December 16, Texas
I am Joseph this year. Well, I am not really Joseph, my name is Mauricio Arenas. But this year my wife and I are Mary and Joseph. The cool thing is, wife really is Mary. Actually, her name is Maria but that is close enough. Our daughter, Esperanza, gets to play the role of Jesus. The church has insisted on it but to me, that doesn’t really make sense. In the scene we are supposed to be acting out, Jesus wasn’t born yet. Oh well.
So here I am, walking down the street in a borrowed brown bathrobe. I feel kind of silly, but everyone is having fun so I will play along. It reminds me of that German story about the guy who played the flute and all these children followed him out of town. What was his name? Pie Piper? Something like that. Anyways, I’ve got a few dozen children all marching along behind me making a ruckus. We are supposed to be acting out Joseph with Mary coming into Bethlehem. We are looking for an inn so that Maria can give birth to baby Jesus. In the Bible story, Mary is still pregnant, but here my precious Maria is, holding our three-month-old baby. I really don’t think we are the ideal couple to be leading this procession.
Even still, I do know why we were chosen. I was talking with the pastor about this a few weeks ago. I can understand how Joseph must have felt when he had no place to go. You see, back in May, my house was destroyed. Right outside our front window, clashes between the Paez protestors and the police grew violent. I don’t know exactly how it happened. We chose to stay inside and away from the trouble, but the trouble came to us. Right outside the front door, we could hear the fighting, the slogans, and the shouts. Then the police showed up. The shouts turned violent. Then there were gunshots and gas canisters launched. By this point, I was shepherding my pregnant wife to the back of our house. We heard glass shattering and more gunshots that were close enough to hurt our ears. Then it all stopped. I don’t know if the protesters ran. I don’t know if it kept going but just further away. I waited a bit to make sure and then went alone toward the front of the house to see how bad the damage was. Before I even reached the living room, I could smell the smoke. We tried to save what we could, but that fire spread quickly in our old house. Less than two hours later, I was still on our small patch of lawn, wondering what I was supposed to do now. My poor wife was crying in the neighbor’s arms. Three other houses on our street were also damaged, but mine was the only one to become nothing but ash.
It took us about a week to hitchhike to Reynosa, Mexico. It then took us another month to find a way for me and my pregnant wife to cross the Rio Grande. I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to go once we arrived in America. Then I met a miracle. Someone heard about my situation and introduced me to some people in our church. It still blows my mind how they opened up the doors of their home for us. So many people in this church have been so good. I still have a long way to go before I will be a legal citizen. Technically, I am still waiting for my temporary refugee status to become official. I guess bureaucracy is slow everywhere in the world. My baby girl Esperanza, which means Hope, was born here. So apparently she already is a citizen. Now, this is our first Christmas in America. We can all celebrate with joy because we have hope for a better future.
I have arrived at our destination and it is now time for me to sing:
In the name of heaven
I ask you for shelter,
for my beloved wife
can go no farther.
Tears come to my eyes as I hear the host sing out his response:
This is not an inn
Get on with you,
I can not open the door,
you might be a rogue.
I respond with my part:
Do not be inhuman,
Show some charity,
God in heaven
will reward you.
Back and forth we sing our parts until finally, the host opens up his doors. I sing my final line:
May the Lord reward you
for your charity,
and may the sky be filled
He responds with his final stanza but already the impatient kids who were trailing me start flooding into the house. The adults and older children wait as we all sing the final chorus to this Posada tradition. Soon there will be pinatas to hit, food to eat, and lots of fun and fellowship with my new community and friends. This will be a Merry Christmas celebration.
No, things are not all OK. We do not have a place of our own but instead rent a room in someone else’s already crowded house. Our immigration was not exactly legal so we are always looking over our shoulders. I don’t have steady work but do whatever day-to-day odd jobs I can find. It is barely enough to put food on the table. Esperanza has not yet learned the fine art of sleeping through the night and the lack of sleep adds tension to our already stressful life.
But we have hope. We have a community of others who are from here, from Mexico, and from many other countries who have embraced us. We have a church that has quickly become a family. We have confidence that next year will be better than this. And until then, for tonight, we have a Christmas party to join. Without a doubt, this will definitely be a Feliz Navidad.
The tradition described in this story is called Las Posadas. Here is a short example…