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Friday, June 18, 2004

Oshkosh Northwestern - Arrival of 15,000 Refugees in America - Celebrating the Death of America

Oshkosh Northwestern - Refugee arrival revisits America�s immigrant past
An important national event will happen this summer. It won’t happen overnight, like Fourth of July fireworks. It will be as memorable, however, for the refugees and local residents who will be involved.

Thousands of Hmong refugees from Laos will make the United States their home. One-fifth of the 15,000 coming to this country are expected to arrive in Wisconsin. Like the Cuban 1980 Mariel boatlift or the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, the arrivals will become a chapter in the nation’s immigration history. The appearance of these newcomers in 2004 should remind us of our immigrant past.

Already, a few cheap shots have been taken. Some say, why bring more people here? Why not use the resources on our own needs? Those are fairly selfish questions. They presuppose that all immigrants fall into a single category. That’s hardly the case with these immigrants. Knowing their background should help increase our sensitivity and avoid such callous comments.


In one way, our welcoming marks another moment of accepting accountability for our role in the Vietnam War. The CIA recruited Hmong for a secret army during the Vietnam War. The Hmong continued to fight communist-funded forces in the Laos jungles and many moved into Thailand to an unofficial refugee camp. It has been said that most of these people arrived between 1976 and 1980. That means many have spent 20 or more years in the camp.

The Hmong refugees’ arrival here also is a reflection of international politics finally doing something about their status as refugees. They must leave. They cannot stay. They aren’t going to Laos (a nation whose human rights abuses against the Hmong have kept it from normal trade relations with the United States).

Their welcome will include more than the $400 per person allotted them for their first 90 days here. Already, several social service organizations have met to discuss all the ways to help their adjustment into Winnebago County. Locally, that means the Winnebago County Health and Human Services, Catholic Charities, ADVOCAP, the Lake Winnebago Mutual Assistance Association and the United Way, among others. There is a spirit here to organize and make up where the dollars that come with refugee status cannot.

It’s important to recognize this organized effort. The work to prepare for the arrival of refugees speaks well of our abilities to organize and meet needs. We have sent local residents overseas to work in several countries where impoverished people live. Now, we will have several people in dire need of help come and live in our cities.

So, let’s be mindful in the months ahead. Let’s think of what people who have lacked a home for almost 30 years are experiencing. Let’s be aware that in America life moves faster than in a refugee camp. Let’s get involved with the agencies mentioned above and offer to show newcomers the brand of hospitality that seems to draw people here.

In doing this, we are bound to have more than a unique life experience. We will learn something about ourselves.

In these Hmong refugees are the essence of our American roots. Their faces could be those of our parents and grandparents. The difference will be the country of origin and the year – and almost 30 years spent waiting to come here.

The Final Thought: Thousands of Hmong refugees coming to Wisconsin should remind our nation of its immigrant roots.

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