I've Moved!

Well, not me. I'm still in the same place. But there's definitely been some changes lately.

I'm excited to share that my first book, Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World releases from Herald Press in January 2018. (It's available for pre-order now on Amazon!) The book weaves story, Biblical reflections, and sociological research together as we walk through the U.S. immigration system.

It was a joy to write, and I absolutely can't wait for you to read it!

And I'm so glad we've been able to connect through this online space. My my digital content has relocated to www.sarahquezada.com. Will you join me?

The new site highlights the book, blog and other writings, and upcoming speaking engagements. Please come over and say "hi"!

31 Days of Immigration Stories

Once in a job interview, I was told the position would include working closely with immigrant families. I was enthusiastic about this prospect, although I admitted in the conversation that I knew almost nothing about the political “sides” regarding the topic.

In an effort to assure the interviewer I could serve families in this capacity, I mumbled something about liking to meet new people and generally favoring that others feel welcomed in this country.

That halfhearted answer pretty much summed up my entire “opinion” on immigration. I had always found the topic difficult to engage because heated political debates and sensational statistics just didn’t resonate with me.

But stories do.

My approach to immigration has been significantly shaped by the experiences and stories of real people affected personally by the legislation, rumors, and headlines.

Last month, I completed my first book. Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World will release in January 2018 with Herald Press. In the process of writing, I was often reminded just how little most of us know about immigration: the whys, the hows, the process.

Write 31 Days is an annual writing challenge for bloggers in the month of October. This is my first year participating, and I am joining up for the Instagram Series, sharing 31 Days of Immigration Stories. 

Collecting these stories has been a humbling and sobering experience. I am deeply grateful to the friends (and some strangers) who have graciously shared their stories with me. I still have a few spots available, so if you or someone you know would like to participate, please contact me.  

To follow along and read these immigration stories, follow me on Instagram, where I'll be posting every day this month. You can also check back on this page, and I'll link each photo and story at the bottom of this post.

I hope these stories broaden our understanding of immigration in the U.S. today. I know that hearing them and writing them has expanded my view even more. I am honored to share them with you.  

I'd also like to invite you to pray for our immigrant friends and neighbors. I've created this super short, 5-day prayer guide. It offers language to lift up immigrants in different situations. It is, of course, not exhaustive, but it is a start for us to collectively pray for new arrivals in our country. You can download it here.

#1: Introduction to 31 Days of Immigration Stories
#2: Jabu, a lawyer from Sierra Leone
#3: This international couple lived in South Sudan and Egypt before moving to U.S.
#4: David came from Spain to attend a Christian university
#5: Marcos crossed the border from Mexico
#6: Andrej came from Slovakia, X-rays and all
#7: Caz came to the U.S. from New Zealand to serve
#8: Caleb was born in Cuba and raised in Panama before coming to the States
#9: Phoenix left El Salvador with his brother to escape gang violence - Giveaway has ended
#10: Damaris experienced culture shock coming from Nicaragua as a child
#11: Kali and her undocumented husband are waiting in hope for immigration reform
#12: Becca stopped saying "eh?" after she moved from Canada
#13: About 900 DACA recipients are serving in the U.S. military
#14: Billy came to California from Guatemala to participate in a singing competition
#15: Bronwyn came from South Africa for her husband's PhD program
#16: Anthony and his wife came to the U.S. from Taiwan for graduate school
#17: Paco has been waiting almost two years in Mexico to be able to join his U.S. citizen family
#18: Juan traveled from Guatemala across the border to join his mom who'd left twelve years earlier
#19: Gualberto had no money when he got on a boat and left Cuba
#20: Abdi, a Somali refugee, hoped to wash in the ocean before he died - Giveaway has ended
#21: Bryan left Costa Rica and came to the States for love and education
#22: Sandra's mother brought her from Mexico when she was 7 years old
#23: Robert was the first in his family to graduate high school and hopes to become a firefighter
#24: Betsy's first Christmas in the States was overwhelming to an 8-year-old from Cuba
#25: Aline came from Brazil at the age of 7 and grew up knowing she was undocumented
#26: Shine left South Korea when she was two and her family came to the States
#27: Brad came from South Africa on a student visa and now his kids are all dual citizens
#28: Ricardo is a DREAMer living in Arizona
#29: After 13 years being undocumented from Uruguay, Federico applied for his green card
#30: Pedro came to Chicago from Mexico when he was 4 years old
#31: We've come to the end - a lesson, a shout out of thanks, and a book

#thankstoLoving - The People Behind the History

Fifty years ago, an interracial couple was sentenced to a year in prison for getting married. But Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, contested their punishment and fought for their marriage. They won in a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court that ended all race-based prohibitions on marriage.

Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that history was only fifty years ago. And then this year I learned that until the 1940's I could've lost even my U.S. citizenship for marrying a man from another country.

So one reason I celebrate Loving Day on June 12 is to join in with a multiracial community that commemorates this important legal victory that has had significant impact on so many people in my life. I want to remember the couple that was behind this history date.

And we have come behind them, benefiting from their commitment to equality and their fight for our right to marry across racial and ethnic lines. So this year, my friends Cara and Michelle and I hosted #thankstoLoving on Instagram, inviting other interracial couples to share their stories. Here are a few favorites:


50 years ago today, the Lovings won interracial couples the right to marry. I wish I could say that when they won, racism vanished too...but that's just not the case. We've had racial slurs thrown at us when out in public. We've had people ask why we didn't just stay "inside our own race," and have even been told that "mixed bred" (animals are mixed breeds not humans) children shouldn't be brought into this world. I could go on and on because people can just be downright pathetic. But the people we've encountered who don't see color shine brighter than the dark hatred. Like the ones who have smiled and told us that our family is beautiful, and how blessed we are. We aren't perfect and I don't want to stand out, I just want us to be treated like everyone else. I wish I could thank the Lovings for being brave, for speaking up, and most of all for saying yes to love. And I know I can't control the way others feel and the things they say, but I can control my response and it will always be the same...love sees no color, & love will always win. #thankstoloving
A post shared by Jasmine#throughthelensofgrace (@raisingthemartins) on

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I hope you've enjoyed reading these stories as much as I have. And there's more on Instagram if you search #thankstoLoving! Also, Michelle wrote a terrific piece about how her interracial marriage has impacted her parenting.

Multicultural Reading List: Summer 2017 [Free Download]

The library is emailing me to come pick up my holds. Books are arriving in my mailbox from Amazon. I have a problem. But it's the time of year. Perfect for reading on the porch or by the pool.

It's also the time of year to offer the 2017 Multicultural Reading List! I've shared longtime favorites in the past, but this year I'm focusing on books published in 2016 and 2017 only. Lots of great new novels, memoirs, and nonfiction reads to check out!

Alright, that's enough chit chat. Let's get to reading! Sign up below to receive this year's list with 23 new titles to enjoy!

What Johns and Missionaries Have In Common

I was walking up my street, headed towards the Family Dollar because I needed some Swiss Cake Rolls. Obviously. As someone who works full-time from her couch, trashy junk food seems like a wise choice for my overall health and well-being. But hey, at least I was walking, right?

The top of my road intersects with the neighborhood's busiest street, and this area is always filled with activity. A grungy gas station advertises Lotto and beer in tall letters. Inside, the cashiers hide behind bulletproof glass walls and slide your change through a tiny slot. Men loiter outside, chatting and selling single cigarettes. Sometimes women walk on the outskirts of the intersection, sliding into cars that pull over.

As I neared the intersection, I saw a car had turned onto my street. I watched a woman climb into the passenger seat. My kids and I had seen her a couple hours before on our way to school. She stood on the corner, a deep scowl on her face, mumbled words dancing on her lips. She seemed to be struggling, so I worried when I saw her getting into the beat-up truck. I memorized the license plate as they drove past, unsure of what, if anything, I should do.

But by the time I reached the top of my street, another car had slowed down. This time, he was waiting for me.

A large white man in business casual clothes sat in the driver's seat, and as I walked past, I heard him call out to me through the open passenger's window. I instinctively looked, but experience has taught me that a man who looks like him slow driving around my neighborhood is up to no good.

Muscle memory forced my neck to turn away, my face to harden, and my pace to continue uninterrupted. While my practiced demeanor was cold and unaffected, two refrains shouted in my pulsing brain. My daughter lives in this neighborhood! and You don't know me!  

My anger surprised me. For years, men have trolled the neighborhoods where I've lived, looking for available women. Years ago, the experience was so common I stopped having any emotional reaction to it. And I started dressing like a boy in baggy jeans and over-sized hoodies so I wouldn't draw attention. But I don't walk as much these days. And if I do, I'm usually wrangling my two kiddos, so I avoid this particular brand of attention. Unexpected rage flooded my system.

Almost instantly, I remembered another slow moving vehicle I encountered many years ago. I was walking with my roommate near our house when a van slowed down and pulled up alongside us. I tightened. The window rolled down and - without stopping - the driver began to ask us if we knew where we'd be spending eternity. I had no words. And so, this man I'd never seen before began to share his salvation message with me. All I could think as he followed us down the street was You don't know me.

We recently celebrated 20 years of Mission Year, a year-long urban missions program I volunteered with ages ago. I later served five years on staff. Mission Year lovingly grabbed my 19-year old shoulders and reoriented my life towards reconciliation, bridge-building, justice, service, and seeking Jesus. It was also this experience that introduced me to slow moving vehicles - the johns and the missionaries.

As I reflect on what I have taken away from Mission Year almost two decades later, it is something then-President Bart Campolo told us at the very beginning: It's all about relationships. Our understanding of the news, of social issues, of faith, of parenting, of the world is enriched and expanded through our relationships.

And when we try to move through life, engaging people through our worldview first, rather than relationship, we risk the bumbling (and damaging) encounters of slow moving vehicles. We make assumptions. We exploit. We demean. We injure.

It's all about relationships. I've tried to live with these words. To commit to people, rather than doctrine. To reach out to people that intrigue me, bug me, or are near me. My hope is that I won't become a person who approaches people with my own agenda and in the process, forgets the humanity of the person in my path.

Showing Up When It Hurts

When you’re three years old and King of the Tree House, there’s nothing better than slamming the trap door shut to keep out your big sister. I’m pretty sure that’s what my son Isaac was doing when his finger got in the way and he nearly took the tip clean off.

Over the next few hours, I learned a lot about motherhood. Things like, “Stop panicking. They are reacting to you. BE THE MOM HERE.” But I also learned valuable lessons about community and solidarity in the midst of pain.

SheLoves Magazine has been focused on the theme of solidarity this month, and they graciously allowed me to tell my story, even though it involves dangling finger tips. Okay, I left out the gruesome parts! But solidarity is such an important concept to me, and this experience allowed me to witness the impact others' acts of simple compassion on my own family. 

American Girl's Guide to Kissing: An Addendum

All the kissing. Saying hello. Saying good-bye. And then there's me... making it as awkward as possible for all involved.

My original American Girl's Guide to Kissing included gems like "The Smoosh Face" and "The Mrs. Robinson." But recently, I added my latest addition by personally crossing all lines of social boundaries. I affectionately call this kiss "The Line Crosser."

Our flight to New York was delayed a gazillion hours before eventually being cancelled. Then we essentially entered a foot race with everyone else in the Delta wing of the Atlanta airport as scores of flights were cancelled and everyone was rushing to customer service to rebook.

Essentially, it was madness. Oh, and did I mention it was perfect, sunny weather outside? When we'd arrived at the airport that fine morning to fly out for a weekend getaway, we were stunned to find zombie-like people wandering the terminals and sleeping on the floor. Apparently, we were all supposed to understand because it had rained two days prior. Oh, and this insanity only impacted Delta flights and was described as a major meltdown. But I digress.

When I accidentally commandeered a gate agent who graciously got us on an afternoon flight, I asked about our luggage. "Oh, we're not worrying about luggage," she told me. How nice for you, I thought.

So when our flight finally landed in New York around 9 p.m., all the passengers rushed the little office near baggage claim. The customer service rep was unaware of the foolishness happening in Atlanta, and was overwhelmed and unprepared.

Now enter the Honduran couple. I recognized them from the Atlanta airport because Billy had jumped in a couple times to translate the repeated delays for them.

"Oh, I don't speak Spanish," customer service lady proclaimed loudly and leaned back in her chair as they stood patiently at the counter. It was clear she would be serving these customers.

I was alone in line while Billy scanned the carousel, eeking out our last vestiges of hope that our bags might have miraculously arrived. What choice did I have but to get involved? I started speaking my pitiful Spanish to this couple.

"Are you fluent?" the airport employee asked me.

"No," I told her. "My husband is." As if she cared. 

"Well, can you ask them when they last saw their bags?" Seems like the very question we should be asking you, but whatever. I butchered some approximation of that question. Then, I erroneously told them their bags were still in Honduras until they reminded me they saw them at customs. Finally, I communicated the essence of wherever they are, they aren't here when I heard the wife start talking about medication.

Cue me frantically texting Billy to abandon the carousel and come help! He arrived and got everything as straightened out as it could be. As we all began to exit the little room of baggage doom, she thanked us for our help.

Naturally, I assumed she wanted to kiss me. AS WE ALL DO.

I leaned towards her, cheek first, and I saw her adjust her expectations of our farewell and realize that it was going to be hard NOT to kiss me. I heard myself thinking, "What is wrong with me?"

And that, my friends, is when I became a line crosser. She graciously kissed me because what choice did she have? I'm pretty sure I kissed her, too. People in line were definitely looking at me weird. And I just wanted to get away from it all.

She must've not been too freaked out, though, because we then proceed to do the awkward "exit together." Where you've already said good-bye, but then you squeeze out of the same door. And then they ask you where ground transportation is. And then ask you to please call their niece on your cell phone and talk to her and tell her where they are.

Come to think of it, typical lines of social interaction were being crossed left and right. I don't feel so bad about my potentially line crossing friendliness. It happens.

I did at some point refer to this encounter as "our double date with that Honduran couple," though that's probably just me taking it too far. What can I say? I see lines, and I cross them. 

How To Be A Latin Lover: Juvenile and Forward Thinking?

How To Be A Latin Lover. To be honest, I cringed when I first saw the title. Billy and I are coming up on ten years of marriage, and every once in a while I still get the "Latin lover" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) stuff. How can I say? It's not my favorite.

But then I became intrigued. The star of the film is Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican movie star. In Billy's words: “He’s so famous. He’s so funny. I mean, he’s the Spanish voice of the donkey in Shrek!” And I really loved his 2013 movie Instructions Not Included, which became the highest grossing Spanish-language film at the U.S. box office.

How To Be A Latin Lover, however, is an English release with plenty of Spanish and subtitles in the mix. According the IMDB, it's the first American film to be simultaneously released in English and dubbed in Spanish. A fact we discovered when arrived for our 5:30 pm #datenight to the theater, only to discover it was a Spanish showing without English subtitles. So we had to wait until the next English presentation because I don't know enough Spanish and Billy is not a fan of dubbing.

So what did I think?  I think the movie was fine. (How's that for a raving review?) There were definitely funny parts. Autocorrect and its effect on text messaging threats being one of my favorites. ("Give us the money or we'll lick your a$$" *kick) And we shared the theater with a loud laugh-er, so it made the movie's humor even funnier.

But I also can't say I loved it. It relied on crude humor (farting, crotch-grabbing, man in wheelchair being hit by a car, etc) in many places, which is not really my style, though I know many people love it. And the plot overall was about an adult man who seduces wealthy women-of-age to support him. Probably not a movie I personally would've chosen had it not been for the cultural elements.

However, I'm still glad I saw it. First of all, I am impressed with Derbez's ability to marry the humor and the heart-warming. Similar to Instructions Not Included, his relationship with the child actor was touching and precious without being cheesy.

I also think there's something ahead of its time about the movie. At a moment when the national narrative seems to be "Immigrants aren't welcome" and "English only," this film told a different story. Though the headliner was a Mexican moviestar who may be unknown to many U.S. moviegoers, the cast was full of familiar names for U.S. audiences, including Salma Hayek, Kristen Bell, and Rob Lowe.

And bilingualism was on full display. There were definitely jokes I didn't fully get because of my limited language. At one point, I heard Billy muttering during a subtitled conversation that a joke wasn't translated well. Which, can we just pause to acknowledge that this observation means that he was listening in Spanish and reading in English simultaneously?!?! My mind is just a little bit blown.

I love seeing a film break out of the racial and cultural silos to include a diverse cast and a healthy mix of languages. And even though the content of this one may have not been my favorite, I'm glad I spent my money to support it as I hope to see more movies that bridge these gaps coming to a theater near me!

Everything You Need To Know About Life In One Visit to the Passport Office

Five years. That felt so far into the future when I was holding up my eight week old baby in front of a white background, begging her to stop crying so they could take a picture. (This is basically a ridiculous summary of that whole process.)

It's hard to believe she's already been to Argentina, Uruguay, and Guatemala a handful of times. But it's also stunning to me that she is now six and in need of an updated passport. So we did what any family with poor planning skills would do: We showed up at the post office and asked what we needed to do to renew her passport.

Since it eventually turned into a two hour affair for which I was unprepared, I had a lot of time for reflection. And I recognized how much the experience could be a microcosm of our everyday. So here are my five quick life lessons from a visit to the passport office

#1. Things go wrong.

It's a bit of a misnomer to even say "one visit" because it was actually our second try. When I wandered into the first post office, I learned that children cannot renew passports. They can only apply for new ones. Which required an appointment at that particular location. Also, we didn't know her social security number or have any idea how tall she is.

After two days of no one answering the phone line to schedule appointments, we visited a different location that accepted "walk-ins." This time we had the social and a measuring tape. But since I didn't estimate the extensive wait, we had little to no snacks or activities. At the passport office as in life, things just don't always go the way you hope.

#2. Creativity is a terrific problem-solving tool.

We waited two hours with our three-year old and globetrotting six-year old. Did I mention I forgot snacks and crayons? So I started giving Gabriella writing prompts - three random nouns from which she had to create a story. We heard some of the most delightful and funny tales about bears riding bicycles and cats at a dance party. When she discovered that writers have the power to make tacos talk, her world was changed forever.

Her creativity blew me away, and it also made the time go by. I have been thinking a lot lately about all the ways we lament and complain about the (inevitable per #1) problems in our midst. And I've been part of some incredible conversations recently about how creative problem-solving could actually make a difference in the world. In other words, what if tacos could talk?

#3. Kindness goes a long way.

I have possibly never treated worse than I am at the post office. My neighborhood post office is ridiculous. And apparently I have no idea what those women have to deal with because when I told the attendant I didn't care which stamp design she gave me, she told me I had made her week. At the post office passport office, it was a similar "my life took a wrong turn" vibe from the staff. Yelling at waiting parents to watch their children. Gruffly telling us all to move from tables, which were for "newly arriving customers" while there was no one in the arrival line. Ignoring us as a standard MO.

But when our number was finally (mercifully) called over the loud speaker, the gentleman who assisted us was friendly and kind. And I was like, seriously, that is all it takes in life.

#4. Notice the beauty.

Government bureaucracy pushes many of us to our darkest psychological spaces. (This is probably why we ended up at The Varsity afterwards.) But the weirdest thing happened about 35 seconds before our number was to be called: Gabriella had to go to the bathroom. Well, that's not weird. Her poor timing is legendary. But when we entered that public restroom, I heard myself think, "This is the best smelling bathroom I've ever been in."

No matter our circumstances, there is always beauty around us. There is always something to be grateful for. It takes that extra moment of paying attention, of acknowledging in the midst of our downward spiral just how wonderful the rest room smells.

#5. Kissing strangers is a mixed bag.

We applied for Gabriella's new passport! And maybe it was because he was so happy to leave or maybe because he's just so wonderfully half-Guatemalan, but Isaac tried to kiss the passport agent good-bye. The three of us were already half-way to the door when I turned to see my toddler: arms by his side, lips pursed in the air, teetering forward to lean towards the guy, who was politely but definitely scooting back and away.

If this isn't a life lesson, I don't know what is. You take risks, you go for it, you try to kiss a stranger, and you just never know what you're going to get!

Life comes with problems. Creativity is one of our best responses. Kindness should be our MO. Beauty is all around. And not everyone likes to be kissed good-bye. I hope these gems help you navigate the world this week!

What unexpected lesson has life tossed you? 

Let's Talk About the Sanctuary Movement

I am so excited to share this post with you! With Christianity Today, I had the opportunity to interview Alexia Salvatierra, a pastor and community organizer who has been instrumental in the New Sanctuary Movement to protect and stand with immigrants facing deportation. She is also co-founder of the Matthew 25 pledge, which is a bipartisan Christian commitment to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.

The conversation we shared was so powerful, and I wish every single word could have been included in the interview. But her connection and sensitivity to the real suffering of immigrants, as well as her deep spirituality in supporting the vulnerable inspired me. It's clear how her faith guides her work and how the church can be an active expression of God's love and justice.

Click over to Christianity Today to read the full interview.

How My Faith Taught Me To Stand with the Vulnerable

It's been a weird season for me faith-wise. I was telling someone this week how strange it is for me that caring for immigrants is being seen as "controversial."

Christian writer Amy Peterson recently tweeted, "Last week I had a sentence cut from a piece because the sentence suggested that Christians ought to show hospitality to refugees." I must confess I am confused and utterly disheartened by these types of testimonies.

Because for me, my faith has always been at the root of standing with others in vulnerable situations. I was raised to believe that following Jesus meant "going against the flow," and very often, that means coming alongside those who are being ignored, persecuted, or abused.

Today at Off the Page, I am writing about the ways my faith has informed my actions and how I'm hoping to teach my children to stand with others as well. Click here to read the post!

What I've Learned About Our Immigration System

Recent months have been discouraging in so many ways for immigrant families and immigrant advocates. But these days have also brought some unexpected surges of hope and joy.

One encouragement for me has been watching the Church come alive in support of immigrants. Of course, not everyone, but I've seen a new wave of compassion and a desire to learn more about what's going on for recent arrivals to our country.

D.L. Mayfield is a writer and fierce advocate of the poor and marginalized. Not too long ago, she did an interview here at A Life with Subtitles about her recent book, Assimilate or Go Home. It's a terrific read, and I recommend it for beautiful reflections on being a "missionary" and an inside look at life with refugee families.

For Lent, D.L. kicked off a blog series to learn more about illegal immigration in the United States. I was honored to be included, writing a guest post sharing five things I learned dating and marrying an undocumented immigrant. I'd love for you to visit her blog and check it out!

5 New Immigration Novels Coming This Year

I am so excited about books! Last year, I started to make more of an effort to read more current releases. I have no problem reading older books (I just finished Wild this week), but I'm also liking the freshness of these recent reads, especially when it comes to immigration.

Thankfully, my friend Katie (who you may remember as my World Cup Wives co-conspirator) is always keeping me in the know with good immigration fiction coming. And there are some good ones being published in 2017 - let's jump into the list!

#1 The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt

This YA romance novel came out in January, and I already wrote a short review. It's the story of 19-year old Phoenix, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, and an American girl named Gretchen. Phoenix is seeking to escape violent threats in his home country, protect his brother, and find a legal way to remain in the U.S. while Gretchen is working through her own experience of trauma. It is a fun story, though difficult realities weave throughout.

#2 Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran 

I am a couple chapters into this one, which also released in January. So good. We meet two women. Soli is a young woman who crosses into the United States from Mexico and finds herself pregnant. Kavya, and Indian American woman, is struggling with infertility. When Soli is sent to immigration detention, her son is cared for by Kavya. The story unpacks the tension of two mothers who love one lucky boy deeply as Soli fights to get him back.

#3 The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

This book, to be released in March, is a little outside the box. Because it's a graphic novel. Author Thi Bui shares the story of her family escaping Vietnam in the 1970s and the ensuing challenges of building new lives for themselves. She explores their experiences of immigrating and lasting effects of this displacement on her family. Again, this is done through graphic novel illustrations, which may open up this subject matter to a new audience as well. 

#4 Border Child by Michel Stone

Coming in April, Border Child is the harrowing story of a mother separated from her infant daughter while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to meet her husband. Four years later, the couple is back in Mexico but learns of a way they may be able to reunite their family, which now includes a toddler and a baby on the way. The story follows the father's dangerous journey north to find her, while the pregnant mother wrestles with the terrible mistakes from her past. 

#5 The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Okay, here's another one about children being separated from parents. (How will I stand to read these beautiful, haunting stories?) Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to work one day and never comes home, leaving her 11-year old alone. He is then adopted by a couple who changes his name and seeks to transform him into their "all-American boy." It's a story of belonging, community, mistakes, and identity. Here's an article about the true stories that inspired this novel, to be released in May.

I hope you found a book or two that makes your "To Read" list. If you struggle to find time to read, I will always recommend Audible, which has changed my life forever. I listen to audio books while I'm running, driving to pick up the kids, loading the dishwasher, and so many other things. If you want a free trial, use my Amazon link, and you'll get 2 free books!

P.S. Amazon affiliate links are included in this post, which means if you click through and purchase one of my recommendations, I receive a small kickback. Thanks so much!

What books are you looking forward to in 2017? What immigration stories do I need to be looking out for? Let me know!

6 Practical Ways to Love Immigrants & Refugees

Once I was in an interview, and the host asked me what folks can do to show love for immigrants if, you know, marrying one wasn't an option. Every time I remember that question, I laugh.

Thankfully, there are other ways to show our love for immigrants and refugees that don't require walking down the aisle. A recent favorite is this idea I saw on Instagram from Friends of Refugees:

So I'm planning to make a few cards with my kiddos as a way to show welcome and love. But this is not the only way to engage with the real people behind the headlines.

This week I wrote an article for RELEVANT Magazine that shares five others ways to be present and stand up for immigrants and refugees. You can read it here.

Across the Lines

Have you ever won an argument on Facebook? I can't say that I have. Sometimes when I write about faith and social justice, especially immigration, someone - almost always a stranger - will hop over to my Facebook page and type to me in a condescending tone. (At least, that's how I read it!)

But my mind has never really been all that changed by comment threads. Now relationships, that's a different story. My life and my perspective has been profoundly impacted by front porch conversations and road trip shared experiences.

In a divisive time such as this, I believe friendships across divisions are more important than ever. But too often, messages of "stranger danger" have kept us sequestered in friendship groups that are familiar and homogeneous.

This month, I wrote an piece for InTouch Ministries about our friendship challenge in a globalizing world. You can visit their site to read it or start the except below:

The first house I remember living in as a child was next door to the church where my father was pastor. My baby sister wasn’t old enough to play yet, so I spent a lot of time outside alone. For a budding extrovert, this was torture.

That is, until I found a window.

It was a ground level peek into the church, where I discovered older women quilting during the day. Strangers to me, I could sit in the window sill and ask questions and share about the things they asked me. They laughed a lot, and I was thrilled to socialize.

Children often remind me of myself at a young age. Most notably, the two in my cart at the grocery store.

Read the full piece at InTouch Ministries.

Let the Poor Teach You How to Hope

A neon green line trickled down the street in front of my house. I gingerly hopped back onto the sidewalk because I knew where that out of place stream had originated. My toilet. Yes, the bathroom I shared with four other people was leaking out onto the street. For confirmation, neon tablets had been deposited in the bowl not too long ago. Fantastic.

When I packed up after my freshman year of college and moved to the neglected core of the city, I stepped into a whole new world. I had expected differences, of course, but none like what I experienced.

I watched mothers and sons cram into tiny, one-room dwellings where they shared a bed and had a refrigerator for a night stand. I bundled up in my own, unbearably cold house and listened to the rings as our landlord refused to answer his phone. I waited on unreliable public transit that too often dropped me off late for work at the local middle school, where I tutored 6th graders who hadn’t yet learned to read. I answered police officers when they demanded me to show an ID for walking down the street and when they said “hello” sauntering out of drug houses. 

I felt lied to. This was not the America I had known and loved. 

Suddenly, injustice, racism, and poverty were all there before my eyes. I didn’t want to believe it, but I couldn't ignore it. While all men may be created equal, it was clear their experiences in this country were most certainly impacted by race, zip code, and socioeconomic status.

Do you know this moment? When the pain and injustice of the world is so overwhelming you feel almost like you can’t breathe? You don’t want to believe it’s possible. That racism and exclusion and factionism of all kinds could be so real? It breaks your heart. 

In recent months, I’ve heard more and more people lamenting these difficult truths. And watched many of us suffocating under the weight of them. But I’m sorry to say that what is true today was true when I was 19 and was still true before I recognized the reality of brokenness in our country as well. Injustice is not new.

And believe it or not, I don’t say this to be pessimistic. Nor do I say it to dismiss some of the genuinely disturbing things happening in this moment in history. We are right to be watchful and prayerful and to act. 

I actually tell you this to offer hope. Because many, many resilient people have walked faithfully in the midst of suffering and persecution and injustice for generations. And they have much to teach us.

Sitting in a small house in New Orleans post-Katrina, my friend and mentor Leroy Barber encouraged a small group of volunteers to learn from the poor. If we have not grown up poor, too often the lessons we cite are post-missions trips cliches: “I’m so thankful for all my blessings.” Or more crassly, “Thank God my life is not like theirs.”

No, the poor have much more to teach us than shallow gratefulness for material things. They can teach us how to hope. They can teach us how to wait for justice while maintaining our dignity. They can teach us how to fight. And they can teach us how to celebrate and truly live in the midst of unspeakable suffering.

I have witnessed this truth many times. In the faces of undocumented immigrants bringing cake to celebrate my husband’s promotion and playing guitar and singing in our dining room. In the words of spiritual songs from historically oppressed groups that celebrate the goodness and joy of the Lord. In the block parties and birthday parties that meander into the night with grown-ups and kids doing the Cupid Shuffle and feasting on pretzels and hot wings. 

Perhaps it is helpful to consider what is true blessing. The Messages says it like this:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom” (Matthew 5:3-10).

There is a place and a time to mourn injustice. Absolutely. But that space cannot be the end of the journey. We must learn to pray and hope and fight and celebrate with dignity and delight. And in these moments, the poor can teach us what it truly means to be blessed. They can teach us how to hope.

Immigration 2017: A Beginner's Guide to Action

If you are an immigrant in the U.S. or you love people who are immigrants, this week has been devastating. I have peeked between my fingers to read the news each day as President Trump signed several Executive Orders (hereto referred to as EOs) with immigrant issues at their heart. And my heart is broken, trampled, bruised.

To my husband, I heard myself say, “I’m so thankful you're not undocumented anymore. I'm glad you already got your citizenship.” It feels wrong to even acknowledge. We are safe. It can be tempting to count our blessings and ignore what's happening to others around us.

But I can't work like that. Not to mention, I keep opening emails from readers or strangers who’ve Googled “mixed status families” or “dating undocumented” and then reach out to me, one openly saying, “Please offer me some encouragement.” It took me so many days to respond to her. And when I did, I told her she should consider leaving the country. She wrote back to me and thanked me for not saying it’s all going to be okay.

It’s not all going to be okay. Especially for some people, it will not be okay.

We cannot ignore what's going on. So I’m going to share a quick breakdown of the EOs from this week, thanks to my hard-working and compassionate friend Michelle Warren with CCDA. She has been rallying passionate immigration advocates and keeping us up-to-date on what the news means for people we love. I am sharing some of her words here with permission. Then, I will share the action steps we can all take to stand with immigrants in this difficult time.

#1. Border Security - signed Jan 25 (full text here)

Border Wall: Oh man, the wall. This EO sets in motion the plans to build a large physical barrier across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Border Entries: Provides Department of Homeland Security (DHS - this is the agency tasked with immigration and border security) with the “tools to stop illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.”

More details: This EO makes it easier and cheaper to detain illegal immigrants entering the U.S. The administration will now require border agents to immediately deport or detain all immigrants crossing the border. You may think that’s what happens already. However, especially due to overcrowding and the large numbers of children and families seeking asylum, agents are allowed discretion to release some immigrants they believe will show up for their court date, which many asylum seekers will because they are looking to work with the government to stay. They may use ankle monitors as a cheaper, more humane option as well. Also, there are rules in place about how long children can be held in detention, and it’s a violation of international law to return a person to a place where they are knowingly in danger. So catch-and-release has been an option for agents. That will no longer be the case. 

Prioritization: This EO also prioritizes criminal immigrants. 

More details: “Criminal” has not been defined, which is a huge concern for immigration advocates. It’s possible illegal entry itself could be considered a crime worthy of prioritization, as well as things that go along with being undocumented, including driving without a license. Additionally, the EO gives agents leeway to prioritize anyone they feel is a “risk to public safety or national security” even if they have not committed a known crime. Can of worms? Open. 

#2. Interior Enforcement - signed Jan 25 (full text here)

This EO expresses provisions to “return power to...ICE to enforce…federal agencies who are going to unapologetically enforce the law.”

Restore Secure Communities Program: This program was replaced in 2014 with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), but this EO will reactivate it.  
More details: Secure Communities Program focused on collaboration between federal, state, and local law officials to identify and prioritize criminal aliens. It faced challenges because there was conflict about who was being apprehended, and some local law officials felt it undermined their community’s social fabric and disrupted their operations. 

Compel countries to receive deportees: Some countries refuse to accept their nationals who are deported from the US, so this EO will withhold visas and use other tools to ensure countries take individuals back.

Defund Sanctuary Cities: The goal is to strip federal grant money from state and cities that “harbor illegal Immigrants.” 

More details: This one is trickier because it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to coerce or force states to enforce federal laws. So this part of the EO begins a look at funding streams going to cities that are not cooperative to figure out how to defund those streams. 

#3 Refugee Resettlement - signed Jan 27 (full text not yet available)

An immediate ban on all refugees being resettled in the U.S. for 120 days.

An indefinite ban on all refugees from Syria.

A reduction in the number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the U.S. by more than half.

Whew! It makes me weary even writing all that. I need some cake. And tacos. It’s hard to know what to say because these are dire directives that will have far-reaching and destructive impact on so many families, many of whom have already suffered greatly. 

However, despair does not render us paralyzed. Here are some practical ways to stand up and resist this assault on some of the word’s most vulnerable people:

#1 Stand up against funding the wall and interior enforcement.

The President may have signed the EO, but Congress must approve funding for border and interior enforcement, so do not underestimate the influence you have on Congressional leaders. Do not stop reaching out to them! Thanks to Glen Peterson from World Relief, I'm including numbers to call and possible scripts. 

Call (202) 224-3121 three times, one each for your two Senators and your Representative. Click here to search for their names. If you prefer a script, feel free to say: I’m your constituent from [City, State], and I support comprehensive immigration reform. I am strongly opposed to the Executive Order from President Trump regarding building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and I urge you to deny funding for this project. This wall, along with increased interior enforcement, denies our friendly relationship with Mexico and our American values. It also does not address the real need for comprehensive immigration reform and will be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Please urge President Trump to abandon this plan and do everything in your power to stop it.

You can also make your voice heard on Twitter. Tweet @realDonaldTrump @WhiteHouse, @POTUS and @ your Senators/Representatives. You gotta keep it short and sweet with all those mentions.

#2 Support your immigrant neighbors.

Continue to encourage immigrant neighbors that they are not alone. Make sure they are familiar with their rights. Here is information on rights from the National Immigration Law Center. 

#3 Speak out against a DACA repeal.

Currently, no EO has addressed DACA (Deferred Action for Immigrant Child Arrivals). This legislation provided temporary deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. It also allowed them legal work permits. During his campaign, President Trump promised to repeal this legislation. 

While we’re thankful nothing has happened yet, there’s still reason to anticipate a reversal in the days to come. However, in press briefings from Press Secretary Spicer, he has consistently directed questions about DACA to a re-framed message which emphasizes the President's intentions around criminal behavior. He is quoted saying, “The orders today do not deal with DACA. The President may discuss in an interview tonight that his first priority is to find criminals. The President is a family man, understands the problem, and will work with his team to find a humane solution. His priority is to make sure people who committed crimes are at the forefront."

Again, you can call and tweet your legislators. If you identify as an Evangelical, please consider sighing this letter as we seek to take a stand together. 

#4 Voice your support for refugees.

With 65 million people forcibly displaced in the world, it is the worst refugee crisis in our global history. The EO retracting our support and care for refugees is unAmerican and cruel. Again, call and tweet your representatives.

Here’s a script you can use: I’m your constituent from [City, State], and I support refugee resettlement in the US. I am strongly opposed to the announcement from President Trump that slashes refugee admissions, grinds all resettlement to a halt, and stops resettling refugees from certain countries like Syria. This discriminatory announcement flies in the face of core American values and this country’s founding principles. It does not reflect the welcome for refugees I see in my community every day. Please urge President Trump to abandon this plan and do everything in your power to stop it.

#5 Pray

If I’m honest, it feels trivial to say. Especially tacked here on the end, it almost seems like an afterthought. But I believe in a God that is bigger than governments and earthly leaders and injustice. The God I love has always stood with the marginalized, the foreigners, the widows, the orphans, and the hurting. If you also believe in God, let’s pray together.

Here’s a prayer I wrote years ago, if you’d like to adopt from it. You could also pray through this 40 Days of Scripture resource as a guide. For more resources, you might appreciate this post: 9 Ways to Seek Shalom with Immigrants and this Vox article that dives deeper into the EOs. 

It’s been a rough week. I encourage you to add your support in the comments. If nothing else, I’d love to hear I’m not alone in mourning and seeking God and finding ways to act in this moment in history. I’m thankful for all of you!

Young Love and Immigration? Yes, Please!

A little over a year ago, a friend shoved a Young Adult novel into my hands. “You have to read this,” she told me. It didn’t take much explanation to figure out why. Dream Things True was a story of a U.S. citizen falling in love with an undocumented immigrant.

It was my story. 

Well, the girl was from Mexico and the boy was the nephew of a senator. And they were in high school. And the white boy knew very little about the challenges faced by immigrants. And there was a lot of making out in the pool house. So it wasn’t my story exactly. 

But that didn’t stop me from tweeting the author, Marie Marquardt, to tell her, “You wrote my story, and I loved it.” 

And since she also lives in Atlanta, I asked if she’d be willing to meet with me. And she was. She also graciously agreed to let me interview her about the book. Marie is amazing, and we have become friends and kindred spirits in our desire to offer welcome and hospitality to immigrants. 

So when Marie told me she was releasing her second book, Radius of Us, in January 2017, I was over the moon. I RSVP’d to the book launch, where I bought my copy and immediately devoured it. It took me just over a day to finish the story. 

I want to say the book was good, which it was, but it was also hard. Radius of Us is another romance with immigration laced throughout the storyline. However, this book focuses on Phoenix, a 19-year old from El Salvador who brought his younger brother up through Mexico into the States as an "unaccompanied minor." They are asylum seekers, and their lives are threatened by gangs in their home country. 

Both Phoenix and Gretchen, the girl he meets in a park, have experienced trauma. And as the story proceeds, layers of their difficult experiences are pulled back and exposed. Additionally, Phoenix’s little brother Ari, who is being held in a detention facility, has stopped speaking due to the trauma he experienced crossing through Mexico and into the States. 

So while I want to say it was a fun and easy read because it has some of my favorite things of YA fiction - fast-pace, relatable characters, and young love - it is also painful to read. Because it’s based on real stories. Thankfully, the YA genre spares the graphic details that make some immigration tales too much for me to read, but it doesn’t shy away from the harsh experiences of many young migrants.

I wanted to share this book with y’all because I know many readers at A Life with Subtitles care deeply about immigrants and immigrant issues. Radius of Us is an enjoyable YA fiction novel, but it also allows an inside glimpse at the realities many are living through in our midst. It’s a great discussion starter for YA groups, though I will tell you that the book contains language and sexuality.

So I encourage you to get a copy of Radius of Us! I believe that stories and relationships change hearts. As anti-immigrant rhetoric gains traction in our country, it's important that we hear and share the stories of those who come here seeking refuge and freedom. Radius of Us is a great one! 

Note: This post includes my Amazon link to the book. If you order through this link, a small kickback goes to A Life with Subtitles, so thank you very much!

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.