Discussions about sanctuary seem to be everywhere. The notion permeates political discourse, evokes powerful responses by people on the political right and left, and increasingly defines faith-based activism and practices in a range of communities. This presentation locates contemporary debates about sanctuary within broader conversations about how we imagine Latina/o/x communities and American national identity. From critiques of sanctuary cities and attempts to criminalize such policies, as well as new federal directives limiting the rights of asylum seekers seeking refuge in the United States, to activist and faith-based efforts to reinvigorate and reimagine the meaning and power of sanctuary practices, it is clear that the notion of sanctuary elicits deep feelings, emotions and animates diverse responses. While these debates resonate nationally, I will focus on how an examination of various understandings around sanctuary in Ohio provide valuable insight into issues of migration, displacement, citizenship, and national belonging. As a state with some of the highest number of public sanctuary cases in the nation, a space that is often not conceptualized as a borderland region, and home to increasing numbers of Latinas/os displaced by global economic, political and social forces, Ohio defies how we often imagine Latina/o/x and immigrant communities. Efforts by faith-based and Latina/o communities, both in Ohio and nationally, offer hopeful lessons about the enduring power of sanctuary practices and how they are enacted in ways that respond to global and national events that enable us to imagine what it might mean to become a sanctuary people.
Gina Pérez is a cultural anthropologist and Professor in the Comparative American Studies Department at Oberlin College. Her current research focuses on the role of faith based communities in organizing in Latina/o communities in Ohio, including sanctuary practices and intra-faith and cross-racial solidarity efforts.