During Liz Newby's first tenure at Cincinnati Friends Meeting in the 1970s, she published a book called A Migrant with Hope. It told the story of her life as a daughter of migrant workers, her encounters with discrimination, and her embrace of a faith that could meet her inner spiritual needs, endure honest questioning, and serve the social needs of her fellow human beings.
More recently, in the midst of the harsh treatment of immigrants at the border, Liz decided to write an update of her original work, entitled A Migrant with Hope: A Memoir of Peril and Promise. This edition includes new details about her personal life and a critique of current immigration policy.
Her publisher, Smyth and Helwys, will be featuring Liz as their Author of the Month this April, and asked her to answer a series of interview questions. Here are her responses.
What is your hope for how your new book might impact readers?
My hope is that readers may come to better understand the Hispanic migrant sub-culture in our society, and the perils they must endure. My story is a true story about how through faith, the encouragement of teachers, and the hope that life will get better, one brown girl and woman survived these perils to become a part of the "melting pot" that is America.
At the very beginning of A Migrant with Hope you state that your life "is a simple story told in a simple way." How does such a statement give importance and value to those who may feel themselves as a smaller story in this large world? How do the small moments make the largest difference?
It is only upon reflection that we can see the hand of God painting our personal landscape. When we are in the midst of the moment, it is difficult to discern why things are happening to us and what their value will be in the total sum of our lives. As I wrote A Migrant with Hope, I was able to look back and see the importance of an encouraging word from a teacher, or a lesson from my mother that turned my life in a new direction. Simple things, and yet profound in their impact. We should never underestimate how our simple words and actions can influence a person or persons.
What does faith mean to you? How do you feel faith reflects identity?
As I was growing up, it was my mother who introduced me to the Christian faith. In many ways it was a faith built on the "folk religion" of the Hispanic migrant sub-culture, incorporating suspicions and strange practices (like jumping over an ant hill in the sign of the cross). As it was practiced by my mother, it was a refuge from the difficult life we lived. I would mimic her practices, in a positive way, believing that if she found comfort in her faith practices, I would as well. Later, as we became settled migrants, it was the little Hispanic mission church where I found relief from the perils of my childhood. It was my faith that gave me hope and encouragement to continue to seek an education, and it was my faith that sustained me during the most difficult times when I was feeling most alone and abandoned by my family. My faith has always been central to who I am as a person. Two queries are constant companions in my life experience: "How is God working here?" and "What spiritual lessons am I learning?"
How would you encourage churches and people of faith to respond to those who come that are eager, but unfamiliar with church customs or are different from the community?
I believe that the church that Christ founded is built on love and diversity. You may remember the old Sunday School song, "Red and Yellow, Black or White, they are precious in His sight..." To which I would add "Brown." All of the various cultures, and all of the various backgrounds that are a part of the magnificent patchwork quilt of Christianity is a beautiful thing. Churches and people of faith should be welcoming, patient, loving, and caring to those who are different. If you do not know the language of those who come to you and who are unfamiliar with your customs, try and learn them as they try to learn your language and customs. It all begins with accepting the premise that we are all God's people, and we are all on a journey to grow spiritually. Customs and language may be different, but if we accept the underlying premise that we are all on the same spiritual journey, then, I believe, these issues can be resolved.
What surprised and/or challenged you about returning to A Migrant with Hope decades later?
I was challenged by how much more of my story needed to be told, and how my story is interwoven into the fabric of our current immigration situation. As a mature woman with more years of life lived between the first release of my book and the new release, I can see more of the landscape that God has painted. Unfortunately, so many of the perils that I lived as a migrant girl continue to be problems. The discrimination against migrants and persons of color is still with us, and in many ways is worse. The family separation policy of the last administration will take years to rectify. Children in cages haunt my dreams at night and my thoughts during the day. Barriers of language and custom continue to divide us. What surprises me? I am surprised that in 2021 we have still not learned the second part of the Great Commandment, to "love our neighbors as ourselves," and that we do not understand, "as you have done it unto the least of these" we have done it unto Christ.
At the end of your book, you described today's society as one of "Peril." What is your hope for the future and what "Promise" is there?
I have hope that transformation is always a possibility. This is the hope of the Christian faith, that hearts can change, and that love and care, kindness and acceptance, can become the prominent virtues that guide us as a diverse nation. We are a society built upon the value that all are created equal. With Martin Luther King Jr., I believe that "the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice." If I did not have hope for the promise of our society, then the only other option is despair. I choose hope.