Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Refugees in the Family

Monday I got in a Facebook argument with someone I don't know in any way--it was all on a friend's post--and it didn't go well. I should know better. But I'm really disgusted by the knee-jerk reaction of closing our borders to Syrian refugees (thank you, Gov. Haslam, for including Tennessee among the xenophobic states of America) and sometimes I can't keep my mouth shut.

First of all, there's a lot of bs on the internet right now. I did get to read some things reposted by a friend who works with refugees. Since 9/11, no terrorist attack has been committed by someone who entered the country as a refugee. Refugees are well-vetted here (not quite so much in Europe, with its porous borders). Our terrorists come in on student or tourist visas. If you questions the veracity of something you find on the internet (please do!) check www.snopes.com.

I don't agree that we need to fix all the problems in this country before we attempt to help the world. That's like saying I need to have everything perfect in my own life before I lend you a hand. It's not gonna happen. There will always be people in need, here and everywhere. Maybe it's because I've walked through shantytowns in Africa, or watched my kids play soccer at a rural Costa Rican school--I can't care less about the suffering in Syria than I do about the suffering in Bristol. We are all made in the image of God. Also? If you really believe we need to help our own first, get off your ass and start helping. Understand the problem and try to be the solution. Any problem. Any solution. Do something. From where I sit, it's looking like the loudest people are the least active.

I think what bothered me most in the past few days was someone posting that in order to come to America, you should first be required to speak English. If that were the rule, I wouldn't be here. My great-grandfather came over from Poland at age 19, fleeing a famine. He found a job in the steel mills--hard labor, and dangerous (my mother knew someone whose father fell into a vat of molten steel), but it supported his family. He never learned English. I don't know whether or not he tried; don't know how hard it would have been for him. I remember climbing onto his lap when I was quite young. He ran his hand down the length of my hair and smiled at me--though not with his eyes, since he was blind--and said, "pretty." The only English word I ever heard him say. He died soon after.

His children grew up speaking Polish and English; two of the three went to high school. His grandchildren spoke English and went to college. One of his great-grandchildren had the luxury of not only graduating college but becoming an artist--working with words, not her hands. We used to call this the American Dream.

Unless you are Native American or Black (and your ancestors likely came here on a slave ship, by force) and you live in this country, you are descended from immigrants and refugees. You were born in America; even though your own life may have been difficult, you live in a country without war, without extreme violence, with a social safety net and with enough food for all. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, "Let's quit acting like we had something to do with the fact that we were born on third base while millions are dying outside the stadium." We need to move forward with love, not fear.