Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Random Acts of Humanity

Five random recent news accounts tell a very different story about immigrants, including refugees from Syria and Somalia, than the storyline lurking behind the Trump administration travel ban.

Many refugees know a lot about terror, which they have survived, and terrorists, from whom they are trying to escape. Syrian and Somali refugees also have sought refuge from their own national governments, which have bombed them, jailed them and reduced them to poverty.

Here are their stories:

Story 1
Garden City, Kansas has bucked the trend of rural decline. It consciously decided to welcome immigrants, many from Somalia, to fill job openings, houses and restaurant seats in a small town in the middle of America’s heartland.

According to the last Census, 60 percent of the town’s 27,000 residents are non-white and are native speakers in 27 languages other than English.

gardencitySister Janice Thome told NPR how Garden City leaders looked at other rural, farm-dependent communities that had become dusty ghost towns and chose a different path. They chose to welcome immigrants, including from the Muslim faith, to fill the voids, which often are jobs no one else wants.

Thome said Garden City residents decided their new neighbors would be a blessing, not a curse. By all estimates, Garden City is hardly a ghost town.

Story 2
GOP pollster Frank Luntz tweeted about Pew Research findings showing first-generation immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans.

syrian-refugee-familyPerhaps ironically, second-generation immigrants have crime rates more comparable to native-born Americans, which Pew called the “Dark side of assimilation.”

Pew is not the first researcher to discover “second-generation immigrants have become more like the typical American, both in positive and negative ways.” Their home ownership rates are similar, and so are there transgressions with the law. You might say, it only takes a generation for immigrants to become real Americans.

victor_g-_atiyeh_2012In Oregon, second-generation Syrian immigrant Vic Atiyeh was elected governor. He was a Republican,

Story 3
A Somali refugee family, after living in a Kenyan resettlement camp, found their way to Jefferson, Oregon. The Ibrahim family boasts eight children. The oldest four brothers learned to play basketball and have helped this rural high school for from a one-win season to a conference contender.

“Definitely their story is amazing, and people probably can’t relate to what they’ve been through,”says Coach Nate Neuschwander.” I know the community loves them. People here have their backs and are super glad they’re here.”

636217483406749864-uscpcent02-6tia35vvleq1n0ysdbh5-original“I think like everybody wants to get the chance,” explains Abdi Ibrahim, a sophomore. “Refugees, all they want is to have freedom, to have a good life just like we wanted. That’s all they want. They’re not coming here to do some bad things and stuff like that.”

When the Ibrahim brothers are on the basketball court, they don’t think about Somalia, terrorism or President Trump. They just think about improving their jump shots.

Story 4
Joe Estill is a red-blooded capitalist. He also has a warm heart. When he saw a picture of a dead Syrian infant face down on the beach, it got his blood burning and his heart thumping.

estill-sponsors-refugee-familiesHe put the equivalent of $1.1 million on the table to bring to resettle more than 50 Syrian families – some 250 people – in a university town where they could rebuild their lives and live without the threat of terror. He wanted to give these people, who had seen their homes pulverized, a picture of hope.

Despite his duties as CEO of his company, Estill stands for hours at the airport waiting for the Syrian families he is sponsoring to arrive. He wants to be the first person to greet them and welcome them to their new home.

After their airport greeting, the families are shuttled to their apartments, which Estill has arranged. He also provides for Arabic-speaking mentors and mentors to teach the new arrivals English. And he finds temporary jobs and, in some cases, finances new business ventures for immigrants who owned businesses in Syria before the barrel bombs fell.

The only thing radical about all this is how quickly the immigrant embrace their new country. As Ahmad Abad explained to a CBS reporter when asked about the lapel pin he wore proudly, “I love this country. I promised God and myself I’m going to be very good to this country. Like she protects me. I protect her.”

The lapel pin Abad bears on his chest is the Canadian flag.

Story 5
Last weekend was the 75th anniversary of a second day of infamy when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, citing national security, order the internment of 100,000 Japanese-Americans.

History sadly told us the action was out of gear, not fact. Families, many of whom sent sons into battle under the American flag, lost homes and businesses.

“It was the result of race, prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership,” said Lynn Fuchigami, head of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, of executive order 9066. “So today, more than ever, we must remember and never forget, and stand up for everyone’s rights. What happens to one person happens to all of us.”

In fact, thousands of Americans of German and Italian descent also were detained.

neveragainSo, it is fitting that the Japanese Americans who gathered in Portland to mark the anniversary of their ancestral internment channeled their emotions into a hashtag – #NeverAgain.

How soon never comes around again.



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