I have a policy of only adding non-fiction books to the Recommended Reading section. That category comprises most of my reading. The more I learn the more I discover I don’t know; that probably accounts for the number of nerdy books I read. There is a genre of writing known as historical fiction. The story is fiction but the depicted events are real. One of the many advantages of “working” for yourself is that you get to bend the rules. Today I want to discuss something that a book of historical fiction made me think about. Let’s explore.
About a month ago I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Gratz. A few days ago I finished his New York Times bestselling book Refugee. It tells the stories of three refugee families. One is fleeing the Nazis, another Castro’s Cuba and the third the civil war in Syria. If this doesn’t make you think about several social issues you have a reading comprehension problem.
I couldn’t help but think of this in terms of the typical American experience. I’ll use mine as an example. I was born in America which automatically made me an American citizen. However three of my grandparents came here from Poland in the late 1800’s or very early 1900’s. I don’t know a lot of the details beyond that. I know enough about history to assume they were not refugees in the normal sense; unlike the characters in Refugee they were not fleeing for their physical lives.
It might be fairer to classify them as economic refugees. I assume they came to America seeking a better life (to be more accurate their parents did – from what I know most came as young children). I doubt they crossed the Atlantic for the weather in Buffalo. The bottom line is that they came seeking a better life and wanted to contribute to their new home.
Unlike a lot of today’s refugees they were not highly skilled and educated. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I don’t know a lot of my family’s story but I know my maternal grandfather worked his way up via carpentry to owning his own successful home construction business and built considerable section of the city of Buffalo. (That all ended when Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover brought us the Great Depression).
The refugee/immigration challenge is a complex one, especially when the ignorant among us falsely conflate it with the threat of terrorism in order to justify their personal shortcomings and xenophobic prejudices.
To paraphrase and purloin from a recent Tina Fey routine, Americans are all immigrants unless you count the Native Americans who the white people stole the country from. Immigrants literally and figuratively made America the great country it is today. With our current greying population we will soon lack enough young workers in the labor supply to meet the coming demand.
Accepting immigrants in general and refugees in particular while keeping the country safe and the labor supply balanced is not an easy task. However if you remember where you truly came from it is a morally imperative task. If you care about our economic future it is an essential task.
For anyone who is still a skeptic I pose one question: What would you do if you and your family were facing almost certain death if you stayed in your home?
Refugees and immigrants in general seek a new beginning in countries like Germany, the UK and the USA because we are already great counties with abundant opportunities. Nobody is fighting to get into Syria but many are risking their lives to get out of it.
I’m human and I like some people more than others. I liked Alan right off the bat and had enjoyed reading one of his books prior to meeting him. My human shortcomings aside, I both enjoyed and learned from his books. By the way I’m a senior citizen and his target audience is young adults. Perhaps you should buy Refugee and give it to some of the youngsters in your family and while you’re at it get a copy for yourself. In any event, look at the immigration challenge, particularly the refugee aspect, with an open heart and mind!
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