This week, my kids and I pulled on rain gear and headed into Portland at my kids’ witching hour. I ignored my better judgment that it was a terrible idea to go into public during the time when they’re usually screaming at the table because they want each other’s forks. The cause for throwing my caution to the wind: a candlelight vigil demonstrating our support for refugees.
I’m horrified that our federal government is upending this country’s foundational principle of welcoming people from overseas. Yet while an inclusive message is literally chiseled into our country’s most iconic symbol, America also has a long history of excluding people those in power deem to be too “other.”
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
My heart breaks for those who have been affected by President Trump’s immigration and refugee ban. I also fear for those who have already made it to the U.S., because despite living through harrowing circumstances to get here, they face an uncertain future—again.
So with these “tempest-tossed” individuals and families in mind, I pushed aside my comparatively minor anxieties around rain and low blood sugar-induced tantrums. My girls and I showed up at the vigil to demonstrate to everyone that we, too, say, “Refugees welcome here.”
Showing my kids justice—and injustice—in action
As we walked from the parking lot to the park where the candlelight vigil was being held, we stepped around a tent pitched on the sidewalk. Books, empty cans and a single shoe surrounded the temporary shelter.
“What’s that, Mama?” Peeper asked.
I took a breath. “Remember how we have talked about how some people don’t have homes?” I began. I reminded Peeper of the times we’ve given aid to people who are homeless and explained that someone was living there on the street because they had nowhere else to go.
Peeper remained quiet for a bit, which is why I’m certain she was digesting the information.
Then she let go of my hand, ran ahead and stomped in a puddle.
Raising warriors for justice doesn’t come right away; it develops in bits and pieces. Learning to fight for justice also requires children to realize what injustice looks like.
Someone behind us overheard our conversation.
“We have our own homegrown refugees, too,” she said. I nodded—and felt my heart simultaneously swell and constrict at the thought of all the work we have to do.
Joining families for justice
When we arrived in the park, I was overjoyed to see so many families. Babies in carriers, kids in strollers, children running through the field—I was proud to see so much family activism.
Kids carried handmade signs (I spied “We welcome everyone!” and “Welcome to your new home!” and “Refugees welcome here!”). They played catch with glow sticks in the dark. They waved as cars driving down Powell Boulevard honked in support.
We brought handmade signs, too, though I didn’t get to display them to passing cars; I was too busy following Kiwi and Peeper around. They sprinted through the muddy field and picked up fallen sticks. Then Peeper started playing with a boy about her age. They became instant friends in the way small children do, without knowing each other’s names but sensing they both wanted to play.
As I watched them chase each other with the flickering candlelight of my fellow demonstrators in the background, I thought that we adults could all stand to be more childlike.
Let’s be loud: Refugees welcome here
It’s absolutely reasonable to want to protect our country from terrorism and those who wish to do us harm. But a blanket ban on all refugees—the overwhelming majority of whom are the very “huddled masses” our Statue of Liberty promises to welcome—is hateful and unreasonable.
Where is compassion? Where is kindness? Where is love? Where are the foundational principles that helped form our country? Where is the basic recognition that refugees are human beings who simply want to live their lives in the pursuit of happiness, safety and freedom?
As I continue to advocate for the rights of refugees and immigrants, I’ll try to follow my daughters’ example. We don’t have to know someone’s name or where they come from; we don’t have to share the same skin tone or religion; we don’t even have to speak the same language. We can still recognize our common humanity and meet each other on common ground.
Just as Peeper and Kiwi made quick friends during the candlelight vigil to support refugees, we adults can shed some of our prejudices and reservations. We can all lift our voices to say, “Refugees welcome here.”