Refugee stories help all of us understand the current refugee crisis better. They make the statistics personal and help us understand the real stories behind the headlines, so today I’m sharing one of my own.
Many of you know my husband is a refugee from Poland. I’ve written about his experience as a refugee many times over the years on Petit Elefant, but my husband seldom shares his story personally, both because he’s private and because most refugee stories, including his, are harrowing. But last week we got a questionnaire in the mail from our local representative in the Utah legislature about issues specific to Utah. In addition to filling out the mailer, my husband included a personal letter about refugees to the representative. It turns out we have children in the same school class as our state rep, and my husband wanted to illustrate to our representative that his life is affected by refugees every day, even if he doesn’t know it.
With permission, I’m posting an edited version of the the letter below.
(p.s. The darling little sailor on the left in the photo below is my husband as a small child in communist Poland.)
I am a refugee. My family abandoned their entire lives and escaped from communist Poland in the early 1980’s. Piece by piece my father, my mother, my older brother, my younger sister and I made our way to America, and have since called America home.
I find today’s atmosphere of fear, isolationism, and nationalism very scary, and very close to my heart. The United States welcomed us with open arms, regardless of the fact that we came from a communist country. We were welcomed without fear that we were masquerading as refugees whose true goal was to do harm to America, and to subvert the American way of life.
I see little difference between my refugee experience in 1983 and the experience of refugees today from Syria, from Mexico, and from North Africa. The United States, and especially Utah, should be a beacon on the hill to those willing to run away from everything and everyone that they have ever known. My parents would not have abandoned their careers, their families, their lives, their home, if life had been just inconvenient in Poland.
Instead, there was a clear and present danger to my parents and to us, their children. So my parents chose to trade everything they had ever known for nothing but the hope of a better future. When we escaped communist Poland, there was no promise of a better future, all we had was a hope that what was ahead would be better than what we left behind.
Today people in war-torn countries, such as Syria, are not abandoning their lives, their families, and their homes, just because things are inconvenient. The war in Syria is real, and people are dying each and every day. People are not choosing to climb into overcrowded boats, with their small children in tow, to sail for Cyprus in stormy seas in the middle of the night just because the price of bread is too high. People are choosing to place their own lives, as well as the lives of their children, into the hands of smugglers and war-profiteers, because doing so is safer than what they are leaving behind.
I write to you with the hope that you can use my story as a personal example that refugees are not just “scary Muslims” from predominantly Muslim countries. Refugees are everywhere. A refugee is a parent of one of the kids in your child’s class, and no matter where we came from, or how we got here, we all looked to America to be our safe harbor.
I would ask that you please use your influence in the Utah State Legislature to help ease the burden for those who have finally found their way to our great state. Please use your influence to help fund classes, temporary housing, immersion and English language programs, financial literacy classes, and school lunches and other food programs.
In short, I ask you to please help those who might be considered the least fortunate among us. Although some might not consider refugees to be fortunate, as a refugee myself, we consider ourselves to be some of the luckiest people in the world, because we finally made it to safety and are blessed to be able to call America home.
Michal Czarnecki, refugee
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