Immigration and an Urban Garden

This column first was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Form on April 7, 2008. 

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…(Psalm 24:1)

On Saturday my kids and I planted some tomatoes in our garden.

Well, technically it wasn’t in our garden. We live in a townhouse with no back yard. Our garden is made out of planters on the patio, but this year I want to grow a lot of tomatoes, and I’ve had little luck growing tomatoes in planters. The plants have been healthy and the fruit good, but the yield has been low. In past years our garden’s tomatoes have been an occasional treat: once a week or so at the height of tomato season, I’ve been able to cut up one tomato at a time and serve it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and pepper. This is nice, but I want to make salsa and spaghetti sauce. I want to put up cans of tomatoes for the winter. I may regret it come July, but this year I want to be invaded. I want to see heirlooms slowly fester on my counter until the fruit flies won’t leave us alone. In order to get this desired bumper crop my family had to emigrate a few feet, to cross a legal boundary, to sink our fingers into the earth on property that isn’t ours.

So this year I broke the law Continue reading

Tacos and the Politics of Immigration

On Thursday, January 17 a slightly shorter form of this column was broadcast as part of the Perspectives series on KQED FM, San Francisco’s NPR affiliate. On Monday, January 21 it was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum. An audio version of the KQED broadcast of this piece appears at the end of the text version, thanks to  my friend, JJ Chacon. Speaking of JJ check out the photos of a dream meal in Florence from on JJ’s website. Who’d like to join me for a meal like that?


In the coming weeks, as the primaries swing to the South and West, immigration will play a growing role in the drama of presidential politics. The candidates will be proposing immigration policies in an effort to capture the voters’ fancy, but before any of our would-be presidents has the opportunity actually to set immigration policy, I’d like for them to visit me in the barrio where I live in East San Jose. Continue reading

Singing “Amazing Grace” in English

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on April 23, 2007.

I used to speak Spanish.

In high school I was an exchange student in the Dominican Republic, where I learned to dance merengue, drink rum, and talk baseball with an Antillean accent. In college I worked with Salvadoran refugees in San Francisco’s Mission District and I read un-translated Latin American poetry for fun. As a clergyman, I helped to draft the bilingual rules of cooperation between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

But today the language of Sammy Sosa and Sor Juana Ynez de la Cruz doesn’t come as easily to me as once it did. Continue reading