Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Fall of Saigon and Forced Migration

On this day 40 years ago, the last helicopters left Saigon.  I've been listening to a week of commemorations; I particularly enjoyed this episode of On Point about April 29 and 30, 1975, as the U.S. did its final exit from the capital city; troops were already gone.  Even though I heard this story about Operation Babylift days ago, my thoughts return to those airlifted children, many of them Vietnamese orphans.

I love this stories about how humans try to do the right thing, and how these efforts sometimes actually do work out.  One of the people interviewed for the story was a child who was evacuated; he has gone on to engineer planes for Boeing.  Obviously, if he had been left to his fate as an orphan in Vietnam, his story would have ended very differently.

I think of those children who were evacuated, how they were similar ages to me and my sister.  We were born in 1965 and 1970.  But unlike those evacuated children, I don't have many memories of the war.

It's interesting to think, as I so often do, about how these wars and various conflicts, motivate migration.  I heard one of the commentators talk about getting on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon and looking down at the sea below.  He saw all those tiny boats, people fleeing in any way they could.

I have more memories of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees than I do Vietnam vets.  The churches of my youth were always helping to resettle refugees.  The churches of my adulthood are not doing that activity, at least, not as openly.

In fact, as I look around, I'm not seeing anyone with similar commitments to resettling refugees these days.  Perhaps that's a good thing.  We often hear the success stories of resettled refugees.  I suspect there are plenty of untold stories of resettled refugees who never successfully make the transition.

I now live in South Florida, home to many refugees.  When I first started teaching down here in a local community college, I was sobered by how many of my students came to this country as children fleeing the wars and horrors in Central America.  And of course, there were the children and grandchildren of refugees who fled Cuba.

Perhaps I'd have a different view if I lived in Spain or Italy and saw significant numbers of refugees coming from various war-torn places in Africa and the Middle East.  But in the U.S., right now, I don't see as many waves of people coming here.

I want to believe it's because we live in more peaceful times.  But that's simply not true.  We still see people drowning when their overpacked boats sink.  But this year, they're drowning in a different sea.

On this day, as we observe the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, let us pause to pray for all of those displaced by war and violence.  Let us pray for the day that humans can stay in their homes.  Let us pray for a day when nobody has to flee in terror with only the clothes they are wearing.

No comments: