Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Waiting for Justice

My sweet girl and one of her new Burmese friends.

Sometimes words fail me. The world doesn’t work the way I think it should. Justice doesn’t always seem to prevail. The "right" don’t always seem to win.

Summer has arrived in all her West Texas fury. 108 degree temperatures make the roads sizzle and pop, and the oil pumps drawing liquid gold from the ground shimmer as if they were mirages. And for some, right here in our home town, the incredible wealth pouring from the ground seems just like those mirages… far away, unreachable, not part of reality.

Saturday I walked into the apartment of a Burmese refugee family; a family we met because of our involvement in the community as we develop Scarlet Threads' new Chin Collection. Their little boy, probably my daughter’s age, was tied to his father’s back in a traditional sling. His dad wiped sweat off his brow as he thanked me. “We asked for them to fix our air conditioner two months ago. They never did. But you ask and the very next day they give us a window unit.”

My blood boils, and it isn’t due to the heat baking their living room through the Western-facing windows in the late afternoon sun. Is it because I’m white? Because I speak English? Because I'm American and know my rights?  Because I have a college degree and friends with influence and power? Why would the management listen to me – someone not even paying them rent – when they refuse to respond to their faithful tenants?

My husband comes in from inspecting outside. Like the others we’ve seen, the AC unit is still broken; unrepaired in spite of promises. The new window unit cools one room of their three room apartment; but for the most part, the space is unlivable. There are no windows positioned to catch a cross breeze. There is no relenting from the heat. The little boy leans against his Daddy’s back, weary and calm in the stifling room, sucking on his sippy cup filled with water.

When I tell the manager we won’t back down; that we want to see all the broken air conditioning repaired in all the apartments, the manager responds with threats of her own. Fearing the reprisals for their maintenance requests to be far more severe than living without AC in this brutal Texas summer, the tenants back down and my heart breaks.

This isn’t what justice looks like to me. Justice is having the apartment owner repairing his property, not a group of my friends buying portable AC units to help make-up for the lack of response. Justice is having new locks put on your apartment when you move in, not being refused for 3 months and then fined when you do it yourself. Justice is having a working refrigerator and a stove with 4 working burners, not a kitchen that’s barely functional.

These refugees may be used to not having any rights, but that’s not how things are supposed to remain now that they are in America.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I know that God is their defender and it isn’t over yet.

Isaiah 58:9-12, The Message
If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
I know this post will likely make some of you as angry as it makes me.  For reasons we can't fully explain here, we can't move forward with pushing the management for response, even though we know it is a legal right for the tenants to have AC.  We have attorneys involved, and we know the law... but stories are never black and white.  So please keep the situation in your prayers, but know that we aren't taking further steps not due to a lack of knowledge or resources, but due to extenuating circumstances. 

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