“My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien.” –Deuteronomy 26:5
Last week I was on the set of a movie my husband and I developed and produced. We needed pictures of deceased family members for a few scenes, and instead of having production design source stock images, I brought in photographs of my own family members. My maternal grandfather made a cameo by way of one of these photographs. As a crew member admired the images, he asked if my grandfather had ever visited the States. The question gave me pause, because visiting implies a vacation. My grandfather had come many times throughout his life from Mexico, for a long time as a bracero, working the fields in central California, and in his later years to work service jobs during summer. He vacationed only once, visiting us when I was in high school, and my family fondly remembers his jokes about his experience of “doing nothing.” I know that my mother, who immigrated to this country and sacrificed a life with her ten siblings and parents, remembers his visit tenderly and is grateful that she could give him that. I was caught off-guard by that crew member’s question, because giving a detailed response can cause sadness—sadness over my grandfather’s life of difficult labor, and over my own growing up away from him and the rest of my family. Answering a question like that can also raise feelings of guilt, a guilt felt by many like me who grew up separated from their families because their parents chose to leave Mexico for a chance at a better life.
Thoughts of my grandparents and my parents’ immigration and labor stories always trigger my generational traumas, but within that pain there is also a deep sense of gratitude and wonder at what love is capable of. On this first Sunday of Lent, the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy 26:4-10, Moses expresses the collective wounds of exile and oppression:
My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien…When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers (Deuteronomy 26:5-6).