Hernando got accepted at UW, WSU, Gonzaga, Whitman, and Seattle U. and for kicks applied to Harvard and Princeton just so he could receive a polite rejection letter on their fancy stationery… which in due time he got. He’s studying Public Affairs, Political Science, and International Business—besides running Seattle U.—and he’d like to become a politician at the local level of government, a council member, mayor of either Bellevue or Seattle, or—and this is what I hope—Superintendent of Public Schools.
The hurdle of course is that when Hernando graduates he’ll not be able to get a job because he cannot get a social security number. That’s what brought him to my office. Together we fought for the passage of the national DREAM Act which would allow students like Hernando or soldiers from our Military Services—who came to the US as children and went through our schools—a qualification for work and a pathway to citizenship. It is, of course, a very small part of immigration reform. I got busy and got informed, wrote and published an Op Ed in The Los Angeles Times on Hernando and what the DREAM Act would do for America. It passed the House in November and got 55 votes in the Senate—but that was five votes short of what it takes for success in the Senate. Senator Patty Murray told me the galleries of the U.S. Senate were packed with hopeful Latino students when 55 Senators said “yes” to them and to their contributions to America, but they were crestfallen when that was not enough in our system. The vote was 55 for them, 41 against. Don’t worry, they won’t give up, nor should we, nor certainly will the brave and bubbly Hernando.
How could we not support these kids as our best future citizens and the best friends of our own, less-involved-in-America kids? Immigration reform has to start somewhere—as Anthony said about his project and purpose in Africa. I’d say a great place to start would be for our country to say “yes” to Hernando and to those 27 Latino classmates he knew how to get into college. Hernando graduates a year from this June: there is still time. When I put his face on this problem, I’m clear about what I should do. It’s not about 11 million people in America, it’s about Hernando. No matter what we do for this brilliant kid who wanted to see snow, his face will always show gratitude, joy, and hope to make his dream come true.
There you have it, three faces on three world problems: Khaled, the face of trauma in Palestine; Anthony, the face of Africa; Hernando, the face of undocumented Latino college students. They happened to be three men. I could as well have had you see the face of veiled Hajer, who has figured out how her Islamic religion should create secular states for the sake of religious tolerance and for the sake of its own truth and principles; or Rebecca, who is learning how to reteach trust to abused and neglected little children; or Katie from Wasilla, Alaska, who though see can’t see Russia from her backyard, is the best and most powerful of what our women college students are becoming as they begin to take over America from us.
I end by asking myself and you two questions as we recommit ourselves to service above self and service from what is deepest in ourselves:
1. Should we really dare to address any world problem until we have put a face on that issue, a face which engages our hearts and calls for and makes possible a fuller human response from us?
2. What are the problems all around us in our world, our country, or our city which choose us, which are not problems but people, which walk in our doors, do have faces, and have the power to get us to say “yes” to them and to see where that little “yes” takes us and them?
Thank you, my colleagues, for the kind of compassionate colleagues you are and for the privilege to speak to you today.
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