Monday, May 2, 2016

A nation of refugees

I've grown up knowing that we are mostly immigrants in America. Perhaps all, if you interpret that to mean that all humans migrated to the western hemisphere. The early ones may simply have been following their prey or searching for new pastures. In a sense, they may have been the first economic migrants. But, they may have also been fleeing something. Rival clans. A several year drought. It's hard to know that far back.

More recently, there were certainly the adventurers, but also those fleeing religious persecution. The pilgrims of Massachusetts or the Catholics of Maryland, or the secret Jews of New Mexico, who may have sought to hide in a less populous region. Of course, those brought as slaves didn't have a choice in their transport.

In my own family, I know there were different types of migrants. My father's ancestors seem to have left Europe for primarily economic reasons, or adventure. My mother's relatives were a variety. Certainly some left for economic reasons--too many kids to divide the farm into useful bits. But others left after being involved in one of the many uprisings by Poles against the powers of Germany, Austria or Russia during the partitions. Some were displaced during WWII, when they were taken from their homes to become forced laborers, in Germany or Russia. And, later, they were unable to return to those homes.

Now the question is regarding Syrians. Zygmunt Bauman was interviewed for an opinion piece in today's New York Times ( He simply stated, "refugees end up all too often cast in the role of a threat to the human rights of established native populations, instead of being defined and treated as a vulnerable part of humanity in search of the restoration of those same rights of which they have been violently robbed."

He discusses the limited options that many of these people had before making their choice to flee. And, how most of us would have made a similar decision. He sees the "refugee crisis" as a crisis in humanity. That we, in the west, often see refugees more as a threat to our comfortable security, rather than as people in need of security at its most basic level, that of life. 

Europe is not that far from being a "continent of refugees" after WWII, as populations were being relocated after the devastation of that war. America has been more protected by its relative isolation. But, we should all remember, as Americans, most of us came not only seeking something, but leaving something.

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