Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Standing up for refugees

My city, I've mentioned once or twice, has a large refugee population.  In fact, the BBC very recently singled out my little city as exceptionally welcoming to those who are fleeing persecution.

As the president of my college said, "We can take pride and inspiration in being a part of a city that has welcomed 1,300 refugees since 2013—20 times more on a per capita basis than the U.S. as a whole."

And it's nice to know those aren't just hollow words; my city does take pride in our ability to share, to welcome, to support those who have been buffeted by circumstances we can't even -- or don't want to -- imagine.

Last night I got to walk downtown to meet up with my daughter, plus 2000 more of my fellow citizens, to chant, to encourage, to make clear that we oppose the recent ill-conceived and badly implemented suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  I bumped into members of my conservative evangelical church who were carrying signs of welcome in Arabic and decrying persecution of people of the Muslim faith.  I met a woman who told me she follows my blog, and that she now tears the plastic window off of her spaghetti boxes so she can recycle the cardboard (happiness!); she was carrying a sign that reminded people that the Bible talks over and over about welcoming the stranger, and almost never about self-protection as a virtue.  I met another woman who resettles refugee families here; we'd had Thanksgiving dinner with her and one of the Nepalese families she worked with many many years ago.

There were candles everywhere.  A woman I know who, like me, has six kids of many colors, gave me one of her candles. When I asked if she needed a light as well, she said "My children are my candle".  There was a lot of singing; a bit of chanting, a lot of catching up and happiness mixed in with a fierce determination.

I didn't get my grading done.  With all the paperwork swirling around me, I feel only a little bit guilty about neglecting the 18 students in my projective geometry class.  (I have a rule that if I don't get their corrections back quickly, they don't have to turn in the next set of homework, so I'm guessing they'll actually be delighted instead of disappointed).

But aside from that little allocation of time, standing up with my city in support of the notions of decency and generosity and inclusion is a perfect frugal activity.  The cost is a candle, plus shoe leather or transportation.  The connections I made and remade are personally encouraging, but even more, it's heartening to feel like I'm part of a larger movement that's working together to do the Right Thing.

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