Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories

Archive for June 2018

An Outing to the Zoo

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As I have been watching the families at the border, I have remembered also that I spent several years in St. Louis volunteering at the International Institute. The refugee organization was generous to me, and I gained far more than I gave in assisting people in English classes, and in working with a social program for Amerasian teens from Vietnam. It was the early 90s, and most of the refugees then were from Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, and Ethiopia.

I remember in St. Louis that the area around South Grand was an area where many of the families I met lived. For most of my life, I knew these areas as German (though my own family lived in North St. Louis), but the change was good. My family came under some hardship, but nothing like the trauma that the families I met at the International Institute.

Once, I helped a man to translate course certificates from an IBM course. The certificate was in French, and the man told me that he once spoke French as much as he spoke Vietnamese, but he could not remember now, and hardly remembering the programming had learned in those early days, a different time. But still, a certificate could make a difference for him.

A couple worked with me on conversation. They were former Soviets, and the man–an engineer–drove a taxi and complained, and resented that his wife (a patient woman) was learning English far faster than he was.

I worked with the teen program, but it was hard. The kids did not want to do “refugee things”, and preferred hanging out and enjoying normal American teenage life. I couldn’t blame them. And because all of them were their families’ tickets to refugee status–children of Vietnamese woman and American soldiers–they had even more reason to grasp tightly to their new country.

One day, a very cold day, I went to pick up my teen partner for a trip to the St. Louis Zoo. When I arrived, though, she was gone. Instead, I found her mother and four-year-old half sister bundled to the best of their abilities, and ready to go.

So we went. It was incredibly cold, though, but in the trunk of my car I had two extra pairs of mittens that my mom had knitted for me. We were warm enough now, and crossed past the bears (only a polar bear was out where we could see him). We looked to some of the enclosed exhibits, still, the reptiles. As we wandered, the mother began to see animals she remembered from Vietnam, and she started to talk about her country, and her past.

She told me that she could not remember her daughter’s father’s name. She tried and tried, but so much had happened. She told me of her house in the mountains, and of her other child, the one she begged not to cry, so they would not be found. She told me of the fire they set to her house in the mountains, and running, running with nowhere to go. She told me of the kind Vietnamese man who accepted her–he came to  the US with her, and he was the father of the little girl who went to the zoo with us that day.

At the end, I didn’t know what to do. I drove the family home, and they left–wearing my mom’s mittens. I never asked for them back, and I never told my mom, either. But I think that she would have been happy to know that they had them now.

I’m not sure what happened to the family, but the last time I was with them, they were working hard, and had moved to a nicer apartment.

That day changed my life.

I have thought about many of the people I met then, people who had fled horrific hardships to come to our country, to have a better chance. We all must know many of the immigrants who come here with their dreams and their ambitions, who give up everything for the sake of their families. I think of the incredibly educated, sage scholars who worked in ordinary jobs in car plants (like my sister-in-law’s father, an art history professor working for GM).

I think of my own friends, literature students who came because coming to the US was the way to succeed. I think of the richness of our diversity, the music and food and art and texture of cultures, and I admit to falling silent in despair in the face of hatred to all these things that I love. I have not always been proud of the aggressions of the US–hard to argue that many of the refugees I met suffered in their own countries because of us. But in my life, I was often also encouraged as I saw us change, grow, love.

I want to think we can find this in our hearts again. Our biggest danger comes as we harden souls by torturing children, by pushing away those who need our shelter, by giving even more power to greed.

Written by Only Anecdotal

21 Jun 2018 at 6:56pm

Reminders

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Today was the first pickup day at Stearns Farm. I had completely forgotten how I had grown to love garlic scapes last year, but there they were, reminding me of how glorious they are!

Stearns Farm is a beautiful CSA in northern Framingham. I first knew of the farm from the mother of one of my daughter’s preschool friends, way back when. These friends lived on a nearby street, and told me all about the lovely flowers available there. I drove by several times, and then saw the opportunity to work for a share. It was the perfect opportunity for my son at the time, and I quickly fell in love with the community there. We joined as paying members last year, and bought in early this year.

Now, the vegetables and herbs and flowers and occasional berries are a highlight of my week. But even more precious to me are the gems of moments that have often caught me off guard. Last year, I recognized an old neighbor. I loved chatting with people: people working, people picking out their weekly share. And today, a woman called out to me, by name. She knew me, and reminded me of how we met.

I was working at the time as Options Counselor, in the position that originally inspired the creation of this blog. The woman told me that I had visited her aunt–it must have been over five years ago. Somehow, she knew my name, and remembered what I had said, and I remembered her face, and her kindness. I also remembered her aunt–who is doing well now, I am happy to say.

I do miss that work. I miss the job at the Consulate, too. I miss working (“working”) where I can not only interact with people, but where I can actually make a difference in their lives. It sounds trite. But I thrive where I can work through bureaucratic details in systems that in all their stupid awkwardness really are designed to make life better for people–as hard as they make it for anyone to figure out how. Figuring out how is my forté.  Most of all, I miss hearing people’s stories, and understanding what they need to fulfill their dreams, or just to live a beautifully ordinary sort of life. It was creative work, or I could think of it in creative ways as I cleared the brush and wove a way through the labyrinthine rules and structures of resources. When I felt an injustice could be remedied, I wrote about it–often, here–or I spoke about it, publicly. I always felt that naming a right makes it real: and something real to fight for. I felt honored by the trust and love in our communities, the individual people who both needed help and wanted to give it.

It is easy to wax poetic about work in the disability field, and the privilege to be paid for good work, with others working for human rights. When there were not enough resources for the many individuals I met, though, it was very hard to stay upbeat. When I could not manage financially for my family on the income I earned, it was even harder. The lack of possibilities to earn a sustainable iliving is exactly what made me leave that work.

So, I left. But every so often, in a grocery store, in the library, at Stearns Farm, I run into someone who knew me then, and I am reminded that there is a bigger world that loves beyond the greed and horrors we see so often in our society now. I am inspired to work toward this love, to love more, and to find a way to survive while doing it.

I write now to return to this generosity, to fuel it, and to remind myself that it is the most important thing I can do in my life right now.

 

Written by Only Anecdotal

19 Jun 2018 at 6:00pm