Gonzaga professor’s work focuses on struggles of immigrant youth
Borrowing a lesson in hospitality from a centuries-old Christmas tradition, a Gonzaga University professor will call attention this month to the plight of refugees and immigrants and asks the community to find room at the inn.
The festival of Las Posadas, a Hispanic celebration dating to the 16th century, re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and their attempt to find lodging before the birth of Jesus.
This year, Spokane’s St. Joseph Parish will commemorate the event on each of the nine days before Christmas. Each evening, beginning Dec. 16, participants will visit three pre-arranged houses “in search of shelter.” The first two houses will turn them away. The third will open its doors, providing food and merriment.
The public can celebrate Las Posadas at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane.
“The Holy Family’s search for shelter is symbolic of the reality for many immigrants looking for shelter today in America and, just like Mary and Joseph, often find rejection,” said the Rev. Mark McGregor, a Jesuit priest and filmmaker who teaches communication arts at Gonzaga University.
McGregor, 46, serves as the national coordinator of the Posadas Project, which uses the Christmas celebration to highlight the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ campaign for immigration reform.
The campaign seeks to educate the public about the church’s teachings on immigration and promote reforms that keep families together and include a path to citizenship, as well as a guest worker program that does not exploit immigrants.
“In America, a country of immigrants, it is important to look at our heritage and ask how can we reform our immigration laws to be more passionate and understanding,” McGregor said.
McGregor became intrigued with the undocumented immigrant experience in the United States while studying film at Loyola Marymount University in 2002. At the time, he also served as chaplain to Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles.
It was at the detention facility that McGregor met Wilber Garcia, a 16-year-old who had fled criminal gangs in his native Guatemala to be reunited with his father in California.
Garcia is one of three detained “unaccompanied immigrant children” who are the protagonists of McGregor’s first film, “Posada,” which won best short documentary film at the Orlando Hispanic Film Festival.
Written, produced and directed by McGregor, “Posada” will premiere in Spokane at a free showing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Gonzaga’s Cataldo Hall.
The film was inspired, in part, by Garcia, who immigrated illegally through Mexico to the United States. At one point, the teenager was held for ransom by human traffickers, or “coyotes,” who smuggled him from Tijuana, McGregor said.
Garcia and another youth escaped by overpowering one of the coyotes and taking his gun. He eventually was granted federal “special immigrant juvenile” status and allowed to remain in the United States.
Garcia, now an adult, lives in Los Angeles with his wife and child.