As a former organizer in the immigration movement, I came to Harvard Divinity School to learn more about liberation theology and figure out how I could relate it to my understanding of undocumented immigrants. My overall project was to integrate undocumented immigrants into the political philosophy of the United States. My idea consisted of making an argument based on contribution. In simple terms, I argued that undocumented immigrants had a claim to American citizenship because of their economic contribution to society. My undergraduate training in economics directed me to think in terms of utility, production, benefits and costs. I presupposed that undocumented immigrants deserved to be recognized and granted citizenship by the American polity because of their contributions to the economy and society.
I took Professor Carrasco’s class because I wanted to approach immigration from an academic perspective, bringing to that perspective my background in organizing for immigrants’ rights and experiences an undocumented student.
In my first semester at HDS I took Davíd Carrasco’s “Human Migration and US-Mexico Borderlands: Moral Dilemmas and Sacred Bundles.” The class examined “the immigration crisis of the Mexico-US borderlands within the epic context of human migration in history and global perspective.” I took this class because I wanted to approach immigration from an academic perspective, bringing to that perspective my background in organizing for immigrants’ rights and experiences an undocumented student.
The first book that we read for the class was called Enrique’s Journey, and it immediately challenged my argument based on contribution. How do you incorporate children refugees into the American polity? They cannot contribute to the economy because of their age. Are they then less worth of American citizenship than the rest of undocumented immigrants? I had to rethink the premises of my argument to accommodate those undocumented immigrants whose contribution couldn’t be measured monetarily.
Time passed, we read more books, and we discussed Carrasco’s concept of “sacred bundles” in greater depth. He argues that when Mexican immigrants migrate to the United States, they bring with them a sacred bundle full of memories, hopes, beliefs, stories, etc. This bundle, in turn, is constitutive of their identity. That notion opened my eyes to the religious dimension of immigration. Eventually I realized that my contribution-based argument was operating within an economic framework that assigned value to people on the basis of their labor.
By the end of the semester, I had rethought my whole argument. In my final paper I pointed out the moral arbitrariness of American citizenship. I argued for the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into the American polity using philosophical mechanisms that recognized and protected their humanity. In their focus on humanity, these mechanisms valued immigrants’ lives by virtue of their existence, not their economic contribution. Carrasco’s class added much to my understanding of the relationship between Mexico and the United States and the issue of immigration. Most importantly, however, it allowed me to contemplate, recognize, and value the humanity of undocumented immigrants by giving me access to different learning materials.
In addition to discussing the material and our views on immigration with each other during our session, we screened Robert M. Young’s award-winning Alambrista! and different guest speakers came to share their research and experiences in our classes. We read books that varied in their methodological approaches to immigration and thus learned to study the topic from different perspectives.
I argued for the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into the American polity using philosophical mechanisms that recognized and protected their humanity. In their focus on humanity, these mechanisms valued immigrants’ lives by virtue of their existence, not their economic contribution.
My two favorite components of the class were the final paper and the dinners sponsored by Professor Carrasco. First, we had the opportunity to write a final research paper on a topic pertaining to immigration that was of special interest to us. Many wrote about the stories of their families, some interviewed immigrants they knew, and still others wrote proposals for future projects related to immigration. I think most of us enjoyed working on our papers because we had the flexibility to write about something that we were passionate about. Second, I also enjoyed the two dinners for the class: Mexican food was provided and we got to discuss the topics at hand while breaking bread together outside the classroom.
In addition to all this, I was most impacted by Dr. Carrasco himself—his passion for the topic kept me interested during all his classes and animated our class discussions. I’m looking forward to taking more classes like this one here at HDS, where students and professors alike share not only a passion for the topic of study and a compassion for those lives they hope to improve by that study.