In 1982, I was a student aid for a 10th grade English class. I was sixteen and the class members were a year or two younger. For one assignment, they had to write about a personal experience to be read in front of the class.
One young lady got up, with the teacher’s encouragement, and began to read in clear, but accented English. She was Vietnamese. A few years previously, she had fled her country on a small boat with many other people. Out at sea, they were overtaken by another boat. The men came aboard and asked which of the women were not married. All the single women quickly paired up with the available men, but there was one girl left over. She was taken by the strangers and raped. The rest of them had all their money and jewelry taken and then abandoned on a small island with little food or water. They were eventually rescued by a fishing boat.
I don’t remember how she managed to get to the US, most of us in the class were shocked or in tears, but we clapped when she finished. To hear her speak in her soft, calm voice, and see such courage and strength in someone our own age, was incredible. And sobering. What were you doing when you were thirteen, while this young woman was struggling to survive?
Hers was one story. There were hundreds of thousands more, many of them even more horrific. And now it’s happening all over again, along with the arguments against giving them refuge among us. I was young, that first time, and I didn’t understand when I heard adults talking about the ‘Boat People’. But then I heard one girl’s story and that’s all that mattered.
Please, let’s learn from our past. You can try to close your eyes and ears, but the stories will only get worse. And when your child hears one and asks why it had to happen, why we didn’t do anything, what will you tell them? We have a second chance. Let’s share it with people who desperately need one.