We’ve watched our next president brag about sexual assault. We’ve watched his supporters bully black protesters. We’ve heard him call Mexican immigrants “rapists” and pledge to build a wall along our southern border. He’s promised to keep Muslims out of the U.S.
Our neighbors are afraid. Really, truly afraid.
I’m a tangential part of Durham Presbyterian Church. I used to lead music there. Now I work elsewhere on Sunday mornings, but I still have many friends there, and I try to be present with them when I can.
On Wednesday night after the election, the church held a bilingual Vigil for Peace, Unity and Hope with its sister congregation, Iglesia Emanuel. Toward the end of the service, about 70 Latino immigrants encircled the small sanctuary, holding candles, offering prayers and telling stories.
One woman said she went to work on Wednesday morning and her employer greeted her in tears, promising to hide her family if the persecution starts. Another woman explicitly named the Nazis and the Jews. “We are so afraid,” she said.
My friend Guillermo Salamea, an Ecuadorian immigrant and music minister at Emanuel, said the church is literally helping its members to make plans in case la migra comes calling. Who’s going to pick up their kids from school? Take their cars? Gather up their belongings from their homes? Communicate with their families?
Wow. This is real.
It moved me to tears, but as a white, privileged male, I couldn’t relate. I still can’t imagine the United States of America turning into a fascist state. But, then again, I couldn’t imagine we would elect a serial bankrupter because of his business acumen or a reality TV star to be commander-in-chief. Who knows what’s going to happen and how we might be called upon to fight?
“We feel it in our families,” another mother said through a translator.
“Kids are showing up to class crying,” said Viridiana Martinez, an activist with Alerta Migratoria NC. “People in the community are legitimately scared.”
Attending the vigil was Wildin Acosta, the Riverside High School senior who spent most of this year in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail in Georgia. ICE arrested Acosta in January as he left home on his way to school. At age 17, Acosta had fled gang violence in Honduras, joining his parents in North Carolina. But in March 2015 he missed a court date and got put on a deportation list.
While there’s lots of fear in the community, there should also be lots of hope.
Viridiana Martinez, activist with Alerta Migratoria NC
It was his mother’s faith that had got him into trouble to begin with. After his release, he told The News & Observer that a gang member had threatened to kill him after he spoke about God at a youth-group event in Honduras.
But it was also his mother’s faith that helped to get him through his detention. Even though Dalisa Acosta had to raise $10,000 bail to free her son, Wildin cited Proverbs 3:13-14 and the wisdom he gained that was “more profitable than silver.” He encouraged the immigrants gathered at Iglesia Emanuel to keep the faith.
Martinez said people can protect and advocate for one another, even if the government turns against them. It worked with Wildin Acosta’s case, she said, even though lawyers said there was no way they could keep him from being deported.
“It’s just people power and faith,” she said. “When a mom is determined to get her son out of detention, she will. While there’s lots of fear in the community, there should also be lots of hope. We have overcome, we are overcoming and we will continue to overcome.”
A pair of African-American vigilers likewise had a message of solidarity.
“Even though I might not understand what you’re saying, I understand what you’re feeling,” said Gordon Cooper. “The solution starts right here, right now, with us being together.”
Rosa Ramirez-Eve, the daughter of Emanuel’s pastor and a senior at Durham School of the Arts, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of President Barack Obama. “He’s my president, always and forever,” she told her friend in Spanish.
“Don’t let this one man take all the progress and work that we’ve made ahead in this country,” she prayed in Spanish. She couldn’t even utter Trump’s name.
Jesse James DeConto is a writer and musician in Durham. Contact him via www.jessejamesdeconto.com.