Departure does not mean indifference. Leaving a place does not indicating an absence of love, a desire for distance never to be lessened again. Quite opposite sentiments may be at play. Indeed, it is an aversion to the circumstances, not the place itself, that drives many migrations. A draw for different conditions pulls a person somewhere else though in many cases, that draw is their only viable choice, the alternative resulting in a life of hardship or a life cut short.
In this way, refugees may be a part of the phenomenon Richard Weil refers to as a quiet migration. His article, International Adoptions: The Quiet Migration refers to the lack of voice many adoptees have in the conditions of their migration, often from east to west, due to their young age. In many cases, it can be said refugees are granted equally little say; immigrants are seen leaving their homes and everything they have ever known in countries across the globe to seek better circumstances, and in the most extreme cases seek safety from the very real possibility of death. Drones, shrapnel, rubble, gunfire and more plague those living in Syria through the brutal conflict there. Their choices are minimal to nonexistent. Leaving means saving their lives.
Similarly among refugees and participant adoptees in Weil’s quiet migration is grappling with a separation between self and what defines home and life as they know it. For young adoptees, realization of this trauma may come later- if at all- but the refugees we see today live with it in a very real present. Culture shock among anthropologists is common even after they have had time, forewarning, research, and entered into a vastly different lifestyle willingly.
Flight from a homeland, however, carries greater desperation and gravity, and what equates home exactly may be carried only in their hearts, only to be worn away at like water over rocks until the familiar form of their practices and life are reshaped into something unrecognizable and much smaller. Smaller. Smoother. More comfortable for outside individuals and to handle.
The ideas of comfort and conformity cannot be ignored in such discussions of the immigrant and refugee experiences. Migration patterns across human memory show many ethnicities shuffled around the globe, making many continents, countries, cities, people a patchwork of existences. As such, really, the world is a melting pot and salad bowl alike; many just do not remember or have not learned this. There is a spectrum, however, of how people preserve their life back home, how they carry that home with them. Depending on their new place of residence, they may openly carry and express their previous life, now free of death hanging over them like a metal, fiery reaper.
Thus, pockets of continuations of their lifestyle form in their adoptive land. Some, however, assimilate completely- willingly and gladly, mournfully and forcibly, everything in between. And others still let form something new, a subtle, unique blend of then and now, there and here, them and I. The final product is something other refugees may relate to, though no two will be quite identical, in their similar approaches to dealing with the path life has forged for them.
Ultimately, the migration experience is one effused with the idea of choice, both its absence and presence wherever it can be made. Choice grants autonomy once more to people displaced from the land they were born to, that they may harbor love for even as circumstances- driven by forces both domestic and foreign- drive them away. It is no easy thing to consider a home that was yours that you cannot stay in for a time, for the rest of your life.
Little sources of comfort are reminders that the land itself is not a native proponent of instability, that the skies above it do not naturally darken with the shadows of drones, that the water that runs through it is not red by its own volition. The actions of others brought this on into the homes of the peaceful, blotting crimson what was emerald, azure, yellow, violent, the spectrum of life people previously used to express themselves and their culture. A foreign crimson stains where there had been a sacred scarlet; bloodstains drawn by the mighty few attempt to mar what that land’s citizens would celebrate in peaceful revelry, going about their lives if only circumstances would allow them.
A land is not its government; it is its people. And those loyal, bedraggled children of a loving but wearied homeland are becoming dispersed and continue what they can, if they so choose. On this World Refugee Day 2018, not everyone across the globe is a refugee, but all have someone- either in the present or back through their ancestry- who was forced to be torn from all they knew to find something safer.
In their honor, and especially in honor of those fleeing uncertainty and fear and death today, remember the warmth you would want to be welcomed with, and address refugees with such an embrace; give them something to help offset all that was robbed from them. Such a gesture, the embrace of another simply to help another feel welcome, cannot heal everything, but it can stem the bleeding of a broken, displaced heart to help that strong force of life reorient itself again.
Originally published at https://www.theodysseyonline.com on June 20, 2018.