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The Politics of Jumpy Castles

Part 4 in the Seeing Beyond the Immigration Rhetoric series.

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.   Leviticus 19:33-34

Standing in my front yard, waiting for my eight year old neighbor to kick the soccer ball, I hear a faint, high-pitched voice yell “Hello!”

I look across the street and see Sophia, the tiny four-year-old daughter of a Guatemalan family. I yell back the only Spanish word I know: “Hola!” As we play soccer, she keeps yelling hello, and then says something in Spanish. I keep saying “Hola!” with a weak attempt at “Como estás!”, still waving.

I yell back the only Spanish word I know

Sophia and her siblings frequently end up in my backyard. We have two things the neighbor kids love: a playhouse and a trampoline. Sophia’s older brother Victor and his cousin Jesús prefer the trampoline.

Sometimes I stand outside and try to talk to them using Google Translate. One time I tried to ask, “How was school today?” I must have said something else, because the whole group burst out laughing. Victor, who is learning English in school, started to teach me how to say it in Spanish, slowly saying the words while I repeated them. When I tried to put them together at the end, they all just laughed.

My neighborhood in Sioux Center, Iowa increasingly consists of people from Mexico and Guatemala. Agriculture dominates the economy; many people have come here looking for jobs on farms and in factories. They come looking for a better life, trying to find a place to raise their families, and, for some, to support family members left behind.

We have two things the neighbor kids love

My congressional representative is Steve King. His rhetoric on immigration, the southern border, and Western civilization has been controversial to say the least. For King, and those who support him, immigration policy is about law and order. They like to talk about crime, welfare, and the decline of Iowa values, but I haven’t seen it.

Sure, there’s crime, but it’s usually white people of European descent who are the perpetrators, at least of the big stuff. (There has been plenty of big stuff lately.) The immigrants who live in my neighborhood are just trying to get by the best they can, caught up in the routines of work, parenting, and surviving the cold winters like the rest of us.

For the past two years, my church (First CRC Sioux Center) has put on a neighborhood carnival. Every Sunday we hear the summary of the law: love God and love our neighbors. We decided the best way to love our neighbors is to throw a BBQ on the front lawn—free burgers, brats, and hot dogs, with face painting and jumpy castles.

We realized quickly that “jumpy castle” transcends language

We canvassed the neighborhood with flyers in English and Spanish, and realized quickly that “jumpy castle” transcends language. It was a great night.

Of course, Victor and Jesús showed up with their families. I introduced myself to Victor and Sophia’s mother with the help of a parishioner who speaks Spanish. “Tell her I live in the yellow house across the street.” She smiled and laughed when my friend translated it. Why do my immigrant neighbors find me so funny? Maybe it’s because I look like a big bearded Scandinavian lumberjack? Whatever the reason—I’ll take it. Among my family and friends laughter is a sign of generosity and love, something we need much more of. Who knew jumpy castles could be so politically and theologically powerful?


Photo by Lukas from Pexels


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