By Victoria Koch
On a recent visit to my daughter’s, while we were walking around the suburban streets of Portland, I noticed one home’s flag pole flying a Confederate flag. These days, whenever I see our American flag in front of a home, I immediately think of the false patriotism of “Make America Great.” Though I have seen other Confederate flags flying from trucks in Oregon, this particular flag in front of someone’s home disturbs me.
Why am I surprised?
The hatred, the fear, the blind misunderstandings about people of color, especially immigrants has visibly surfaced. Is this my America now? No doubt it has always been so, but to me it is a bleeding sore, that instead of being attended to, is getting worse and worse. Rather than flags flying outside, I have chosen to bring an asylum seeker inside my home. The seeker who I will call M, from El Salvador, has enriched my life beyond measure. Oregon Community Asylum Network (OCAN) has brought 12 asylum seekers to Eugene.
Every one of them has spent months and overcome tremendous obstacles to get here. Did they want to leave their home countries? Not really. Are they leaving mothers, fathers, siblings, partners, sons, daughters, friends, their culture behind? With deep regret, yes.
All of the above was brought home to me one evening. M is outgoing and extremely compassionate. She is a loyal friend and has befriended several of the other refugees.
One day she was late coming back from her Lane Community College English classes. She sent me a text saying one of her friends was sad. His Guatemalan son was graduating from high school that day, and he wasn’t there to congratulate and be with him. Naturally I told her to bring him home for dinner. They met up with another asylum seeker, and they all came and hung out in M’s room while I prepared the evening meal.
What I truly love as a sponsor is having many of these young people over for a good meal. Sitting around the kitchen table with the Spanish and English flowing, eating and laughing, truly warms my heart. I deeply love being in a diverse world. When M and her friends are here, I pinch myself because I believe I have gone to an enriching multicultural heaven.
Ordinarily, after finishing dinner, M’s Guatemalan friend gets out my husband’s guitar and plays a few of his own songs, and then M joins him for a rousing number of “Caravan Songs.” When they first told me about these songs, which the people on the Caravan wrote and sang while literally walking across the entire country of Mexico, I could feel my tears rising to the surface. Our president’s fear-inducing portrait of the Caravan as hordes of thugs and thieves just doesn’t gel with a large group of trekking, singing people.
But this night, instead of singing, we all sat longer at the kitchen table with our Guatemalan friend. We all listened to his words of despair. We all looked at pictures of his son dressed in his graduating gown, holding his certificate, standing proudly next to his mother.
Then this Guatemalan father stood up and pulled out his cell phone. We gathered round him. While at his sponsor’s house, he had gone into the bathroom with its good acoustics to make a video for his 16-year-old son. I stood behind him with my hand on his shoulder. In the video he carefully ran his hand through his hair, stood up straight and started movingly talking to his son.
Whether or not I understood the Spanish, I felt the emotion from this dear young man. After his words, he started singing to his son and as he sang, I continued to gently hug him and to cry. In my kitchen that evening, his earnest love for his son was palpable. He didn’t want to leave his son. He didn’t want to leave his country. His experienced abuse there forced him to seek safety. His country’s poverty made him want a better life for his family. His singing, his walking for months, his determined belief in a more humane world got him to walk into my living room and into my heart.
The sign in front of my house says:
In our America all people are equal
Black lives matter
Immigrants and refugees are welcome
Disabilities are respected
Women are in charge of their bodies
People and planet are valued over profit
Diversity is celebrated
Let us make it so! Let us not ask for refugees and immigrants to give up their cultures and languages but to acknowledge these added treasures. Let us understand that refugees and immigrants enrich rather than take away from our American lives. We are not a pot that melts but a pot that blends all into a delicious soup!
BOCAN (Oregon Community Asylum Network) is having a fundraiser with musician Chico Scwall plus Songs from the Caravan and an Asylum Seeker’s Testimony at the UU Church 7 pm Saturday, Jan. 25. All proceeds will go to benefit lawyer/bail/cost of living fees for the 12 asylum refugees brought from a Colorado detention center to Eugene. Victoria Koch has been a teacher working with at-risk youth and is currently a sponsor of a young Salvadoran asylum seeker.