by Max Ediger
A poem by Destinee Anderson begins:
You know my name not my story
You’ve heard what I have done,
Not what I have been through.
You see what I have become,
But not what I can do.
We know people’s name: refugee, illegal alien, illegal immigrant, undocumented immigrant. We give them these names so we can determine how we want to relate to them and if they will be acceptable in our community.
The problem with names like this is that there is no broadly accepted definition of them. We each build boxes for these names based on our own experiences, stereotypes, prejudices or biases. That is dangerous because when we name a large group of people in this way, we try to fit all of them into a specific box we have built, rather than look at each person individually.
For some, the name “illegal immigrant” means rapists, drug pushers, criminals or job-stealers. Naming a very large group of people as illegal immigrants then means we begin to see every one of them as dangerous to our way of life. It is not a big step to then move to hatred.
For some people the name “refugee” means people who are taking advantage of a troubling situation to resettle in another country.
However, each person, despite the name we give them, has a story and if we take the time to hear their story, we might see that they do not fit into the box we have built for them.
I recently met a Syrian woman who is trying to resettle in Australia with her two daughters. She was well-dressed, fluent in English and did not appear to be the typical refugee we see pictures of in the news. How easy it would be to assume that she is just taking advantage of the situation in Syria to find a new home in Australia.
However, listening to her story breaks open the box we may have placed her in, and she then becomes a sister to us. She related how she lost her husband and was left with two young daughters to care for. The bombing and terrorist attacks in Syria had a terrible effect on her and her daughters. She did not want them to leave the house for fear they would be abducted, yet she feared to stay in the house in case of a bombing raid on the neighborhood. One day there was a beheading in front of her house and then she knew it was imperative to leave her country for the safety of her daughters. Leaving was not easy for she had to leave behind relatives and a home she dearly loved. The future for her and her daughters is uncertain, but it is easier for her to deal with that uncertainty than it is to live in constant fear and terror.
Everyone has a name, but they also have a very important story and it is that story which defines them rather than the name we place on them. Take the time to listen to the stories of the people society has named as refugee, illegal immigrant, alien and undocumented immigrant. The will then have the name brother/sister.
Destinee Anderson ends her poem with these challenging words.
You don’t know how it feels
To be tired of being tired,
Or maybe you do.
So before you judge someone
Make sure you’re perfect because,
You know my name but not my story.