Last week's terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris should raise - not diminish - compassion for refugees. Now is not the time to close our borders against the Syrian refugees who are fleeing these very same terrorists. Most of the global victims of terrorism are Muslims. None of the 750,000 refugees who have resettled in the USA since 9/11 have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges (source: The Economist). The terrorists win twice if they can rob us of compassion along with lives. How can we reverse this rising wave of xenophobia?
Some countries have learned from history. Germany is welcoming a million refugees, but the USA is only accepting 10,000. Our low quota reminds me of World War II when many Jews fleeing the Nazis were not allowed into the USA. My great grandfather Arthur Lamport and other American Jews raised funds to help Jewish refugees resettle in the Dominican Republic. That true story is told in Tropical Zion by Allen Wells (2009), a history professor at Bowdoin College.
reading literary fiction has been proven to increase empathy. In a good story, we experience what the characters are feeling. The Good Braider by Terry Farish (2012) is a romance between a South Sudanese refugee and an American boy. I don't usually like novels in verse, but this one spoke to me, especially the parts set in Africa. Farish's novel traces a girl's escape from civil war in Sudan to limbo in Egypt and finally to resettlement in Portland, Maine. My only concern was that the abusive mother might give young readers a warped impression of Sudanese immigrants; most have integrated well in Maine and are dedicated to their families. Understandably, wartime trauma can lead to psychological problems so the mother was a believable character.
Farish's novel touched me on a personal level. My children went to school in Portland with many immigrant children. My son's high school girlfriend was born in a Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya and resettled with her family in Portland. She graduated from Waynflete School with honors and is now attending Wesleyan University through Questbridge. We invited her family to share Thanksgiving in our home; it was their first after many years in the USA. Before you form an opinion on refugees, get to know one. Remember that the USA is a nation founded on immigration.
There are true stories about refugees with happy endings. The Lewiston Blue Devils have just won the Maine State Championship for soccer. Many of the players are immigrants. The coach shares their inspiring story about multicultural teamwork in a moving video below:
One Team: The Story of the Lewiston High School Blue Devils from LHSOneTeamFilm on Vimeo.
Reviewer's Disclosure: Allen Wells is a colleague of my husband at Bowdoin College and his wife taught our daughter history. My dad sent Tropical Zion to me without realizing that we knew the author. I'm friends with author Maria Padian and borrowed a galley for review purposes. I bought both young adult novels from indie bookstores and was not compensated for my reviews.