I see Jose every day picking up his kids. He also transports several other children to and from school each day, greeting each one with a hug and a friendly ear and the children tell of their daily doings in rapid Spanish. He coaches a local soccer team, too.
Jose and his wife, Central American immigrants, recently bought a house near the school. They stick close to home. Work, church, school, local shopping, Jose’s wife is undocumented so they do not often venture out. I learned all this in a conversation I had during parent teacher conferences. It was shortly before a nationwide “day without an immigrant” protest, and I asked him if he was keeping his son home. He said yes.
Jose shared with me his strong Christian faith. He shared how proud he is of his 3 American sons, two of whom came through my class. The oldest, now in high school, listens to Christian music. All of the boys are bright, hardworking, and doing well in school. In speaking of his church, he told me that his congregation just bought a building, a small warehouse on the east side of town. He explained with pride that he is working on the drywall for their new sanctuary.
I had occasion to see him one day when I assisted with a school-sponsored ESL class. We were conducting an “appreciative inquiry” session about what parents expected for their children. All the people at the table had the same answer. They want their children to learn English, to become professionals. They want their children to give back to the community and resist the culture of consumerism.
When I think of how the “old Plainfield” is disappearing or has disappeared: the hospital, the Y, the department stores, and now our church, I despair. I raised my kids here. I made my friendships here. I got married here. I toiled for this community, and being a member of FUSP is a profound part of my identity. Those with deeper ties to this community than I may be pining too, for the vibrancy of what used to be, and that feeling of working together for a greater good and having fun in the process. I am angry, because the “next generation” of FUSPers never appeared to take my place. One could rail that we are dying. FUSP is dying, Painfield is dying.
But Plainfield, having lost its department stores, its hospital, its YMCA, its Planned Parenthood office, its Unitarian Church, is not dying. It is transforming into something else. A walk down Park Avenue will reveal the energy and drive of its residents, walking to work, to stores, to do laundry, to take their kids to the park. They are people like Jose, who, while they do not worship God in the way we do, who cherish cultures that are distinct and sometimes alien to our own, have in common the greatest of our values: to serve. They are literally building the walls of the new Plainfield, and will continue the work that we have done for 129 years.
If you want to talk back about this subject or any other, I am around most Sunday mornings or you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President, First Unitarian Society of Plainfield