“We decided that Guatemalans have a right to a dream as well. All the world wants to go to America and have ‘The American Dream,’ but why should Americans be the only ones with a dream? We have a Guatemalan Dream.” Willy, Claudia and Ubaldo were explaining to me the passion that had led to the founding of DESGUA (Desarollo Sostenible Para Guatemala). It had all started in New York, when Guatemalans living there realized that they did not have to come to America to build a dream. Therefore, they returned to Guatemala to begin the work of DESGUA and to open Cafe R.E.D.
My mind rushed back to another lunch I had shared in Haiti, when I had sat with the similarly named Willio and heard him explain to me his Haitian Dream. He had explained that he was not a proponent of having Americans adopt the children out of his orphanage in Haiti because he needed their gifts and hearts and minds; because Haiti needed their gifts and hearts and minds; because Haiti needed Haitians to build the Haitian Dream. No one else could build it for them and no amount of money – although money helps – could make it happen without the involvement and empowerment of the children that he was raising. “More people, more hope” was his motto. The more people who felt loved, educated, and empowered, the better chance they had at making the Haitian Dream a reality. To send their “best” to the United States was to perpetuate the myth that it is only in America that you have the right to dream.
Here in Xela, Guatemala, Willy was explaining a similar philosophy to me. He explained that people who immigrate to the United States often feel like deportation is death, and that their dream is dead. He sees it differently, however. He believes that every land can be the land of opportunity, if people are working and striving for justice. “When I was in the States, I felt like a caged chicken. Here I am free range,” he joked with me. That is why, after becoming well known for making documentaries about immigration and deportation, Willy took his United States Residency card and ripped it up to stand in solidarity with the deported and to show people that he was serious about building a dream in the country of his birth.
The action of dreaming can be cast, by the “realistic” and the “pragmatic,” as an act of weakness or naivete. But the act of dreaming, much like the act of hoping, is the strongest and most difficult and most necessary action in our world. Without dreamers, nothing changes.
And, yes, I know that there are many people who would like for nothing to change, because they are the ones who have more at the loss of those who have less.
Unfortunately, from the very beginning, the “land of opportunity” built that opportunity for some upon the backs of others. First the backs of the indigenous Native Americans, and then when they proved insufficiently resistant to Western diseases, upon the backs of imported slaves from Africa. Then concurrent with slavery, and since its abolition, it has been built upon wave after wave of immigrants from around the world that have come with the hope that they would win what is the lottery of American opportunity.
Despite their grand words and good intentions, many of the nation’s founders believed the right of white Christians to dream – of religious freedom and a better life – was greater than the rights of the rest of the world to dream and to thrive and to live. They believed that the right of white Christian men to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was worth building upon the “death, enslavement, and despairing sorrow” of others.
They pursued their own liberty while their fellow humans struggled in plantation fields and indigenous reservations. While their pursuit of their own liberty led to the contagious awakening of the revolutionary spirit among people of every kind, it is impossible to conclude that they intended to create the freedom of others.
More time would be needed, and more voices would need to enter the conversation, before people started to realize that we can build a communal dream together – that one person’s dream does not need to be built upon the destruction of another person’s dream.
Yes, it is definitely possible for anyone to succeed and have a beautiful life in the United States. Yet, there are systems in place that rig that lottery in favor of some over others.
The realization, then, that one can “dream” just as easily in the nation of their birth is a liberating realization indeed.
We need look no further than Romans 8 to see that every part of creation has the right and ability to dream. That every part of creation has the ability to long and to hope, not only for the kingdom of God that lies in their future, but also for the inbreaking of that kingdom into their own lives now. Every person in every nation has been given the blessing and the burden to long for the “already but not yet”; every nation has been given the ability to work to create a world that would please God’s heart. A world where the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and no one has more than any other.
As Romans 8 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
The whole creation is breathing in and breathing out the breaths of its birthing pains. Happy are we who are blessed to know with confidence that a better day is coming, and now has already begun.
Happy as well are we who through the vision of the scriptures are given the ability to see that in God’s vision, we are “one whole creation” – we are not divided by borders and walls and categories. We are simply “the whole creation” and “the children of God.”
Yet, there are still many children of God who feel it necessary to protect the “land of opportunity” from other children of God.
It seems that in the face of the monolithic power and pervasive allure of empires like the United States, each nation must find its own Moses’s. Women and men who can contradict the lie that only in the place of power is opportunity possible. People who can work to make that opportunity possible in their own land.
Bringing my mind back to Guatemala, and the beautiful courtyard of Cafe R.E.D., I continued to listen to the vision explained. Red might mean communist in America, but in Guatemala, Red is understood in the Spanish meaning of the word, rather than the English meaning of the word. In Spanish the word rojo means red, while the word red means network. So a red cafe is a cafe seeking to build networks.
(I am not naive, there is an allusion to socialism; but if you study the history of Guatemala, you’ll understand how a socialist democracy trying to follow the model of FDR was confused with Communism in the model of Stalin, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples in actions initiated by the United States, and funded initially by American fruit businesses operating in Guatemala and threatened by economic reforms… more in the next blog.)
Here at Cafe R.E.D., it was also an acronym for the three parts of their work: R was Restaurante, E was Educación, and D was Deposito.
Those were the three methods that DESGUA and Cafe R.E.D. was using to work to make the country a land of opportunity for immigrants returning to Guatemala after deportation. To help them to feel proud of who they are and where they are from. To help them to understand that every nation has the right to dream.
God sees the world without borders. God sees people as no more important on one side of a border than another and no more in need of protection, love and justice.
For those who have claimed the United States to be “The New Jerusalem”, the new people of the promise, the new chosen people – it may be in our best interests to look at the real story of those who are truly the people of the Promise. The people of Israel, whom God has used to tell the story of God’s love and reveal to the world God’s identity. They were and they are some of the greatest dreamers that the world has ever known. And they have dreamed on and on and on through more heartbreak than most of us could bear. Their story has been more similar over the course of history to that of the long-suffering people of Guatemala than it has been to the manifest destiny policies of the United States that were derived from the early parts of the nation of Israel’s story.
Every nation has the right to dream. The world, however, will be a better place if we learn to dream of justice and community and solidarity and peace. The American Dream has begun to ring false to so many people because it has gone from being an escape, from oppression to liberty, to being a pursuit of possessing more “stuff.”
Every nation has the right to dream. So dream big dreams. Dream like Martin Luther King, Jr. Dream like Mother Theresa. Dream like Nelson Mandela. Do not dream of “stuff.” Do not dream of “things.” They have not made Americans happy, and they will not make you happy either.
Dream instead of love and justice and equality. Dream of a world without lines and divisions and inequalities. Dream that you can do things differently.
That is what the people at Cafe R.E.D. do every day. They have decided that it is not only possible to create “The American Dream” in Guatemala; they have decided that it is possible to do something even better – to create the “Guatemalan Dream.”