For those of you who have listened to the title track from my new album ROSANNA, you might wonder about the story behind the woman who has taken the spotlight in my latest musical endeavors. The following is a background piece I wrote for Sojourners (www.sojo.net), who describe themselves as "a progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture, that seeks to build a movement of spirituality and social change." I'm honored to be associated with the great work that Sojourners does in any regard, but especially as it relates to the topic of immigration, my own personal faith, and the stories of people like Rosanna who live out these "issues" every single day.
I came to be friends with Rosanna through my wife's work. Rev. Becca Stevens is the founding Director of Magdalene, a two-year residential program for women with a history of prostitution and drug addiction. She also founded Thistle Farms, a bath and body care company where the women of Magdalene create all the wonderful products and are employed in all phases of the business.
I heard Rosanna's story through tears...hers and mine. I heard how Rosanna had been kidnapped, raped and beaten and brought first to Mexico, and later to the US as a sex slave at the age of 14. She showed me the many cigarette burns and spoke of the fear and intimidation...of the importance of crying out while being raped, because the men enjoyed it. When she stopped crying out, they called her a whore. I learned of the misery of years on the street and subsequent addiction and incarceration; also, I learned of her joy at the birth of her daughter.
Through the prison system Rosanna came to Magdalene and began her journey to health and sobriety. At Magdalene and Thistle Farms she was a shining light, bright and hopeful. It was clear that she was going to make it. Imaginative and hard-working she began to build a business cleaning houses, while also gaining clients as a manicurist. Soon after graduating from Magdalene she was able to buy a car and rent a house for her and her daughter.
She was stopped at a light by the a policeman for having a flat tire, and he asked to see her documentation. Unable to provide a green card she was immediately extradited to a prison in Louisiana where she was held for 7 months. Magdalene attempted to find a legal solution and bring her home to be with her daughter, but their efforts failed and she was deported back to Honduras.
In returning to cross into the US, Rosanna faced humiliation, extortion, intimidation and possible death. Her traveling companion, Karla, a young woman who ran with Rosanna for 3 days after crossing the Rio Grande to a spot designated for picking up the refugees, drank water from a farmer's poisoned well and died calling out the names of her two daughters. We've all heard the stories, but the image of immigrant bones gleaming in the moonlight as the group of 13 souls ran through the night...this image stays with me.
Rosanna is a survivor. She tells her story through tears, and one can truly imagine her struggling to stay afloat across the Rio, or pressing on for three days with little water beneath the scorching sun...all to see her daughter again.
Rosanna is beautiful in the most natural of ways. She is unwavering in her faith and believes that God is with her even in the midst of terrible injustice. I have never heard her utter the words, 'why me?'.
I do not know all the answers to the issues surrounding immigration and immigration reform; but as a songwriter, I am running alongside Rosanna, dealing with the Mafia, swimming naked across the Rio, staring at the border fences and listening to the sound of the dogs barking and the helicopters above, seeing the human bones shine with moonlight, leaning Karla's body up against a tree and pressing on...I know this is not the America that I believe in. As a Christian, how can we speak of souls as 'illegal'. The song 'Rosanna' is just one story among millions, and we must listen to these stories and look into the faces of those struggling all around us. Only then can we act, speak and perhaps suffer...with compassion.