Juventino Meza ’11, a Peace & Justice Studies graduate of Augsburg College who currently works for the Minneapolis Public Schools as a community relations facilitator, preached in daily chapel for our homecoming week series, “Journeys Home.” Here, he shares his homily from October 8, 2015:
“The Pursuit of Happiness”
Thank you pastor Sonja for the invitation. I still can’t believe I’m giving a homily. It’s great to be back at Augsburg.
In the spirit of our journey home and Coming Out Day, this is my message today: finding home and being yourself truly is the pursuit of happiness.
Now, let me quote from another great disciple, the Book of Donald Trump, Chapter 1: “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”
As this week unfolds, people here have spoken about their journeys home. My journey home has seen different places and has meant different things at different moments in my life. When I was growing up in Mexico, that was home. But it also wasn’t. Ever since I remember, my family has been split by forces outside their control.
Then, when I was fifteen, I moved to the US, to Minnesota. For the first time in half of my life I saw both of my parents in the same room. I didn’t have a memory like that from when I was a kid. This was home now. Most of my family was reunited again.
Note that at this point I was angry. I had just left an entire life, my friends, school to be with my parents and siblings, whom I love. I was angry at my parents for taking me away from this other life. I was angry at Mexico for not doing enough to keep families like mine there. And I was angry at the US for its foreign policies that aided in displacing us and continuing to do so for many people around the world.
I was also in love with this new home. Most of my family was here. I knew I was going to have more opportunities. School was this awesome weird place with people from all over the world, skin tones I had never seen, languages I had never imagined. I was also really confused because I was an undocumented gay student who didn’t know who to turn to for help or who I could trust. I was also getting bullied by classmates. I dropped out of high school at some point.
Then, I focused so much in learning English and going to school. I wanted to go to college but didn’t know how to. Eventually I became part of College Possible that helped me learn a lot about the process to college and was fortunate enough to find a place like Augsburg willing to take in undocumented students at a time when not a lot of other schools were willing to or the government didn’t allow them to fully support them. Augsburg became another home where I was opened lots of doors , given lots of support and was questioned from time to time how I got here. Was it because I was poor or because I was an immigrant? Tough love at home. During these years too I fell in love and told my family I had met someone but wasn’t going to come out to them because my straight siblings didn’t have to. We laughed and cried because as my dad put it, “We want for you what makes you happy.” I’m a lucky kid.
All those years too, I forgot about Mexico. Or I wanted to. Last year, through the Mexican Consulate I was given the opportunity to travel back and was with my older sisters in the same room for the first time in 14 years. I met their kids and saw my grandparents again. I also met other young people who grew up in the US but were deported back to Mexico or decided to return. The struggle of being in a place you do not call home, might not know the language, leaving your family and friends behind—it was too familiar.
So I want to remind you that today we have an immigration system that seems to never embrace our entire families, that only some of us are acceptable. And you see that everywhere—those of us called DREAMers, young people like me who arrived in the US as kids, everybody loves the DREAMers now. We are smart, do not get in trouble, we go to college, and built a movement. Many of us are protected from deportation. But our parents for example, the ones who have been trying so hard to keep their families together or reuniting them, they aren’t good enough to be protected from deportation.
And now we continue to have politics of hate like Donald Trump’s. My home, the US, some people clearly do not want us here. Are we too Mexican? Are we too illegal? Are we too brown? Are we too transgender to not be given the right protections when in detention systems facing abuse?
Finding home is hard, especially when you are feared or seen with suspicion. The impact it has in our young people is terrifying. Our gay kids, our undocumented kids are dying. Killing themselves. Our home doesn’t accept us the way we are. The words used to describe us hurt, deeply.
In reality though, we all yearn to be home, to feel loved, to feel that you belong, to be happy.
I didn’t know how to write a homily. So I asked facebook friends to help me come up with something and here is what my friend Olivia Olivares wrote:
Psalm 137: 1: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“Those two passages, for me, go to the heart of living in exile, away from those we love, trying to forge a new life out of the wreckage of the old. How, indeed, do we sing when our hearts are broken, away from all we hold dear? And how shall we then greet those who come after us, fellow exiles? We must greet them with love, and sing for them, and out of this suffering, build the new Jerusalem, the new homeland. And those who hate us must also be greeted with love, for they too are strangers in a strange land in which God is not always visible. Luke 17:20-21: ‘And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with observation: Neither shall they say, See here! or, see there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’ With love and acceptance and singing, it is for us to birth the kingdom of God every day.” Olivia is good, huh?
My friend Emilia Avalos gave me this: “When we love the ones who other-ize us, when we challenge their notions founded on fear and hate from their spiritual limitations that see as others, as unequal or unworthy—we liberate them too. Love is the bound, the foundation of home.”
As I finish, I ask you: show love to every person you meet. Talk and listen to the stranger, people you disagree with and show them love. Let us make others feel that they do belong here. Lets welcome each other and create home all around us. Lets be there for each other as we all continue our way home and be our full selves because pursuing happiness is a long journey.