Eighteen months ago, my father, my brother, and I took our first steps on El Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old pilgrimage that stretched from one end of Spain to the other.
To take a step is a simple act, so small and subconscious that we often forget were walking at all. The difference between the Camino de Santiago and a very long walk is the intentionality placed behind each step. An intention to walk closely behind Christ, to remember the sacrifice of those that have walked before us, and to accept that sometimes empathy is the closest we can get to experiencing the journeys of others.
Five-hundred miles and millions of steps later, I stood in the shadow of the Cathedral of Santiago, in awe of how intention can deepen my faith in myself and in God.
Two days ago, I sat at the kitchen table of my grandma, preparing myself for El Camino del Inmigrante. While my grandparents were both born in Texas, they know first hand the struggles of immigrants in America. Language boundaries, low economic standing, and limited education are problems that many immigrants face long after their arrival into this country. To a certain degree, my grandparents, natural-born citizens, also faced these problems. As my grandma, Lupe, pushed another tamal on my plate I urged her to tell me stories of her childhood, to allow me to peer into a life lived on the border.
She vividly recalled the years growing up in Texas when she worked in her father’s grocery store, selling candies and ice cream to her classmates after school. She remembered the migrant workers buying lunch from the grocery store before they left for the fields, sometimes as early as five in the morning. If my grandma’s family wasn’t yet awake, the workers had no reservations knocking on windows to wake up the sleeping store owners. During the summers of the 1940’s and 1950’s, extra income was needed, and my grandma’s family piled into an uncle’s van for the annual drive to Michigan. Here they picked strawberries, blueberries, and cherries for sixty cents a tray. My grandma, being the oldest, would work in the fields with her parents while the younger siblings looked after one another and did the housework. On the drive back to Texas they passed through Indiana to pick cucumbers, then Missouri to pick cotton. Savings from the field work got her family through the year, though this work caused Lupe and her siblings to miss three months of school a year, if not more.
El Camino de Santiago encouraged me to walk with purpose towards God. El Camino del Inmigrante is encouraging me to walk with purpose alongside my neighbor. Hearing the stories of my grandparents gave me a small bit of insight into the incredible work immigrants do for this country. Though my grandma’s family struggled for most of their lives and received lower wages due to their accents and skin color, they used their American privilege to help those whose struggle was greater.
There are so many who yearn for the rights granted by American citizenship. While I can’t fully know the struggles of my immigrant sisters and brothers, I will raise my voice and put one foot in front of the other in their name.