirty to forty people I taught in the empty jail pod could have been watching movies or playing handball in the miniscule outdoor courtyard. Instead, they came to class, took pages of notes and volunteered to read a strange language despite their fear of mockery. They shaped their reality in the best possible manner.
How do we think of people in detention? Do we condemn or pardon? When we see them outside the walls, how do we respond?
Laura Dravenstott is a Master’s student at Regis University in Denver.