On a mild spring Sunday a large group of local residents of Fort Collins, Colorado, was treated to an informative and provocative talk about immigration. The visiting speaker was Rev. Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre, Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. His books and passions and achievements are many and he has most recently written about white privilege and immigration.
The program, at the Plymouth Church, was sponsored by ISAAC, an interfaith Northern Colorado organization dedicated to giving sanctuary, and solidarity to immigrants crossing the border to the US from Mexico.
De La Torre told us about his idea of radical hopelessness, whereby people perform acts of justice, without the expectation of winning a fight or a cause. He shared his pessimism about deep and lasting social change—precisely because of the long-term history of domination and greed. (As one example, he suggested that should we see crime erased or nearly so, we would then have to demolish the private prison system, a big chunk of our economy.) He made it clear that it is by embracing the hopelessness that we can be free of the ego and high expectations of achievement and insistence on particular results.
De la Torre traced the beginnings of immigration crisis for us, a propos of Mexico and Latin America. He recounted the exploitation of some Latin American countries by the US, which instigated regime changes, often promoting one dictatorship after another. The normalization of “free trade”(NAFTA) unfortunately meant that big corporations took charge and ownership of local crops and other resources, negating the role of indigenous farming. This in turn made living safely and well for local people impossible, pretty much forcing them to come to the States, so often not out of hope but out of desperation.
He advocated that our role doesn’t end in being supportive or even kind, but that we as a country need to provide restitution for nations—for people– put into dire conditions by our foreign policies. For me this was a rather harsh wake up call, a bit like that I’ve experienced when I was pushed to confront my own role in racism and white privilege. Before that point, I more or less had felt the liberal glow of benign intention and image—one that turned out to be very shallow in the end.
To return to the matter of radical hopelessness, I do realize that often, in my work as a therapist, I feel I’m working in the dark and without evidence or certainty, as I’m pursuing a thread or behavior that has no completely predictable relevance or result. In addition there is the sober—and ultimately disappointing– awareness that however much any of us feel we are doing the right thing we don’t know what the ultimate impact is going to be. We may be barking up the wrong tree, following the advice or conventional wisdom of a given time. We take the wrong medicine; we get the wrong diagnosis; we treat our patients or our children with the smartest psychology and insights of the day and yet it can prove too little too late, or simply misguided.
When it comes to reflecting on a world so often based on domination, greed and on showmanship, there are many who want to close the door on these inconvenient truths. They say: It’s too much for me to take, so I don’t think about it and hide in my small world. Or, I do my good deeds and leave it at that, because I cannot stand thinking about the larger picture. We all compartmentalize some of the time so as not to fall to pieces from the strain of seeing too much that is out of our control, yet some people seem to do this without batting an eyelash.
I have trouble not caring for too long; call it sensitivity or vulnerability or pain. And I can’t quite embrace the hopelessness of feeling that people won’t become more successful in tackling the stubbornness of those in power.
I can’t embrace it perhaps because a cloud cover of pessimism is something that suffocates me and makes me too sad. Even so, I don’t feel—and don’t want to feel as of now–compelled to stop acting in the right direction when I know what that is, or when I can muster my motivation and stamina.
There is one factor that for me is huge here—that of loneliness. When I feel too lonely, that people around me won’t look at the greed and the anguish that we are directly or indirectly wrestling with, this is a particular kind of hopelessness wrapped up in desolation. It is a hopelessness beside and beyond that described by de la Torre. It can become disabling.
I clearly need company in this. Even if it has to start with my feeling entitled to my feelings and observations when I am alone. That would at least be a beginning of not hiding in shame or fear, the first steps to begin to own these things and share them out loud.
Oh, and by the way I’d like to mention that I’m also looking for a Presidential candidate who is familiar with emotional literacy, and who has that as a central part of his/her platform.
Not to be hopeless, but: Just what are my chances on this one?
****Meanwhile, this Easter/Passover any other holidays or no holiday at all, if you need combinations of humor, serious caring and having your perspective bounced on its head, please try:
“A Day Without a Mexican” (2004), and in theaters near you,
“The Best of Enemies”