(Photo courtesy of APIARY Magazine)
Gerardo and Teresa Flores offer me and Blanca Pacheco big glasses of horchata in their West Kensington kitchen. A crucifix and a collection of family photos decorate the walls. When Blanca, Gerardo and Teresa meet, they instantly embrace each other. It’s the kind of love shared only between people who have overcome great obstacles together.
Blanca is the assistant director of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), an interfaith multicultural justice movement that works to foster community and radical hospitality for all immigrants regardless of faith, ethnicity or class. Gerardo and Teresa moved to Philadelphia after leaving New York City in 2001 and are two of NSM’s foundational members.
With Gerardo and Teresa by her side, Blanca has been fighting for immigrant justice in Philadelphia since 2007. Their most recent accomplishment is breaking the ties between Philadelphia Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who have separated thousands of families through mass deportation.
NSM’s work, however, is not just about immigrant justice. It is about educating and empowering immigrant communities, promoting economic opportunity and, most importantly, humanizing your neighbor.
Thank you to Gerardo, Teresa and Blanca for conducting this interview with APIARY Magazine. Thank you to NSM’s director, Peter Pedemonti, for bringing us all together.
APIARY: What has the NSM taught you about connecting with the immigrant community on the local level?
Gerardo: Because NSM is a faith-based organization, we always talk with people based on faith. We learned that that was how most people communicate with us. The people do this work and are engaged willingly; they’re not forced or pushed to it. It’s a calling for them.
"One of the things it has taught us and that we have learned is to value ourselves as human beings."
Teresa: One of the things it has taught us and that we have learned is to value ourselves as human beings. It has taught us to not be afraid and learn how to serve and connect with the community.
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APIARY: What do you think has been your greatest achievements working with NSM? Was it working with a specific person, a piece of legislation or something else?
Teresa: The biggest accomplishment we had, working together, was ending the collaboration between Philadelphia’s Police and ICE. It was a long, hard campaign. We learned that no matter what was happening we had to fight with strength, no matter what was happening.
APIARY: What was that process like, disbanding that relationship?
Gerardo: It was sharing a lot of testimonies. When we told our stories to politicians who created the legislation we showed how it was wrong and would affect people.
It was also a way to say that for politicians to understand us, they need to place themselves in our shoes. We did a lot of work building leadership in our congregations and that helped us strengthen our push and convince the mayor to understand the level of support and that the people we were engaging were people who are able to vote. The politicians have their ambitions. They need to think about that, the next position they want to be in, and how our vote effects that.
APIARY: What is a sanctuary city to you? Is Philadelphia a successful model for what a sanctuary city should be?
Teresa: There are different leaders and organizations who are doing the work to push politicians. Some politicians like our mayor have been helping and showing support. I don’t think it’s a perfect model, but the work has begun between the combination of people organizing leaders, congregations and politicians.
One thing the government doesn’t see is all the immigrants in the country; cities should become sanctuaries, all of them. The government doesn’t see that they need to serve the communities that are in need. The vision of NSM as an organization is also bigger.
"Our vision is that people who live in the city who are not only immigrants but people of color and people who are poor see their needs fulfilled."
Blanca: We are organizing, educating, and engaging as many people as possible. Our vision is that people who live in the city who are not only immigrants but people of color and people who are poor see their needs fulfilled.
What are those needs? It could be immigration status, it could be housing, it could be economic, it could be growth and opportunity for work. People are not only seen as someone who produces money, but someone who can contribute and work together to create change. How do we humanize everyone? How do we share resources with everyone and not stay in this world of capitalism and work towards a vision where everyone in the city has their needs fulfilled?
There is potential if organizations come together and build a message of, “What can we gain for everyone?” There is enough space, there is enough resources. We need to come from a place of abundance instead of a place of scarcity and working together to fulfill that. The city has so many abandoned properties, so many people struggling to make ends meet. How can those homes be abandoned when someone is sleeping on the street? That’s not coming from a place of abundance. That’s coming from a place of production and capitalism and self-interest.
APIARY: When Trump says, “America first,” who is he leaving behind when he says that? How do you convince supporters of him, or that idea, that sanctuary cities are something that should exist? That immigration is not a threat to the American way or lifestyle?
Blanca’s summary of Gerardo: Whenever someone asks a person who was born in the U.S., “Where are you from?” they say, “I am American.” Gerardo might say, “I am Mexican, but I am American, too, and I might be more American than you. I am part of America because America is a continent.” Politicians who should be educated about this, are not.
Gerardo: We need to really think about the numbers. We have to think about production. We have to think about how much someone in agriculture produces; how much people in hotels contribute. That’s part of building the country. The politicians are not thinking about that. They’re only thinking about money and how much they can put in their pockets. They’re not thinking about people.-30-
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