July 4, 2019
From Bee’s Facebook post:
Every July 4, I’ve celebrated the story of my family’s migration and the birth of my older sister, the very first American in our family. She turns 40 years old today.
This year feels different.
In the last month, I’ve visited a high security state prison, pushed a stalled car across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, paid homage to victims of lynching at Memorial Legacy Museum, and most recently observed Camp Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece.
As the daughter of former refugees from Vietnam, my life has been defined by my parents’ miraculous journey to America.
They fled their country in the middle of the night on a boat. They were stranded at sea. Thai pirates pillaged their boat. Twice.
A Thai fisherman found them. He took them to shore and saved their lives, an act that violated maritime policy.
An American family and the Catholic Church co-sponsored their resettlement, an act deemed unfavorable by 57 percent of Americans.
A Republican Governor and Democratic President enacted humane policies to increase the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees to America, an act that contributed to President Carter losing his second term.
My parents built the American Dream, raising five daughters who are economically independent, civic-minded, and community driven.
Yet, today I can only think of the 5,000+ refugees living in Camp Moria, waiting for the same salvation granted to my parents over 40 years ago.
A young Afghani man shared with us his own story of migration — from Iran to Turkey to Lesvos — six months here and there and a lifetime of displacement. Over a lunch of sardines and octopus cooked by locals, he says: There’s no place for me. Not Afghanistan. Not Iran. Not Turkey. Not here.
And yet, he has left one place for another and then another, each time searching for refuge he has not yet found. He shows us a tattoo on his arm, a compass inked by a fellow refugee. Where those coordinates lead he does not know, but he is certain he won’t stop looking until he has a place to call home.
As I left Camp Moria, I could not help but remember the thousands of men, women, and children trapped in camps along our U.S. border. Men and women who, like my parents, possess courage, survival skills, and resilience. Refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants – whatever manmade term we’ve come up with to classify people — possess the kind of audacity that defies logic. They dare to transverse the ocean, cross a river, or walk through a desert without any guarantee of something better on the other side.
I want to guarantee that our place, this land we call America, will give refuge, economic opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness for all those who come and pledge their allegiance to our values of freedom for all.
But there have never been any guarantees in this land – not for our indigenous people, not for the Chinese rail workers, not for the Japanese Americans who were interned, not for the African slaves who were kidnapped, sold, and tortured, not for the black, brown, and yellow people who have been swept up in mass incarceration, and not for the thousands of immigrants locked up in our detention centers.
The promise of justice for all can only be achieved if we are courageous and relentless in our calls for humanity and in our demands for systems of oppression and white supremacy to be dismantled.