Seeking refuge: LUPE’s Christmas posada draws parallel between Christian nativity, immigration debate

Angeline Gonzalez as Mary sings during the posadas at LUPE on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in San Juan. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

SAN JUAN — When Mary and Joseph sought shelter for the foretold birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, they knocked at every home only to be denied several times before somebody finally let them in.

It’s not entirely unfamiliar to the manner in which the U.S. has treated Central American asylum seekers, at least according to Martha Sanchez, a community organizer and coordinator at La Union del Pueblo Entero, who spoke of this parallel as she led the organization’s annual posada Saturday morning.

“That’s what this story is all about,” she said in Spanish, wearing a satchel that read: “Si el migrante no es tu hermano, Dios no es tu Padre!

In English, this translates into: “If the migrant is not your brother, God is not your Father.”

Sanchez told a group of roughly 50 children the story of Mary and Joseph. The 30 families invited to participate in the posada, complete with songs, games, a piñata and free toys, are active members of LUPE.

“We do this event so we can thank them for helping us out,” said Marco Lopez, a community organizer with LUPE. “It’s solidarity, not charity.”

Per tradition, half of the families went outside of LUPE’s San Juan office, knocked on the door, reenacting the plight of Mary and Joseph. Those inside denied them several times before letting them in and finishing the song. It’s a staple Christmas activity in Latin America.

Mario Romero, a LUPE member from Edinburg, moved to the U.S. from Mexico 20 years ago and brought her children, who are all adults now, to the organization’s posadas for over a decade. She did so because she didn’t want them to lose those traditions.

“It’s important that the kids are exposed to their culture,” Romero said in Spanish. “Sometimes when you’re an immigrant, because of other factors like time and finances, you don’t always think of these kinds of things and then those traditions are lost.”

For the past 15 years, Letty Sanchez, a LUPE member from Alamo, has been bringing her family to the posada. Like Romero, her children are all adults now, but she still brought her two godchildren and two grandchildren, one of whom was sitting on her lap.

She said the overlying message of the posada, and the holiday season in general, is to take into account the needs of others. For her, that means supporting immigrants seeking asylum on the U.S. border.

“We need to stay united against the policies of this administration,” Sanchez said. “(The president) says they’re bad people, but they aren’t. Right now we have something to celebrate while they’re experiencing cold and hunger. It’s good to reflect on those things.”

Her godson, Edgar Ramirez, saw the images of children in cages at local migrant detention camps this summer. It made him angry, so he accompanied Sanchez to a protest a week later. This holiday season, he’s thinking of them.

“They need to enjoy Christmas, too,” said the 12-year-old IDEA Alamo student. “They should get toys, also.”