For the past 5 years, and really pretty extensively for the past 2.5 years, I’ve been involved with some New American (refugee) families. I’ve been writing about one little slice of that experience as my literacy narrative–an interesting, but not overly dramatic event (I get a family a computer, they throw it out!). But some days, big things happen, bad shit goes down, and I wonder, why do I do what I do?
My exploration of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed helped me understand something a little bit new. The poor in American live in a constant state of emergency, and the refugee population almost always qualify as poor. When I see someone in an emergency situation, I feel compelled to help. I’m drawn in, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I think most people would help, too, if they could see what a constant state of emergency many refugee families live in.
Tonight I was just reading an article about “info wars” and something in there, I’m not sure what, made me think of Anne Frank and the sheltering of Jews during the Second World War. Refugees are the innocent victims of war; they are the children, the farmers, the shop keepers forced from their homes by violence, unable to return so they apply for and resettle to the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, or elsewhere. The war, while distant, is still going on for many of them. They get news of brothers and sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins being thrown in jail or killed. If they don’t need the kind of literal sheltering Anne Frank received, they need comforting, they need a welcome and they need to feel like they belong here. Maybe what I do is provide a kind of sheltering.
I sometimes wonder, “am I going to stop doing this kind of thing at some point? Is this just a phase?” The answer seems to be “no,” which might mean I do what I do because this is my life. These people, the events of their lives, the impact of a trip to Africa, a visit to a refugee camp, a visit to a village in Southern Sudan, has been so great it reconfigured my life so much that this is just what I do, like breathing, and sleeping.
More sleeping would make what I do easier.