"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mary Pipher: First Pages, Drowned Children, Trains and Numbers

I'm starting this blog post before I go to campus to teach my second section of 990/1200/1201 because it feels important, because I'm on my second pot of tea and trying to clear cobwebs from my brain and an anvil on my chest.

Yesterday, we started talking about Mary Pipher's book The Middle of Everywhere, about refugees in Lincoln, Nebraska, and even though it came out nearly fifteen years ago, it still feels familiar, especially in my new Twin Cities home where refugees have also been rehomed. I've been watching discussions in my former home of Fargo/Moorhead, where officials are working to rehome 250-some refugees and F/M objecting, for reasons that are stupid and xenophobic. We're talking about literacy in my classes, how what we consider literacy changes from one context to the next, how we think of ourselves and what we know as important.

Yesterday, our discussion was relatively benign. We started with a free writing: this book is now fairly old. Is it still relevant? How should we think about it?

We acknowledged current inflammatory rhetoric about immigration.

In our small group discussions, one of the questions I posed to one of the groups was what is our responsibility to refugees? What is the responsibility of the government? What is the responsibility of charities, like Lutheran Social Services, who are working so hard with refugees in Fargo/Moorhead? Years ago, my sister worked for The Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis, taking statements from Liberian refugees for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Many of my students are Liberian.

Today, I'm about to repeat the same discussion over the same material with a different group of students, but the divide between yesterday and today is immense.

Yesterday, the photograph of the tiny Syrian boy named Aylan, drowned and washed up on a beach, splashed across all of my news sites and my social media. It achieved what it was meant to: I saw my nephew in that boy and I can't rid myself of that image. I don't consider myself to be overly emotional, but I don't even know if I can form vocalizations to talk about that in class today. And yet, I need to find a way.

Yesterday, I saw an article about Czech police stopping trains of migrants: "Pictures in Czech media showed police officers writing registration numbers on the wrists and arms of migrants with permanent marker pens, while the refugees themselves told reporters they were travelling from Budapest, had purchased valid train tickets and were allowed to board by police in Hungary." 

Yesterday, I saw a photograph of a boat filled with people and the caption: "If you want to stop refugees from Syria, Iran, and Iraq, quit bombing their homes."

Yesterday, I saw an article about Iceland wanting to increase the number of refugees it allows into the country, with quotes from citizens about wanting to take refugees into their homes.

Today, when I ask my students what is our responsibility to refugees, it won't be benign.

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