I probably had more disposable income when I was sixteen than I do now. That’s because I spent most weekend nights bussing tables at one of the finest Italian restaurants in North Jersey. Which is saying something, because there are a ton of Italian restaurants in North Jersey. It was a cozy place, in a dim lit basement, maybe a little bigger than Forage. The staff was a tightknit group of hard workers; we all knew if any one of us did not pull our weight, there were dozens of folks standing ready to do the job. Except for the dishwasher, Mr. Garcia. He had an elevated level of job security. When I first started I thought he might have lived at the restaurant. He didn’t, he just put in hours that made it appear that way.
Mr. Garcia was an immigrant from Mexico. When everything was dialed-in at the restaurant and we had a bit of down time before the first reservation, a few us, including Mr. Garcia, would play blackjack. It was over blackjack that I got to know a bit of Mr. Garcia’s story. As I came to learn later in life, it’s an extremely common one – he felt a prevailing hopelessness in Mexico and came to America seeking a better life. He sent more than half of his dishwashing money back to his wife and mother. When I first heard his story as a 16 year old, I was floored! I spent the pockets full of cash I left with each night on gas for my moped and tickets to the Jr. Prom. He used his to keep his elderly mother supplied with vital medication and keep food on his family’s table in Mexico.
As our friendship grew, I was able to rally the student council at Immaculata High School to take up for Mr. Garcia. Each holiday we’d collect a box of stuff for him. He probably thought our food and customs were strange but he always presented extremely grateful. One night after work he was robbed on the train of his weekly cash wages. It was nothing for the student council at the private Catholic high school I attended to pass the hat and make up the funds stolen from Mr. Garcia. Over blackjack, I found myself answering all kinds of questions for Mr. Garcia that I just seemed to instinctively and subconsciously know the answers to – driver’s licenses, post office boxes, bland food, public transportation, the subdued nature of American celebrations…I was useful to my new friend!
It’s in that same spirit that Church in the Tetons is hosting a community forum on November 29. We are calling it Radical Neighboring. We want to become more useful. Michelle Warren, Advocacy and Strategic Engagement Director of the Christian Community Development Association, will be facilitating the evening. Michelle is an Immigration Activist, and she has dedicated her life to sorting out the complexities of US immigration policy. The first half of the evening will be a Q and A panel discussion and the second half we will hear from Michelle. This event is designed for those who desire to be useful to our immigrant friends and neighbors.
Radical Neighboring Community Forum, November 29th, 2017, 6-8pm Driggs Senior Center
Please follow up with me if you have any questions.
Rev. Karlin Bilcher