My mother is a refugee. Her and her parents, her 10 brothers and sisters, one of my cousins, and my older sister are refugees. A whole generation of Vietnamese in the US are refugees. They came in the early to late seventies as a result of the bloody civil war that most Americans know as the Vietnam War, but ironically, is often referred to in Vietnam as the American War or the Resistance against America War.
I myself don’t know what it’s like to decide within a moment’s notice to leave everything and everyone you know behind, and leave the land of your birth with only the clothes on your back. I was born very soon after my family made that journey. But like many second generation Vietnamese, I have taken some time to try and learn about the circumstances of their amazing journey to the US. My family is mostly reticent about this part of their lives. And understandably so. I don’t think it would be very pleasant to reminisce about their lives being threatened simply because of their religious beliefs. You see, my family is Catholic. And at the time, religious people were not received well in the new communist Vietnam, and that is the primary reason my family left.
Despite them being good ol’ Christians,1 it turns out they and the rest of this wave of Vietnamese refugees weren’t welcome with open arms by Americans. My own memories are littered with incidents where people defined me by a war that had been fought more than a decade ago. I remember being called “Charlie” as a kid in school and having no idea what it meant. I also remember trying to explain to my classmates that my father was actually in the South Vietnamese military and fought alongside the Americans.2 Many Americans somehow didn’t understand that the reason my family was even here in the first place was because they were on the American’s side during the war. Vietnamese refugees, like many other immigrant groups before them, were frozen out of jobs, prevented from moving into neighborhoods, taken advantage of in the labor force, and subjected to violence that we know as hate crimes today.3 And you know what? Despite all of this, not once did I or any of my family ever consider trying to turn any Americans to communists. Despite what a lot of people I went to grade school and high school thought, we never once tried to ambush American soldiers in the jungle. In fact, my family did pretty damn well. Me and my sisters all have college educations, my mom votes and gives to her church every week, and we pay our taxes. I was there at the courthouse when she and my sister raised their right hand and swore allegiance to the US.
Obviously, every group of refugees and immigrants are a result of a unique set of historical, political, and social forces, but when I see and hear talk about the current Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of the Paris attacks, I can’t help but see some parallels. Here are some people who are being forced to leave their homes in order to save their lives. And they’re being forced to, in no small part because of US military intervention in their part of the world contributes to the condition of their lives being in peril.
I see these people enduring massive tragedy – the loss of their homes, their countries, their way of life, and very often the loss of the lives of loved ones. And instead of showing compassion and love for these people in their time of need (you know, like Christians should), on my own social media feed, I see people scapegoating these people. I see people using this as an excuse to demonize people who practice a different religion. And I see people blaming them for things that are very much a result of our own country’s actions and policies. If you want to learn why this is such a terrible way to think about the Syrian refugee crisis, I’d recommend you checking out some of the work of Charles Kurzman who very effectively shows empirical evidence that a policy of targeting Arabs/Muslims/Refugees as terrorist suspects is categorically stupid, or maybe read this piece on how not accepting refugees is going to do fuck-all to stop terrorism.4 There is no shortage of empirical studies that you can find easily online that show that this way of thinking is awful.
But you can do that on your own time. That’s not why I’m here. No, I’m here to tell you and anyone else who is shitting all over refugees that your shit is patently RACIST and YOU NEED TO CUT THAT SHIT OUT. I know what you’re doing. I saw people do it to my family, and I know what it looks like. You’re not fooling anyone. You, Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal and whatever racist shithead governors, and all the other b-holes in this world who go out of their way to make life worse for refugees…you can all go fuck yourselves.
- No, seriously, my mother is the most Catholic person I know. Like if you put all American Catholics together, she would still be more Catholic than that. [↩]
- This in addition to your garden variety Asian American Racism – like stuff about karate, the slanted eye thing, and the Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany accents [↩]
- People, including most of my family, feel that immigrants are able to be successful because of “America” or whatever that is supposed to mean. I can tell you first hand that there is a valid argument that immigrants are successful in spite of America. [↩]
- My good friend Erik Love also has a forth-coming book on why all this crap directed at Arabs and Muslims is terrible as well. [↩]