Immigrants, Refugees, History

History , Refugees, History

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By Mary E. Latela, September 19, 2016

Nicholas Kristoff, Pulitzer prize- winning journalist wrote “Would You Hide a Jew from the Nazis?” [Published the New York Times (Nicholas Kristof SEPT. 17, 2016] Ken Burns, who has created and produced quite a few miniseries about social issues – from World War II  to The History of Baseball, was guided by Artemis Joukowsky, grandson of Martha Sharp. This woman from Massachusetts, with her husband, helped Jews to escape the Nazis, by hiding them, providing shelter, by keeping them safe. This was their life-long call – helping  those who needed it most.

You don’t have to be a hero to reflect on Kristoff’s  essay. As I was thinking about the courage to hide someone who is in danger, I realized that the most important result of living in a democracy is the willingness to welcome the stranger, to honor those who through some terrible, senseless war, were living in an earthly hell. Their leaders were tyrants, despicable followers, murderers, people who had chosen evil and domination as their weapons.

My grandparents all came here in the early 20th century, which was recently described (by a member of Congress) as the worst thing this country has done, namely “letting foreigners in”. Except for the Native peoples who were here for a very long time, we are a nation of immigrants, of refugees, and a few heroic people and groups who take in the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

When I was transitioning between working in churches back to education, I taught at a great community college in Hartford. Students were usually self-paying so they attended every class and handed in every assignment. Some were kids, who a year of high school graduation with no job, had decided to get into one of the technical schools and needed English comp skills. Others had learned through their life experiences, many through hardship.

One day after class, one of the gentlemen came and asked to talk. He was dressed in a long black coat; his hair was dark as were his eyes. He looked very sad. He said, “I am a refugee. I do not have the money for the textbook. Is there a way I could borrow the book?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I can get a book for you. Will you come with me? “I knew exactly what to do. My friend, the Dean of Students, took care of emergency needs. We went to her office, I introduced her to my student, and explained. The Dean placed some cash into an envelope, handed it to a very grateful man, and invited him to return if he needed anything else, and she would try to help.

I asked my student, a very serious, sad man, a little about where he was from. He told me he was from one of those places no one liked to talk about. He had escaped from Croatia with his wife, their two children, and her mother, during the devastating war and bloodshed there.

They came with nothing. He knew he had to go to school to perfect his English, which was already very good. He had a job driving a delivery truck, and he had been a professional in his homeland. A refugee.. an immigrant…

Emma Lazarus was that American poet, born in New York City, who wrote “The New Colossus”, a sonnet written in 1883; its lines appear inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty installed in 1903, a decade and a half after Lazarus’s death. Think about her words, if you like, and make a comment.

The New Colossus

                Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

                 (Emma Lazarus)

 

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