Saturday, November 28, 2015

6 Things I Have to Say about Refugees, Including Why I Missed George W. Bush this Week

My friend Holly posted a quote by Alex Franzen this week that really struck me.

"There is a unique flavor of suffering you were put on the earth to alleviate."

Alex says that all of us have something that we are "compassionately angry" about.  I love this.

 I get scattered sometimes because I'm worried about a lot of things going on in our world.  But, I have discovered as I get older that I can maximize the difference I make if I focus my energy and attention.  We can all find that one thing and focus on how we can uniquely help in that cause.

For me, my cause is all about my refugee and immigrant students and families.  I'm used to defending them and explaining why they're here and why we should help them. I've done it many times in many different settings, including  family reunions  :)

One of the reasons I write this blog is so people can read the stories of refugees and immigrants and see how very much alike we all are. To diminish the idea of "the other." To see that we all struggle, and we all have hopes and dreams.  At the end of the day, we all want to live in safety and peace and make sure our children are cared for and happy.

I believe I can probably best show this human connection through the stories I tell here.  But, with all the events of the past weeks, I feel a pull to do a post in its entirety about refugees.  So, today I am going to post more explicitly on these topics-what I have learned from all the reading and study I have done over the years. All my experiences.   And, even more importantly, what I have learned from many, many conversations with refugees and their families- real-live people who have shared their stories with me and taught me so much.

Here is what I have to say:

1.  You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.

A certain person who enjoys national attention says that we need to keep Syrian refugees out because they are a danger to our national security.  To support this, he makes the claim that thousands of Arabs were cheering after 911 in Jersey City.  The mayor, the police and the governors of New York and New Jersey say it never happened. There are no documented reports that this happened.

This guy is the one who is dangerous and reckless, because right now he has a national/world platform for his hateful messages and he lies.  Call a spade a spade and a liar a liar.  He just admitted in an interview that he doesn't check his facts because he doesn't have time.  Enough said.

2.  Why does the discussion have to be so vile? and Why I missed George W. Bush this week

There is so much hatred and vileness being spewed on the issue of refugees and whether they should be allowed to come to our country.  I am astounded at the level of hostility and fear in things people are saying and writing.

The issue of refugees is the current topic that my son is debating with his high school debate team.  Last week I watched and judged four 1-hour debates on this topic.  They were reasonable.  They were professional.  They were courteous.  Nobody dehumanized a refugee. If 14-18 year-olds can talk about differences on this topic respectfully, can't we do a little better?

When the Paris attacks happened, I cringed for many reasons.  I cringed because of all the people who lost their lives and the fear and uncertainty inflicted on us all by terrorism.  I also cringed because events like this invariably lead to prejudice and retaliation against Muslims.

I am going to now post a video of George W. Bush giving a speech called "Islam is Peace." He made this speech shortly after 9/11 when anti-Muslim sentiment was running high.  Full disclosure:  I never voted for him.    I protested against the war in Iraq.  I disagreed with him on so many, many things. I think he had many disastrous policies that still reverberate today.   But this was a fine moment for him.  I love this speech,   and I wish we had more people of his party speaking out like this today.  I never expected to compliment George W. Bush on this blog, but for this 4 minutes and 17 seconds of his presidency, he got something very, very right.

Islam is Peace by George W. Bush

3.  Be consistent.

I was raised Catholic.  Although I no longer practice this religion, I have deep respect for what I consider the best and holiest parts of this faith:  love, compassion, forgiveness, service, and social justice.

However, I see a lot of inconsistency in what some Christian politicians, leaders, and others are saying.  I don't understand going to church on Sundays and professing love for God and Jesus Christ and then taking a stand against refugees on Monday at the office.    Religion should not be theoretical; it should be put into loving and bold action.

I am not a biblical scholar but my friend Cathy knows a little something about the Bible.  She says that "there are over 100 passages that mandate we welcome the stranger into our midst.  And, close to 2000 passages that encourage us to care for the widows, orphans, and poor."

Also, here is a quote from Hubert Humphrey. It's a message that I would like to give to the governors that want to deny entry to refugees and to the legislators who passed the House bill restricting them:

"It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

4.  Love will conquer fear.

Yes, I love quotes.  Because often others have said exactly what I want to say and it can not be improved upon.  From Marianne Williamson:

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”

I am so impressed with the open letter that some of Minnesota's legislators wrote to Syrian refugees, welcoming them.  Those who had courage during these times and acted out of love instead of fear will be remembered.  

5.  Listen to a refugee's story.

It's easy to think of people as "other" until you are face to face with them and you listen to their story.  I think the best advice I have for anyone struggling to understand the refugee experience is to spend some time with a refugee listening to their story.

These are some of the stories I have listened to over the years:

"We had an upper class lifestyle in our country. We had friends, a community, a life.  We went to restaurants. But, things changed.  And, finally, we had to come here to give our family a better life.  We don't have much here.  We've lived in shelters. We don't know anyone. It's hard to get used to."  (from a mother)

"My father was killed in our country."  (from a 13 year old)

"There were bombs falling all  the time.  Our family left our house and  country with nothing- not even a backpack." (from a 12 year old)

How can you not be stirred by these stories?

6.  Life is arbitrary and unpredictable.

In a grand and cosmic sense, I'm not sure why I was born in the United States to a family who had the resources and love to raise me and give me a great life.  I feel lucky.  I have so many choices, so many freedoms.  But, you never really know what life holds for you.  Or what you might need to do to go on.

The eloquent poet, Warsan Shire, reminds us:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

If something happens here one day and I need to leave or flee this country, I hope that another land and another people might open their door to me and say....

I'm so sorry you had to endure that.  Come in.  

You'll need some extra help for a while.  Come in.

We see you with compassion.  Come in.  

You are part of our human family.  Come in.  

Come in.

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