When I was a young girl in the 80s, my best friend was Vietnamese. Her family were ‘boat people’.
I had had another Vietmanese friend when I was younger. She was adopted. I remember once she drew a photo that had bombs and soldiers rescuing her, but she didn’t talk about that life.
I spent a lot of time at my best friend’s house. I loved her house: it was clean, stable, there were family meals, there was studying together. This was the opposite of my house.
My friend remembered leaving Vietnam on a boat. The distress when the first person they had paid to get them a place ran off with their money. The fear that they wouldn’t get another place. Once they were on their way, their boat started to sink at sea. When another boat came to rescue them, a woman was crushed between the vessels as people transferred from one to another. Then they had to wait for refugee applications to 3rd countries to be accepted. These were bad memories, but for them it was worth doing to escape. . .from a country they loved and was home.
I think that people forget that people don’t want to NEED to leave home. They were proud not of what it had become but of its heart. They were proud of their language; my friend taught me some Vietnamese because I was interested. They were proud of their food and shared it with me. They had a large flag in the dining room. They also felt an obligation to the country that took them in. They worked really hard at work and school and reminded my friend that it was part of how she should respect her new country.
My father’s family left Sweden twice, once during the great migration and once after WWII when people feared Soviet invasion. Both times they left for a safer, more stable life. But we still keep our traditions and love of a country. I’m allowed to feel proud. My mother’s family left Germany because of their religion. They had to change their surname so that people wouldn’t immediately realise they were German, however a few decades on and they too are allowed to feel proud of their ancestry again.
Why shouldn’t others be allowed to feel this? I think people forget that refugees aren’t coming to another country because they prefer that country over theirs; it is necessity. It is not a holiday; it is safety.
I’ve been reading When the Children Came Home by Julie Summers. I don’t know that it’s the best choice for me lately. It’s about the evacuation schemes for British children during WWII. Children as young as 4 years old were separated from their family live in areas that weren’t as likely to be hit by German bombs or directly in line of a possible invasion. Some of the children returned home fairly soon, but some were away for years. Some never returned to their birth families. Think of the impact that would have had on a family. I look at my 5-year-old son and my friend’s 8-year-old son, and they’re different types of creatures. They learn and change so much in that time. And families who resisted were labelled as unpatriotic and manipulated in other ways. This happened to people alive today. This is in living memory.
Anyway. Hold your loved ones close, and when you think of other people – remember that they are people.