The 100 women making the 100 mile pilgrimage from Pennsylvania to DC to greet Pope Francis are about a quarter of the way there — they were at mile 26, at last count — and two new pieces from recent days highlight the message of dignity and compassion the walkers want to share with both the Pope and the nation.
In the first piece, Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Worker Alliance, shares her family’s history and her inspiration behind joining 99 other women on this journey:
Every family has a story. My mother immigrated to the U.S. when she was 21 to further her education and pursue her dreams. She came to study chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University. After she arrived, she reconnected with and eventually married my father, who was an old classmate of hers in Taiwan and also a graduate student in the U.S. I was born in Pittsburgh in 1974.
After my mother received her degree in chemistry, she decided she wanted to be a doctor, and signed up for medical school. My younger sister was born four years later in Irvine, Calif., while my mom was in medical school. She was the only woman in her class with two children. Since then, she’s spent her career saving the lives of people diagnosed with cancer; her main area of specialty is melanoma. I grew up hearing about the journeys of her patients and their families.
Today, she lives in Houston in a house with fruit trees in the yard. This was always a dream of hers. She has oranges, lemons and grapefruit. They grow close to one another, and sometimes the oranges start to taste like lemons, and the other way around. My parents have since split up. My mother turns 65 in November, and earlier this year, when my sister had a baby, she became a grandmother.
Every apartment building, every neighborhood and every state in this country is filled with stories like these, each unique in their own way. But they also share many commonalities—there are trials and triumphs, separations and reunions, births and deaths, experiences and memories for which there are no words. There is a common thread that is often woven through these stories: migration. People move away to go to school, to gain exposure to new things, to find work or seek out different opportunities. Sometimes we move away for safety, fleeing from domestic violence or bullies at our children’s schools.
In our country today, there are at least 11 million people who have migrated across borders to live here. They have families, children they would like to see go to school here. They have personal ambitions, like my mom’s dream of fruit trees, and professional and economic ambitions. They start businesses, care for our children and our aging loved ones, and grow and prepare our food. They are already a part of the story of who we are as a country.
But they are forced to live and work in the shadows because their immigration status means that they may be detained, deported and separated from their families and communities at any moment. Their work and contributions have gone unrecognized, along with their basic human dignity. Our leaders have failed to take action to address this reality, to create a pathway out of the shadows. We have lost this thread of our story. We have forgotten that it’s our story, too.
This morning, like many other mornings, I woke up, searched for coffee and unrolled my blue yoga mat for my morning practice. But today, as I prepared for my day, I was preparing for something very different. Today, I joined a group of 100 immigrant women and their families who gathered from across the country to embark on a journey to see the most influential religious leader in the world, Pope Francis.
We will walk 100 miles, from York, Pa. to Washington, D.C., to welcome Pope Francis during his first visit to the U.S. and to echo his message of compassion, global cooperation and welcoming of migrants. His vision, based on that of one of the most important leaders of all time, Jesus Christ, is one of universal love, where no one must live in the shadows, and everyone has dignity.
We hope his message rings clearly through the halls of power and inspires our leaders to take bold action on immigration. We will share our 100 stories with communities throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland until we reach Washington, D.C., representing the millions of Americans who want to reclaim our nation’s story, and see a future where we are stronger together.
In a second piece published today, the 100 women on the pilgrim send an open letter to Presidential candidates who, by pushing ugly rhetoric and solutions, have failed to lead and have lost sight of what our fight is all about: compassion and dignity.
Dear candidates for president,
Elections are about leadership. Leaders influence and shape the world around them. So far, the election conversation about immigration has caused us great alarm.
Many of you have engaged in rhetoric that is feeding a rising tide of hatred toward migrants in the United States and globally. This is precisely the type of rhetoric that seeds and promotes hate violence, and emboldens the most hateful among us. This is type of hatred that often results in the tragic loss of human life. And, it creates the context for hate-based policies with profound humanitarian implications.
Your proposed solutions are the same recycled solutions that have been proposed for years. From border walls to mass deportations and guest worker programs, we’ve heard nothing new.
The rhetoric and solutions we have heard are not grounded in reality. The reality is, many of you count on immigrants every day. We know, because we clean your homes and take care of your children and aging parents. We drive you to work, cook and serve your food. We teach your children language, art and dance. We design your apps and build your homes.
In this country, we are interdependent. The 11 million undocumented people living and working in this country are integral to this economy and our social fabric. We are powering local economies with our labor and businesses, and entire sectors — from caregiving to agriculture — are dependent upon an immigrant workforce. Immigrants and non-immigrants need one another.
Our decision to walk 100 miles is also an act of leadership. And it is an act of faith and love. Rather than wait for others to take action, we decided to embark on this pilgrimage, to echo the Pope’s message of humanity and compassion toward migrants, and to share our stories with all who would listen.
We hope to feed a rising tide of cooperation, generosity and welcoming of immigrants that we are also witnessing throughout the nation and the world. From train stations in Europe to the towns in Pennsylvania we pass as we walk, we are finding that people want to be a part of solutions based in reality, and rooted in a recognition of everyone’s human dignity.
We believe that this moment in history calls for courageous moral, innovative and practical leadership. As we prepare for his arrival, we hope Pope Francis’s leadership and challenge to elected leaders around the world to welcome migrants, and our decision to boldly walk 100 miles, serves as inspiration to you.
(from mile 26 on our 100 mile pilgrimage for migrant dignity and for all of us)