This article is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Cost of Poverty: Learn, Pray, Join initiative. Read in Spanish here.
Erick Josue Martinez was born in the heart of Los Angeles, California. He was surrounded by immigrants and grew up understanding that he may not always fit into the mold others set for him, but it is also not his problem to fix. He comes from a beautiful family and was raised by immigrants. Erick attends Goshen College, with the dream of becoming a financial planner to help those people with no resources in his community. He wants to live the life his parents sacrificed theirs for and only wishes to make the world a better place for all. Erick tries to fuse both the knowledge he has earned in the church and his studies to work with others, so they can achieve their goals.
Poverty in the U.S. is a reflection of the poor decision-making and cruelty of people with power. We live in the wealthiest country in the world, which makes the fact we have people dying from poverty feel like a choice.
I realize that being an educated Hispanic is a privilege, so I try my best to pass along the knowledge I have earned, but it is a lot easier said than done. Many people within my community cannot take advantage of our capitalist society due to their legal status.
I recall doing a seminar at a local church, where I was attempting to convince Hispanic women who were living in a low-income neighborhood to open their own businesses. I was explaining the loans they would need, their expected returns and how to keep their business from going under, but all my momentum was stopped because of one question.
“This all sounds really exciting, but can non-American citizens apply for these loans?”
I remember everyone turning to me and having the same desperate look on their face, as I stood in silence. My efforts were killed due to a situation these women couldn’t control.
The dream of starting their own business was crushed, simply because they weren’t born in the same country as me.
This one simple factor prevents millions of people in the U.S. from achieving their dreams. It is estimated that 3.2 million immigrants were running their own businesses in 2019. It only makes me wonder how many faced the same thing these women did. This has forced me to change my approach to helping disadvantaged people. I wanted to give back to my community any way I could, and this is a direct tie-in to my youth.
I grew up in a Hispanic community that was filled with the hardest-working men and women I have ever met, but they were all on the brink of losing everything they own. This was mainly due to things that were completely out of their control.
I can still recall my aunt and uncle losing their home in 2008, and they couldn’t do a thing to stop it from happening. People with power have caused such horrific disasters for millions, and the blame fell on people like my family.
When vaccines for COVID-19 were developed, many people couldn’t afford to call off work to get vaccinated. It never ceases to amaze me that we have people in this country who work 16 hours each day yet cannot provide a future for their loved ones. These people were at the mercy of people above them, and they only perceived them as a name on a piece of paper.
Poverty in the U.S. isn’t about the net worth of citizens but the tools at their disposal. People who are born with social disadvantages will naturally struggle just to exist. This is why we see black and brown communities crumbling in front of us. According to Statista.com, 15.7% of Hispanics face poverty, as do 18.8% of Black Americans. They are naturally at a disadvantage, even though they are citizens of the wealthiest country in the world. Providing any type of aid to people in these communities can have a significant effect on the people’s lives, but because there is no incentive for governments and corporations to do this, we are left depending on private citizens to help other citizens.
I grew up in a church in Oak Cliff, a neighborhood that many consider to be a “rough area” — maybe the roughest in Dallas County, Texas. Despite the fear that my community faced, our Anabaptist faith motivated us to care for the needs of our community. My pastor, who is also my mother, made sure to teach us about engaging with our community and trying our best to improve the world around us.
We crafted care packages made up of clean socks, underwear, hygienic products and nutritious meals for people experiencing homelessness. We began doing this after my mom came to the conclusion that many congregations only seem to care for the less fortunate during the holidays, while limiting their generosity to the delivery of food. My church made sure that our efforts would go well past the holiday months and did more than just keep a few people full for a day. She made sure to express that we cared for the people in our community and pushed us to be the helping hand that anyone needed.
Poverty in the U.S. is a plague that seems to have no cure, but this is not the case. People who have privilege and power must apply their abilities to help those who are in need. We only have one life on this earth, and it would be a waste if the others around us weren’t able to enjoy life as we do.
Anabaptists can use the literal words of God to make a change in the world. We can follow the words of Proverbs 22:9 “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (NIV).
Mennonite Church USA encourages you and your congregation to participate in the Cost of Poverty: Learn, Pray, Join initiative as one way to learn more about the topic of poverty from theological and practical perspectives, as well as learn how to get involved.
Find upcoming webinars and ways to get involved at mennoniteusa.org/ministry/peacebuilding/learn-pray-join/cost-of-poverty/.[/minti_box][/vc_column][/vc_row]
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.