They filed in little by little, with their heads bowed down in respect. Here, their olive skin and dark hair did not stand out; here, they were one of many, in a city where there are relatively few. On a Sunday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a couple hundred Hispanic immigrants gathered together for the weekly Catholic Mass in Spanish. Here, together, they felt at ease, comfortable around people who looked just like themselves and shared similar values. Here, in the sanctuary of the Catholic Church, they were free to embrace their culture without the scrutiny of being the “other.” A few of them waved to each other, beaming a familiar smile to an old friend, watching the shy interaction between their children, simply happy to be amongst each other. As the choir began, the sun shone directly into the stained glass windows, almost as if God were saying “Welcome, you are safe here.”
“Buenos dias, hermanos y hermanas,” the Priest said in heavily accented Spanish. “Good morning brothers and sisters.”
It is a familiar sight—a community forming around a church—but the community that congregated here shared more than just a belief in Catholic faith. These people, these families of mothers, fathers, children and grandparents also shared a key characteristic that anywhere else in the city, made them standout like warning flares: most of them are undocumented immigrants. They share a similar complexion, the same language, but perhaps what binds them closest together, is an overarching feeling of fear, an understanding that they are in fact, the “other.” Even amongst their own kind, they are reminded of where they are. The Mass is held in Spanish, but given by an American priest with a thick accent. The day’s program is split down the middle; half of it is in English, mirrored on the other side by the Spanish translation. The thick white line that separates the languages is the metaphorical representation of the division between two cultures. Not even under the same faith can they feel completely equal.