Americans have big hearts. We have just finished a 20-year war, and whether you agree we should have been there or we should not have been there, the thousands of refugees that are now within our borders will soon be part of American society. They are no different than the Japanese or German wives from the Second World War or Koreans who helped us and married service men. The next wave of war refugees were from Viet Nam.
Bill and I went on our honeymoon 49 years ago to New Orleans, and it had the imprint of many varied populations. There were natives of the Bayous, the French Quarter with its Spanish architectural melding Creole of Colonial French with Caribbean. The Italian bakeries, with Muffuletta sandwiches, added to the layers of unique cultures. Eighteen years later we returned to the same city and there were Vietnamese shops all over where before there had been none. The only problem we encountered was that the bed we had before at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel was a little smaller than we had remembered it. Perhaps one beignet too many with powdered sugar. The hearts of Americans have historically welcomed new cultures.
My mother, Arlene, of the “greatest generation,” once voiced an ounce of irritation at a bowling alley. Her group of older ladies bowled against an all-younger Japanese team who beat them. These were children of “Nisei” which meant those born in America after that war. She uttered a discontented phrase about, “Well, they didn’t win everything.” And I said, “Mother!” She left red-faced.
In Albuquerque when Vietnamese restaurants opened in the late 70s, my generation who fought in that war, often went to eat there taking their families to explain what they experienced. Only once have I ever heard an individual say he would not go because it was Vietnamese food. My younger son, Tom, brought home a friend, Phuc, for dinner. Phuc was a couple years older than Tom because his mom had gotten him to Cambodia after the fall of Saigon and he hid in a rice field for a year. I made as many dishes as I could cook, so he would feel at home.
After we ate, I asked if he had gotten his driver’s license yet. “No,” he said, he had a bicycle.
“Oh, I do too. It’s in the bedroom.”
“Is it a big bedroom?” was his reply. I showed my stationary bike to Phuc, and he said he could fix it so I could go places with it. I said, “Thank you, but I ride it because I am too round.”
Phuc looked at me puzzled for a second and said, “Yes you are round, a perfect round woman.” I love these people.
Like New Orleans, Albuquerque has incorporated lots of different cultures into what makes this state so special, a welcoming attitude toward what is different. In the 80s, the Catholic Church made way for Cuban refugees and their exodus in the Mariel boat lift. Because many in New Mexico could speak Spanish, hundreds came here.
I was not surprised to see we have Afghans at Doña Ana Base Camp at Fort Bliss and at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo. Several of the New Mexico servicemen who worked with interpreters in Kabul are concerned that those who helped us may be trapped and not able to make the jump. They feel the Afghans they knew are like family to them and we all know how strong La Familia is here.
Our churches have always led the way in accommodating those most in need. Imagine picking up everything you are used to and putting it in one bag, flying to a new country, with your children. The strange food, climate and housing would be terrifying to most of us. Even if it was 100, 200, or 300 years ago, these were our ancestors forging ahead to make a better future for us. Our family history should remind us of what was and how we can help those now. There are sites for most churches or agencies to see where help is needed. We can soften our hearts again when we remember. Roaring Mouse, looking at the photo albums. Out.