Refugees and Immigrants

19 April 2008

I recently read a book called The Middle of Everywhere, by Mary Pipher. In it, Ms. Pipher shares stories of refugees who were settled in Lincoln, Nebraska over the past 10-20 years.

Many of the stories Ms. Pipher shared in her book were somewhat familiar to me -- I've traveled a lot, I make an effort to follow the international news, and here in Seattle I have a lot of contact with immigrants in my volunteer work (teaching English as a Second Language and Spanish-English interpreting). Certainly, all immigrants have some things in common: they have to adjust to a new culture, in many cases a new language, and often a completely different job from what they did before. But this book focuses on refugees, who have additional difficulties, such as mental health issues arising from their history of being subject to war, political persecution, death threats, and the like in their home countries. So, as I read the stories in this book, at times I thought that the refugees it describes had little in common with the immigrants I normally come in contact with. But really, the differences are not as large as I thought at first. Even immigrants who lack official refugee status (it's pretty hard to get) may have been persecuted at home for their beliefs, gender, or membership in an ethnic group, or may be trying to leave a country at war. Some of the women and children who come here are escaping domestic violence. And even the average undocumented Mexican immigrant worker has probably come here to work because he didn't have any chance of making a living wage at home. All of these types of immigrants have a lot in common with refugees, in that they came here because they felt they really had no choice.

So, I really think this book is relevant and important for everyone living in a more privileged country to read. It is also well-written, and even though many of the stories might make us uncomfortable, we still need to know about them.