What does it mean to be a neighbor in a polarized America?
My wife and I bought our first home about seven years ago, after William, our first child, was born. We had loved the small and cozy apartment that we rented only a few blocks away from Boston College, where I teach. Yet by week two, William had taken over the place.
A crib, a changing table, a diaper disposal, gadgets that I did not know existed, and toys of all sizes and colors now occupied almost every corner. We procured a large chest for the countless little pieces of clothing floating around. How many clothes and artifacts does an eight-pound human being need? Apparently, a lot!
Three months later, we were moving into our first home. We searched for a neighborhood that was family-friendly, close to work and with a high concentration of Catholics. We wanted a place that was safe and clean. After doing the usual research, we found our house and fell in love with it. That was it! We were homeowners. Victoria, our daughter, was born two years later. Our children were growing up in their own place.
This house belongs to us, and we love it. We own a piece of this country—small, for sure, yet ours.
Homeownership has always been an important marker of belonging in this country. The promise of owning a parcel of land attracted millions of people from around the world to the United States. The idea of homeownership is deeply ingrained in the American Dream.
We own a piece of this country—small, for sure, yet ours.
About two-thirds of people born in the United States live in their own homes. Immigrants also have a strong record of homeownership: About half of the 42.3 million foreign-born people in our nation live in their own homes. This is a remarkable record worth celebrating. It holds promise for the stability and integration of our society.
Except for two other immigrant families, all our neighbors are Euro-American. White. When we moved here, we did not mind this at all; my family is bilingual, English and Spanish. However, after several months, only the two immigrant families and one Euro-American neighbor from across the street had befriended us. We reached out to others but did not get beyond formal greetings. Almost seven years later, things have not changed much.
Not long ago I was standing outside our home. One of our neighbors came over decidedly. I stepped forward and, without giving me much time to utter a sound, she said, “It is people like you and your family that are bringing this country down.” Then she turned around and has not spoken to me since.
The promise of owning a parcel of land attracted millions of people from around the world to the United States.
I still wonder what prompted her. Did others share her feelings? Is distrust the default mode to treat the immigrant among us? My wife and I have talked and prayed a lot about this incident. It is interesting that the adults in the three immigrant families in our neighborhood have graduate degrees and hold professional positions. We all have young families. If anything, we bring the American Dream to life.
My wife and I continue to discern whether this is still the best neighborhood to raise our children. They will soon reach the age where they will need to join these conversations. In any case, the place where we live is our home and the families around it are our neighbors.
While we ponder this, millions of immigrants will continue to search for their first home in family-friendly, close-to-work, safe and clean environments. They will call those places home. Their mere presence will challenge their neighbors to practice the virtue of hospitality. I believe that there needs to be room for this conversation in our faith communities. Authentic Christian discipleship requires welcoming our neighbors―literally.