Jane the Virgin and its nod to telenovelas (and all their glory) took comedic television by storm, earning a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series after its first season for Gina Rodriguez’s portrayal of Jane. While the show ended last summer after five seasons, there are plenty of reasons why the telenovela inspired show quickly became a fan favorite, with both its funny and touching moments.
One of my favorite pieces of the show was the relationship of the three women: Jane, her mother Xiomara, and grandmother Alba. The matriarch of the show is Alba, a devout Catholic who deeply loves her family. Throughout the show she is a rock to many in the family. She’s also the story of the immigrant.
The topic of immigration (and refugees), specifically with those from Mexico, Central America, and persecuted areas of the Middle East, is not only contentious in today’s political realm, but also within the Church. While this hasn’t come as a surprise to some, it is still heartbreaking to see.
As Christians, we only have to turn to the Bible to see numerous references to immigration. From Abram in Genesis, to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:13–15), immigrants and refugees play important roles in God’s story. Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament are God’s commands on how to treat the stranger, the refugee, and the immigrant. Hebrews reminds us that we may even be entertaining angels when we show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:1–2).
But if the Church in America were to be honest and take a hard look, much of the Church would see where it had failed. Seeing children locked in cages made that glaringly obvious. Instead of seeing people, the humanity, the Imago Dei, behind the story, the political stance has become more important for some. But seeing a person over a party line is one of the most loving things we can do as Christians. It’s not about agreeing with everything they stand for, but when we don’t take that time to see the person, we begin to care more about being right in our stance than loving people. Jesus’ time on earth taught us the direct opposite of that.
Thankfully, interacting with people, reading books and watching television shows offer us a look into a life we may not have any experience with. That’s one of the reasons I love Alba and her story throughout the show. Everything didn’t change overnight for Alba when she came to America, but there are several key moments I want to point to. The show did a great job of showing the hardships and fears many immigrants face through flashbacks of Alba’s early days in America, diving deeper into the story of her and her husband Mateo (who passed away long before Jane was born).
After leaving Venezuela, Alba and Mateo are settled in America. One of the early key moments occurs while they are watching Fourth of July fireworks. It was then Alba shared with Mateo that she was pregnant (with Xiomara, often called Xo in the show) and they decide to stay in America, even without the official papers. Maybe it was the beauty of fireworks exploding in the sky or the camaraderie of the day’s festivities. Maybe it was in celebrating what America promised on that day. Whatever it was, it reached their hearts and they knew it would be worth it to raise their child in a land full of such hope, opportunity, and safety. For them, that would mean letting their visas expire, but the opportunities America offered and hopes they had for their unborn child were more important than the consequences of getting caught without the correct visa, which included possible deportation.
Whether the story of an immigrant matches that of Alba or is one of the many where parents want a safer place for their children to survive and thrive, when we take even just a moment to listen, whatever might be holding us back (like fear of the unknown) starts to break down. What leads a person to leave behind family in another country with the possibility of never seeing them again? When we ask these kinds of questions, we begin to see them as fellow parents (who will do whatever it takes to give their child a better life), sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, sisters, and brothers.
Another touching scene comes from baby Mateo’s (Jane’s son) baptism. In another flashback, we are taken to days before Xo’s baptism. Mateo and Alba decide to start a new tradition in writing a letter to their child to be read at their baptism. What began as a letter to Xo became the tradition each mother passed down to their child on their baptism day:
My precious child…these are the things I hope for you and your life. May you be bold. May you be brave. May you be loving and joyful and kind.
May you carry with you the vitality and spirit of the generations before you. Whatever you dream for your life, may you summon the strength to follow that dream. May you always let your faith be greater than your fear.
May you never forget, through all of life’s adventures, through every moment of every day, that I walk beside you, cheering you on. Hoping for you, praying for you. Loving you.
It’s the heart of every parent.
Alba’s story doesn’t shy away from the hardships of an immigrant either. After her husband Mateo passes away in 1989, she learns to live a new normal. A widow, a single mom, and an undocumented immigrant, the challenges are compounded. As a trained nurse, she works part time as a care worker for elderly patients. The fear of being deported is a constant shadow for Alba, never venturing beyond the difficult job due to her status, and even refusing to seek police help after she is assaulted and in the hospital. To share any information with law enforcement could lead to deportation. Eventually she does get her Green Card. But many, even with taking the proper steps and expense, still don’t get their Green Card, as we see with Jorge (the man Alba eventually marries in the show).We’ve forgotten (or refuse to see) that we are better because of our diversity, because we are a nation of immigrants, and because our collective experiences make us stronger. As with the Body of Christ, we are stronger because of our diverse stories.
When you’re born an American and have never had to think through the process of Green Cards or citizenship, it’s easy to assume the process is simple and doesn’t take time. But as with any situation that doesn’t personally affect us, when we listen and learn from those who have been through it, it helps us to understand and empathize.
One of the most touching scenes of the show was when Alba finally became a U.S. citizen in Season 4. It wasn’t touching because she had finally “made it,” but it was seeing the road that led to that moment. From her constant family support over the years from Xo and Jane, to her work ethic, to the time she put into becoming a citizen. In a lot of ways, it has all led to this moment for Alba and what she teaches us. The family throws a surprise celebration andAlba makes a short speech, referencing E pluribus unum.
E pluribus unum is a traditional motto of the U.S. and also included on the Great Seal of the United States. It is a Latin phrase that means “Out of many, one.”
Historians believe the phrase itself came from one of Rome’s greatest writers and orators, Cicero. In his De Officiis, he discusses the importance of bonds between humans as a society begins because, as he writes, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.”
This is not true only for our country, but for a body of Believers. We have never quite reached unity as a country or in the Western Church, but we’ve made progress. Millions of people with different backgrounds, histories, and paths to America make up this country. But we’ve lost our way. We’ve forgotten (or refuse to see) that we are better because of our diversity, because we are a nation of immigrants, and because our collective experiences make us stronger. As with the Body of Christ, we are stronger because of our diverse stories.
Out of many, one.
Alba represents the story of millions in our country. Immigrants and refugees. People who have families here and in their homelands they’ve fled. They are valued and seen by Jesus.
This doesn’t mean we cannot debate and dig into policies surrounding immigration, but as Christians, we have to choose daily to see the people behind the issue. Behind the political stance.
Relationships take time. Understanding people’s stories and shifting our long held view points takes time. But that’s what the Gospel calls us to. To love others. That means listening and learning. We are better people and followers of Christ when we move ourselves out of the way and let people’s stories teach us. Just like Jesus.
What we reap we sow—whether that be the long journey to becoming a US citizen or developing a deeper love of our fellow human beings.
We don’t have to agree on every single policy, but we do need to take time to learn from each other. Instead of taking to social media when a topic or person you don’t agree with pops up, take time to listen. Don’t let the issue override the humanity. John reminds us in his first letter (1 John 4) to let us love one another because God first loved us.
There’s no asterisk of exceptions or a list of reasons why you don’t have to love people. Alba reminds us that every person has a history. We can disagree with people, but may we always see the immigrant through the eyes of Jesus first.
Because like Alba said, out of many, one.