Why We Need To Be Open For Refugees

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why america has to stay open

My husband is a refugee.  A refugee whose family sought political asylum in the United States in the 1980’s in the face of the stuff of nightmares.  The details are personal, but the bottom line is this: my husband’s life, and the lives of his family were in imminent danger; fleeing the country was the only option.  They had two choices: America or Libya.  They chose America, and the difference in that choice turned out to be everything.

It’s interesting, this thing about refugees.  Syrian refugees.  Brown refugees.  Refugees from “undesirable” places. Refugees of “undesirable” or threatening religious backgrounds.  It’s so easy to hate someone who didn’t get born into your fate.

My husband was young enough when his family escaped from Poland that he doesn’t have an accent.  He doesn’t look that different, unless you get up close and personal.  He seems just like a “regular American guy” because he is.  He’s a dual Polish and American citizen, a process which, despite what you’re probably reading in the news, is not just a matter of “opening doors” for people to pour in.  It’s a lengthy, nightmare of red-tape political process most natural born Americans wouldn’t want to wade through in the easiest of circumstances.  My husband is more educated on American political policy and history than anyone else I know who doesn’t work in politics or education for a living.  And he doesn’t spend a second taking it for granted.  Not one.

He was also Catholic and not Muslim, so people don’t usually give him a hard time.  But coworkers and new acquaintances have no problem making racist jokes straight to his face.

Did you hear the one about The Pole?

Yes, yes we have heard that one actually.  And every other one too.  Would you like to know where all the Polish jokes come from?  They’re Nazi propaganda started by Hitler.  Because Hitler hated Poles as much as he hated Jews, and did his very best to completely obliterate them as a people.

What do you do when you want to get rid of a population, to turn other people against them?  You start by minimizing their humanity.  Talking about all the ways they’re coming after your money, your homes, your children, your freedom, your religion.  Dehumanize them, and then it isn’t so hard to hate them.

Do you think it’s any different with Syrian refugees?  Not for a minute.  A displaced people, fleeing violence and danger, looking to make a better life for their children.  Because the thing about refugees is this: the first generation doesn’t live a life a whole lot better than the one they left.  Sometimes their new lives are worse.  It’s their children, and their children’s children who reap the rewards.  My father-in-law is a PhD chemist.  My mother-in-law a Juris Doctor.  A judge with her own courtroom back in Poland.  Would you like to know what they do in America?  My father-in-law works in a machine shop and my mother-in-law cleans homes for wealthy people in Beverly Hills.  They’d love to go back to Poland, as a whole, safe, democratized country.  They left everything behind to make sure my husband, and now his children and mine, have a better life.

The people fleeing Syria would love to stay in their motherland.  They’d love to keep their language and customs and friends and family.  They don’t want to be fleeing for their lives, in dangerous situations, cold and hungry and unsafe and unsure about whether or not they’ll ever find a home again.  And every other group of displaced people from the beginning of time, including your ancestors and mine, have needed the humanity and safekeeping of other countries when things got dangerous.

So all this hate, all this dehumanizing Syrians, or whichever group is popular to hate at the moment, is personal.  It’s personal to me, and my husband, and my two dual-citizen children.  And if you dare to look back even just a little through your family tree, it’s personal for you too.

Being on the “right” side of history doesn’t afford you the opportunity to decide who lives and who dies.  It doesn’t afford you the opportunity to assign humanity to the people of your choosing.

What it does give you is the chance share some of the kindness you and the people before you were given.  To share your food, and your home, your jobs, and yes, even your sacred country.

Here’s what my husband, my refugee looks like

  • he’s the first one in and the last one out at the office
  • he’s the one who’ll take your weekend shift so you can take a vacation
  • he’s the guy who will give you his last dollar
  • he’s the guy who’d take his shirt off in a snowstorm to give to you
  • he’s the guy who regularly takes food out of the fridge to give to the hungry
  • he’s the one who offers a couch to someone who needs a place to stay
  • he’s the guy who when we were dating and hungry and poor, in the frozen tundra of Idaho, gave his only coat and pair of gloves away to a homeless vet who was freezing

So think a little bit before you defame these “dangerous refugees” who could be you, who were the product of political decisions made by their country on their behalf, the product of terrorism from their countrymen, who could be you in the blink of an eye.  And please, for all of  us, leave God out of it.

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Allison

Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

25 Comments

  1. Erica :

    Thank you for sharing your husband’s story and how it relates to today. It is relevant and we must value life over fear. And I love the photograph, too.

    • Allison :

      You’re welcome. And isn’t it the cutest picture ever!?

  2. Joanna :

    Hi Allison. My father was an asylum seeker from Poland in the early 1970s as well. The difference between someone like my father and his generation (or Poles in general) is that he didn’t come to this country armed with radical idealism. While “all lives matter” sounds like a good idea on paper, Muslims, even mild ones, are vastly different than us and we might never fully understand why. Long before the Jaruzelski military crackdown in the 1980s, Poles were also moving, traveling and emigrating to all corners of the globe. We can’t compare them to today’s Syrian refugees, because Poles are and have always been willing to adapt and contribute to Western society. Their plight was very different and not at all comparable to that of the Middle East today. Poland is one of the few EU countries that has been very vocal about not wanting to take in their quota of refugees. They might be blunt, they might be politically incorrect and they might be a little shallow in their views, but unlike Paris, London, or Hannover these days, their streets are still relatively safe compared to the rest of the continent and they are determined to keep it that way.

    But you are right, dehumanizing Syrians is wrong, and to assume that the millions fleeing their war-torn country by foot every day are terrorists is stretching it thin, too. But we also have to be realistic, especially when it comes to our safety. What we saw in Paris on Friday looked like an intifada in the heart of Europe. No one wants that.

    With all that being said though, Iran was one of the few countries to take in Polish refugees after WWII, but that’s a whole different, political (and even British propaganda-laced) matter. What irony, huh?

    Pozdrowienia.

    • Allison :

      Joanna, thank you for sharing your story! I think it’s dangerous to label anyone as dangerous simply because they are danger-adjacent. There are lots of people from every culture and country who are just lovely humans but get depicted as dangerous criminals because people know them by their country’s terrorists. Is America known for Timothy McVeigh because he was a terrorist to his own people? No. Because most Americans are great people. Vilifying Syrians or Muslims or Jews or Poles, or anyone else in history because they’re from a country that has some dangerous people is just plain wrong.

      • Kelleyn :

        Well said Allison! The last few couple of weeks I have to say I have been ashmed to be an American as I hear people talk about this situation. As you said, so many people. On another note, If I remember correctly you have either Lupus or MS. I know you have at one point tried going Gluton Free. I have been recently been diagnosed with Lupus and questioning if I should go Gluton Free. Has it helped you?

  3. Jen M :

    I hate the whole idea that the Syrian refugees might not get the help they need because we are afraid that something bad *might* happen. Because honestly they have lived through much worse than anyone else has when it comes to terrorism. That’s why they left their country with the understanding that they might not have anywhere to welcome them and the very real chance they might die along the way. I don’t see how we can not help them and be able to live with ourselves afterward. All the excuses in the world can’t change the fact that these are people. Mothers, grandparents, and children that are fleeing persecution and if it were my family I would hope for kindness and humanity to prevail. Bring them to my house and I will happily share my home and my bounty with them. There is no other acceptable answer that isn’t inhumane.

    • Allison :

      Jen, you’re totally right. People aren’t putting their lives in danger by fleeing everything and everyone they know because things are safe at home. Things have to be the worst of the worst to leave their homes. And to deny them shelter because some of their countrymen are crazy is doubly dangerous and wrong.

  4. Allison J :

    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!”

    From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.

    • Allison :

      Allison, THANK YOU! x o x o x o

  5. Kim G. :

    I really, really loved this. I was excited to share this on FB because you captured my sentiments on this subject, and then I read the last sentence. I feel like I am missing something.

    • Allison :

      Kim, I’m happy you loved the piece. The part at the end, about God, is speaking to the countless arguments I’ve heard about Muslims, thinly veiled as concerns about terrorism, that are really fears about people not being the same as us, not believing the same things, not looking the same way, and believing in the wrong God.

      • Kim G. :

        Thank you for the clarification. I completely agree.

  6. Christine :

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Allison :

      thank you Christine. <3

  7. Betsy :

    “Being on the “right” side of history doesn’t afford you the opportunity to decide who lives and who dies. ” Yes. This, a thousand times, this! Thanks for sharing your story with us and thanks for taking the time to write it all down in a way that makes us all take a good long look in the mirror. We need it.

    • Allison :

      You’re welcome. Thank you for reading!

  8. Kimberly :

    This is perfect. I have been dealing with several online/Facebook arguments over this very issue. I truly do think that much of the opposition believes that the “floodgates will be opened” and we will be drowned in and unchecked the tidal wave of Isis militants masquerade meeting as Syrian refugees. I mean, yes, there is a lot of racism and Islamophobia — but I think this situation is largely misunderstood. I know that it is scary, Isis is scary, unknown anything is scary but that is no excuse to treat our fellow human beings as anything less than that — fellow human beings.

    • Allison :

      I get it, I get the fear. Watching stuff you can’t control makes for a very scary world. But gate checking refugees before they even have a chance is just ignorant. It really is. The facts just don’t add up to refugees = terrorists. If we want to get serious here, what were the pilgrims? Refugees, basically. Only they came with guns and cholera and wiped out a nation of people and justified themselves in the process. And we’re what’s left. Pilgrims and immigrants and refugees. And we’re a pretty great nation, except when we disguise hate for freedom.

    • Allison :

      Thank you, friend. I really appreciate it.

  9. Jamie :

    What a great post. Your husband’s story really touched me, thank you so much for sharing.

    • Allison :

      Jamie, thank you! And you’re welcome!

  10. Nicole Melancon :

    Beautiful Alison! We are a country of immigrants. We all came from somewhere unless you are Native American. TO close the door and be cruel to immigrants is against our American ideals. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Allison :

      Thanks Nicole! YES. We ARE a country of immigrants and refugees. Which is why it’s so baffling to me that people want to close the door behind them, and forget they were ever on the outside. I don’t understand.