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Refugees and Americans

Refugees from Southeast Asia in the 1980s (Wikipedia / Public Domain)

I have a couple of non-Kavanaugh items to share — including a new Jaywalking, here. I discuss a range of subjects, dark (very) and light. Some musical assistance comes from Ella Fitzgerald, Jonny Greenwood, et al.

Yesterday, I had an Impromptus column that included some items on refugees. I heard from a longtime reader — a sterling conservative and teacher — and asked to share his letter. Here it is:

In the 1970s, my family helped resettle hundreds of Southeast Asian refugees: Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong, Thai, and others. My mom got connected to one small family through our parish, and as soon as they got reasonably on their feet, we helped another and another and another. I look back on it as one of the great experiences of my life. It was a great way to broaden the mind of a suburban boy. One vivid memory is of showing a group of men and boys how to use a modern bathroom. They didn’t speak English, so I just had to demonstrate. . . .

You sometimes speak about immigrants and the American dream. Often these families were amazing. Fleeing Communist tyranny, they had an inherent respect for the economic freedom here.  Both parents in menial jobs, kids with paper routes, everything you can imagine. One family came with nothing, moved to a tiny apartment, and bought a house with cash after two or three years. One boy was a little older than I and picked up English pretty well but with a thick accent. He explained once that the family decided to focus on his little sister — he was going to work (and he worked after school every day and on the weekends) so his sister could concentrate on school.  She is now a surgeon.

I could tell you so many stories. . . . One young Cambodian man told us of having to hide that he could speak English and could read — he actually was given something to read and pretended he couldn’t. Had he read a single word, the Khmer Rouge would have killed him on the spot. He counted on his fingers how many close relatives had been killed and wound up losing track at 35 or 40.

These refugees became something of an extended family to us, though I don’t see them often any longer. There are a lot of people who call my English mother “Mom” to this day.  I am a middle-school teacher and I had two kids from one of our first refugee families in my class one year. These very Asian-looking boys confused their classmates by calling me “Uncle” sometimes.

My point is that we should not underestimate the power of our country to channel people to success, nor should we discount the drives of people who have lacked freedom once they are given freedom. I am one of those unusual people who think we should strictly enforce our immigration laws but also think we should welcome legal immigrants and refugees with open arms.

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