July 05, 2004

My Fourth

It’ll sound odd, but I spent my Fourth of July with political refugees. And I can’t think of a better way to have spent it.

If you’ve been reading my site for a while, you probably know that my mother teaches political refugees who’ve arrived in this country seeking political asylum. While I’d met one of her students, last night my wife and I got the chance to hang out with the rest.

The demographics will surprise you – all in attendance were from Africa, specifically Uganda, Cameroon and Ethiopia. Many were jailed and subsequently tortured for their political views. Some were sold into slavery. All are highly educated – most hold bachelor’s degrees from schools in their countries, a few have master’s degrees as well. All have left behind families – spouses, children and parents. They each carry cell phones constantly so they’re available if their families are somehow able to call them. The cell phones are accompanied by pre-paid phone cards, the least expensive way to call home.

Perhaps the thing that most surprised me was the happiness. In spite of the sacrifices they’d made, they were happy. They’d arrived in this country with nothing other than their lives, made so many sacrifices to be here and struggled once they’d arrived. And yet, they were happy.

I think we often recognize how fortunate we are, our own luck for being born where we were, through the eyes of others who’ve seen the way the rest of the world works. Its those people who can teach us the most. And there was no end to the stories that made me feel truly lucky to be who and where I am.

On July 4, 2004, I spent my night with the most patriotic among us yet they weren’t Americans. They were merely hopeful…and they came here with that hope, the hope of things we sometimes take for granted. I was grateful to be in their presence and see my country through their eyes.

Posted by Chris at July 5, 2004 08:05 AM

Damn you, now I'm crying :) You live in one of the most wonderful countries on this planet. It's a beautiful thing you realize that, and welcome the refugees like you do. Go you!

Posted by: Sweety at July 5, 2004 09:17 AM

i think everyone should be able to experience their country through others eyes. what a great way to celebrate the 4th.

Posted by: chlamygirl at July 5, 2004 09:49 AM

What a great way to spend Independence Day. :)

Posted by: martha at July 5, 2004 10:52 AM

What a beautiful reminder of what America is REALLY about!

Posted by: Sheryl at July 5, 2004 11:31 AM

nice :)

Posted by: laura at July 5, 2004 12:19 PM

I love hearing about your mom's refugee friends. It definitely puts into perspective all the things that we take for granted. Does your mom have a paying position with this agency, or does she do it on a volunteer basis?

Posted by: Zandria at July 5, 2004 04:11 PM

Fantastic post and a very patriotic observation. It would be interesting to know how some of the refugees feel about Independence Day.

Posted by: Geezitron at July 5, 2004 04:29 PM

Wow, this sounds fascinating. Such a meaningful way to spend the holiday! I'd love to know more about your mom's work with these people.

Posted by: Claire at July 5, 2004 11:35 PM

I have only just started to read your blog but I know it is one I will read daily.

Posted by: Sweet N Sassy at July 7, 2004 09:42 AM

What a beautiful way to spend July 4th. Your entry really struck me in the sense that so many of us take our freedoms and those around us for granted. Thank you for that. :)

Posted by: groovebunny at July 11, 2004 05:47 PM