Beyond Welcome: Centering Immigrants in Our Christian Response to Immigration

Amy Pagliarella reviews the latest book by Karen González.

Karen González
Brazos Press, 176 pages | Published October 18, 2022

When we witness discrimination – whether it takes the form of outright xenophobia or “White saviorism” – we find it easy to judge the perpetrator. We find it harder to see our own biases and more difficult still to know what to do.

Beyond Welcome offers a clear and concise response rooted in the biblical narrative as well as the author’s story. As a Guatemalan immigrant, Karen González strived to “melt” into the American pot, even (or especially) at church. Happy to relegate her first language and culture to family holidays, she distanced herself from Latinos and her own experiences as a Latina — until internalized racism took its toll.

By connecting her experiences with Bible stories like those of Joseph, Moses and Rahab (the Canaanite prostitute from Joshua), González guides us away from our own limited perspectives. She centers the story of the other and challenges language like “documented” versus “undocumented” or “refugee” versus “asylum seeker,” suggesting we use “newcomer” or simply “human.”

González’s perspective applies everywhere. Whether we are partnering with someone new to the country, volunteering at a neighborhood food pantry or coaching our kindergartner to be a good friend, can we shift our focus from protecting borders (whether national or metaphorical) and instead seek God’s “kin-dom” on earth by putting marginalized people and their stories front and center? As González suggests, “The ethos of a room changes when we meet people on their terms and not ours – when we use their language and not our own – when we give up our comfort for the sake of theirs.”

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