World Refugee Day 2018- Reflection

By Caleb S. Gates, Case Manager & Advocacy Specialist

Burundian drummers performing on Iowa City’s Pentacrest in honor of World Refugee Day.

Home. A place to call your own. Our sense of place in this world greatly defines our identity. When we meet a new person, we quickly ask “Where are you from?” Our place of birth, our childhood home, our old stomping grounds leave an indelible mark on our psyches. It means something to identify as a Midwesterner.

Politicians running for office speak of their connection to place. They emphasize being born and raised in the district with family ties that go back X number of generations. Deep personal and family roots in one place display loyalty to that place. Even the Constitution illustrates this unspoken loyalty test. Anyone running for Congress has to reside in that district and be a citizen for at least 7 years. Prospective Senators have to reside in that state and be a citizen for at least 9 years. The President of the United States must be a natural-born citizen of the United States. Place of birth and long residence show loyalty cred. This unspoken loyalty belief helps explain why many claimed President Obama was not born in the United States. Questioning his birth questioned his loyalty. This is why draft dodgers during the Vietnam War who fled to Canada were painted as traitors. Fleeing the draft was seen as a dereliction of duty and displayed disloyalty to the nation.

This psychological phenomenon helps explain why many fear and reject the Refugee. No matter that the refugee fled their country because of persecution because of who they are or what they believed. No matter that the refugee feared for their lives and their family’s lives. A refugee who left their country must not be loyal to their country. How could a disloyal refugee ever be a loyal American citizen? This innate desire to divide people into loyalists and traitors remains as a relic of our species’ youth. Long before civilization sprung into being, discerning loyalists and traitors – who would defend the tribe and who would sell us out – was a matter of life and death. Now that civilization has bloomed and population size has expanded, such mechanisms can harm our ability to build a cohesive, diverse society and love our neighbor as ourselves.

All humans desire home, though at its core home is an idea, not a specific place. Yet even the nomad’s idea of home requires space, though they spend little time in one fixed location. For most, home requires stability only a geographic location – a plot of land, a roof overhead – can bring. Refugees are no different. A refugee has been denied the right to stay in their home country without fear of persecution. Denied by their homeland, they may wander for years in search of a place to call home.

Since 1980 over 3 million refugees now call the United States home. These refugees have immeasurably enriched our country, our state, and our local communities. Today, June 20, 2018, is the International Day of the Refugee.  We celebrate the refugees who have come to this country and remember the more than 22 million refugees who still wait for a place to call home. We should continue to welcome them to the United States – the land of the free, the home of the brave.

The Catherine McAuley Center has welcomed more than 140 refugees to Eastern Iowa since April 2017, and will welcome 44 additional newcomers over the next month! There are many ways you can create a welcoming community for these new neighbors: Volunteer, give, or host a supply drive for household items for newly-arrived families!