I know. “Frightened” is a provocative term. It evokes many feelings and reactions. It demands asking why a person or a group feels that way. It invites analysis into the causes and consequences of situations that are frightening.
Let me say it at the outset: Many, perhaps millions, of Hispanics are frightened. Yes, today, in the United States of America, many of our Hispanic Catholic sisters and brothers live in a permanent state of fear.
The Collins Dictionary says this about the word “frightened”: “If you are frightened, you are anxious or afraid, often because of something that has just happened or that you think may happen.”
The definition captures well what I hear increasingly from many Hispanics in my travels throughout the United States. Their reasons to be frightened are many, and I do not pretend to exhaust them in a short column, yet allow me to mention a few.
Countless Hispanic children and spouses, mostly women, are frightened when faced with the deportation of a loved one who provides for them. It is frightening to know that one’s family may be separated and perhaps never reunited.
It is frightening when many Hispanic children realize that they may end up in the foster care system and never see their parents or relatives again. It is frightening to arrive in a country as a child, like the tens of thousands of Latin American children in recent years, and spend months, perhaps years in a detention center.
Hundreds of thousands of young Hispanics whose entire lives depend on provisions like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are frightened because their entire futures depend on the whims of a few, usually wealthy and privileged politicians, playing partisan roulette in the comfort of their offices.
About a quarter-million Hispanics with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the majority Salvadorans, are frightened because after living in this country for decades, forming families and contributing to this society, their lives will be disrupted if the program ends abruptly, forcing them to return to countries where they have not lived for long — and many do not even know.
Many Hispanics, immigrant and U.S.-born, are frightened as we witness our society grow too comfortable with bouts of anti-Hispanic rhetoric and even actions. Our well-being — and that of our children — is at stake.
Hispanics are frightened when unusually questioned — twice, thrice, more — for what we do. It is frightening to live and work in environments when one’s efforts are not trusted or never considered good enough.
In some states, many Hispanics whose migration status is irregular are frightened and avoid going to church, restaurants or malls. Many even avoid stepping outside of their homes for fear of being targeted by immigration or law enforcement officers.
It is frightening for many Hispanic Catholics to realize that some of their pastoral leaders are guided more by partisan politics and ideology than by a commitment to Gospel-inspired pastoral care. Sometimes they receive the scraps of what is offered to other Catholics; other times they are not even welcomed. Although such negative examples are not the norm, they do exist.
All circumstances leading people to live in a permanent state of fear constitute a direct affront to their dignity as children of God and to their most essential rights as human beings.
Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics are Roman Catholic. The fear of these sisters and brothers is the fear of the church in this country. We need to talk about these matters as a community of faith. Being Catholic in the U.S. demands standing in solidarity with those who are frightened.
Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.