by Libby James
The sanctuary at Plymouth Congregational Church in Fort Collins was at capacity on Sunday afternoon, March 31. On the docket was a talk by Dr. Miguel De La Torre, professor at Iliff School of Theology and author of 35 books, the most recent being Burying White Privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity, December 2018. An immigrant himself, DeLaTorre was invited to speak by the Interfaith Solidarity and Sanctuary Coalition, a local non-profit dedicated to working for human dignity and immigration justice.
ISAAC was formed two years ago based on the mandate that to welcome the stranger is a justice issue common to all faiths that transcend all differences in doctrines. They provide support to people living in sanctuary, advocate in detention proceedings, refer families to resources and help to initiate vigils in response to national current events. They maintain an emergency fund to assist families struggling because of head-of-household deportation, homelessness, need for legal assistance, renewals for “Dreamers,” and the need for funds to bond out of detention. Educational efforts include supporting trips to the border with Mexico, raising awareness of local support organizations, and presenting forums on immigration.
De La Torre, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was the fourth in a series of speakers presented by ISAAC. His talk, addressing the reasons why immigrants come to the U.S., offered a review of American history that likely took the audience by surprise. A Cuban by birth, he said that his choice would have been to stay in his home country but circumstances forced him to relocate. He asserted that immigrants come because the actions and policies of the U.S. government have caused conditions in their home countries making it impossible for them to live safely and earn a living in their native lands. “It’s not for freedom or to take advantage of American social services,” he said. He cited NAFTA as a recent policy resulting in the loss of jobs and the raising of prices in Mexico.
“A century of gun diplomacy created the poverty that exists,” he said. He also pointed to U.S. policies such as manifest destiny and frequent efforts at regime change in Central America as factors making life tremendously difficult in Central America.
The author of 35 books and a screenplay, “Trails of Hope and Terror,” De La Torre details his outlook in his book, Embracing Hopelessness. While he admits to being hopeless regarding change in the near future in the U.S. because of the existing social structure, he asserts that his sense of hopelessness allows him to continue the battle. “When I have nothing to lose, that’s when I’m dangerous,” he said. “I fight because it defines my humanity. I am free to break the rules in an ethical fashion.”
He suggests something he calls “radical solidarity.” “Do things you never thought of doing,” he said. “Hope is a middle-class privilege. There is liberation in embracing hopelessness.”
De La Torre ended his talk by saying, “I bet you didn’t think you were going to get a history lesson today.” Then he graciously took the time to answer questions.