He was only 31 years old. For those of us who are U.S. citizens by birth, he was just like our grandparents in the 18th century. He was a “foreigner.” He was an immigrant from Guatemala. And he was homeless and living in the streets of New York City. His name was Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. He was only 31 years old.
According to police, they believe Hugo was casually walking behind a man and woman when he witnessed them get into a fight. Hugo stepped in to intervene on the woman’s behalf and was stabbed several times. He attempted to pursue the man, but he collapsed. There this Guatemalan immigrant lay in his own blood. There this homeless Guatemalan immigrant lay face down on American concrete outside of an apartment building complex in a working-class neighborhood with his blood slowly flowing from his body, stabbed by an American as he was intervening to save an American woman from getting beat up. It happened early in the morning. Video cameras show at least seven people walking passed him. Some looked down and walked by with out a second glance, probably assuming that he was just another old drunk homeless man passed out on the street. Some looked down, apparently stopped, and stared at him in disgust and moved on. One person tipped him over, exposing the pool of blood, laid him back down, and walked away. By the time emergency workers arrived within the hour, Hugo was dead. A young 31 year old human being who lived alone on the streets. Though people passed him by and we all around him, he died alone on the streets.
This story is hard for me to understand. It bothers me. The woman he risked his life to save bothers me. The man who murdered him bothers me. The seven that passed him by bothers me. But what bothers me more is when I heard some people say, “well if this foreigner wouldn’t have migrated into our country in the first place, he wouldn’t have been homeless.” Our country?
If it would have been the 18th century and one of our grandparents lay face first on a dirt road dying because they tried to save a native American woman from getting beat up, would we make the same statement? After all, our grandparents (whether great or great-great) were once foreigners like Hugo. It wasn’t their land or their country. It belonged to the native Americans. History says we took possession of their land and displaced them. I don’t think Hugo was forcibly trying to take “our” country from us. Actually, he was trying to save one of “us.” Now over two hundred years and a few generations later, and because we think this is “our” country, many of us feel as though we have a right to scoff at “foreigners like these ?”
But what I am afraid this story really demonstrates is that we are failing to see the intrinsic value of every human being. You want to know how we can believe that God sees intrinsic value in all human beings? He became one.
So may we remember. May we all remember where we’ve come from and how we got here.
May those of us who are Christ-followers remember that before Jesus Christ, we were all foreigners before God who laid dying outside of His eternal Kingdom borders. May those of us who are Christ-followers remember that because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, anyone, from any country, can be called a son or daughter of GOD. May those of us who are Christ-followers remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of GOD first, and citizens of this good country second. And may those of us who are Christ-followers remember that this country in which we live is not ours to call “our own,” but is where He has placed us so that we may participate in His mission of redemption for all people as we learn how to love all of those who walk its streets.