In the wake of the Bangladesh Liberation War, my grandmother spent weeks running into an underground bunker with her children whenever bombs and grenades erupted near their home. The bunker was a small makeshift space dug out by hand and held up by dried mud. She grimly described it as a grave for the living. My grandmother vividly remembers the dead soldiers and civilians amassing the paths of their village. My mother was only five, my aunt was barely walking, and my uncle was a newborn. My late grandfather was a Recruiting Officer for the Freedom Fighters, the rebels against the Pakistani occupation of Bangladesh which was then known as East Pakistan. He was responsible for recruiting fighters and acquiring weapons and artillery from India, their only known ally in the war. When the bombs dropping too close to the village tin houses became unbearable, my grandfather settled his family with an acquaintance of his right across the border in India.
The closest people to me were once refugees.
And today they are the most regular American citizens to ever America. They are not extraordinary. They aren’t renown inventors, scientists, or entertainers but they are overprotective parents, taxpayers, and homeowners. When the slithering older son of Donald Trump shared a photo circulating the internet that compared refugees to poisoned Skittles, many good people came to the defense of refugees by naming some famous people that were refugees. We as a people are obsessed with sensationalizing everything. Isn’t it just wonderful how this underdog overcame his life struggles to become a champion of whatever? Yes, it’s inspiring and worthy of praise but it not the reason to open our homes to refugees. The reason is simply that refugees are people.
They are people who are allowed to dream of an ordinary life and we need to retire the rhetoric of defending refugees by giving examples of famous ones. It’s just the remix of the pro-life argument; what if the aborted fetus was meant to cure cancer? I mean, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a fetus. And it’s quite similar to: What would have happened to society if Einstein didn’t flee Nazi oppression? What would we have done without Madeline Albright or Steve Jobs? Their contributions matter.
Of course they do.
However, not every refugee is the next Steve Jobs but that doesn’t make them a terrorist either. Some refugees just end up being ordinary people. You want every refugee to be a genius to prove that their life was worth saving? It’s a life. They are already facing hella persecution. They are fleeing bombs, air strikes, attacks from every side. The fact that they’ve survived all of that is extraordinary enough. The argument that their lives are worth saving because they are human-freaking-beings should be enough. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t educate people on renown refugees because we absolutely should. It gives people an idea of how diverse the history of the world is and that not every refugee looks one certain way. My point is that potential fame should not be the reason to support refugees, humanity should.
Doing this is a way to humanize refugees and that’s telling of our perception because that means we already assume they are monsters.
Every war has produced its fair share of refugees. When my grandmother described the condition they were living in, I was relieved to hear that India had opened up its borders to Bengali refugees but I was also shocked to learn that my own mother was a refugee. Quite frankly, if they hadn’t taken in my family, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Once the war ended, my grandparents returned to their burned-down village with their children to rebuild and reestablish their existence. It wasn’t until years later that my grandfather decided to move to the United States. Since the world is as big as it is and you can’t possibly know all the history of every nation in it, you don’t actually know who may come from a family of refugees.
Yes, I know it’s scary and it has always been scary for people to welcome anyone that looks different. That’s just America’s foundation and I get it. I mean when one of our neighborhood laundromats shut down, everyone from the other side of Walgreen’s were hopping over to our laundromat. It caused frenzy and aggravation because I have zero patience or tolerance for people taking up eight dryers at once. Gosh Sheila, don’t just wait until the end of the month to get ALL your laundry done! When it gets crowded, you feel like your needs are ignored and someone else is taking up space that should be yours. But newsflash, it’s not just my laundromat. I have no claim over it and I cannot stop others from using it. These people need to wash their clothes and they need a place to wash them just as I do. The refugee crisis is of course way worse and more complicated than my neighborhood laundromat dilemma but it’s a relatable analogy otherwise. Also, if you were truly patriotic you would have some faith in the American vetting process, not to mention the FBI, Homeland Security, CSI, CIA, IBM, IBS, NARS, Maybelline, the bodega across the street, even the police. You get it. They’re doing their jobs and some are doing it a little too well if you count the innocent people held without trial in Guantanamo. So before you go losing your head over “potentially dangerous” refugees trying to enter our great country, think about the men and women already doing the work to keep us safe.
I don’t know everything there is to know about the Civil War in Syria but I know that we need to stop talking about civilians as either a potential threat or a potential hero. It’s way more likely that they will just end up being regular people that work at a deli and send their children to school or they’ll end up dead. In the current political climate, it’s important that no matter how wild the politicians that represent us may actually be, we need to keep our cool and remember humanity. So everyone just chill out.
Refugees are people.