My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
I dreamt of you boys last night. I hope everything is OK. I miss you, and wish with all my heart you could be here. Life doesn’t have to be as hard we make it in America. We are not a happy lot.
We claim to be free, and to let people live as they wish. But, it’s a lie. We judge — harshly, at times. We shun and ridicule those unlike ourselves, those who do not follow the herd. That’s not right.
Be kind. Try to understand another before you judge him or her. Now, understand off the bat that I am not talking about situations where there is risk to life and limb. If I am walking down a quiet street and see a gang of rough looking characters (wearing chains, low-slung pants, ripped t-shirts, and otherwise looking unsavory), regardless of their skin color and intellect, I would cross the street to get away from them. Their choice of clothing and presentation tells me they are not a genteel lot. Heed such warnings.
However, if in a normal course of life, you should find yourself standing next to a stranger, and if there no danger is present, try to get to know the person before you judge. Maybe his clothes are rumpled because he had to spend the night at Gramma’s house last night because his dad had to work late, not because he is lazy and messy. Maybe that kid took two cookies at the school birthday party (instead of one as requested) because his family is poor and he didn’t have dinner last night. (One in five children do not have enough food to eat, http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger/child-hunger-fact-sheet.html.) He is not a bad person because he is poor. It is a matter of circumstance and misfortune that he wasn’t born into a wealthier family. Likewise, just because someone comes from a wealthy family and dresses well does not mean he is a good person. The quality of person has nothing to do with his wealth, or lack of it. Never confuse character or class with wealthy. One has nothing to do with another.
Be kind. Unless there are risks involved, try not to judge. As Atticus said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I learned that lesson years ago when I first started working with refugees. The letters we received at the non-profit organization I volunteered with told stories unfathomable cruelty and unimaginable misery. We were shocked and dismayed that individuals who had suffered thusly were being denied protection as refugees by the international community. From the perspective of the asylum seekers, the system failed them.
However, after spending a year overseas volunteering with another non-profit organization that helped refugees, I gained a fuller understanding of the situation. I discovered the system was flawed but the asylum seekers were not without fault.
International law protects those who fled their countries because they were persecuted, or have a well-founded fear of persecution, by their government because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees. Thus, international law does not protect those who fled because of poverty, abuses by bad neighbors, etc.
A mechanism was designed by the international community to screen out those who do not satisfy the legal definition of a refugee. The asylum seekers — who had spent what little fortune they had and who had risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to seek better circumstances for themselves — feared a poor return on their investment. Thus, many took to embellishing their stories to enhance their chances of gaining recognition as refugees. These embellishments, in turn, caused the government agents who screened the refugee claims to heighten their scrutiny and, sometimes, raise the bar for refugee status. Thus, began the death dance that killed the real refugees, the ones meant to be protected by the international legal system.
Until I considered things from the perspectives of the immigration officers, I didn’t understand all that. When I was in the U.S. and heard only the perspective of the asylum seekers, it was easy to think ill of government officials as cold-hearted and callous. Only after I immersed myself in the refugee situation and worked daily with both refugees and government officials was I able to fully understand the challenges faced by all parties involved — the government officials trying to discharge their official duties and the asylum seekers trying to assert their rights.
(Mind you, I am neither saying the system was sound nor all government officials were good. The screening system was deeply flawed and some immigration officials were simply cruel. The system, for example, had the Hong Kongnese immigration official — who is Chinese — ask the Vietnamese asylum seeker questions in Chinese. The questions were then translated into Vietnamese by an interpreter [who may or may not be any good]. The asylum seeker responded in Vietnamese. This was then translated into Chinese for the immigration officer. He then jotted down his handwritten notes — in English — of what he was told the Vietnamese asylum seeker had said in Vietnamese in response to his question, which was asked in Chinese. [English was the official language of Hong Kong at the time because it was a British colony.] Yes, it was worst then the Telephone Game of our youth. To make matters even worse, the Hong Kong Immigration Department refused to audio- or video-tape the interviews. Thus, there were no accurate records or transcripts of the interviews. Even assuming the translations were perfect [an improbably assumption given the poor quality of a number of translators], there was nothing to stop an immigration officer from selectively taking notes only of adverse “facts” that resulted in the denial of refugee status in order to satisfy the government’s prediction and assertion that only 10 percent of the 44,000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong were refugees and the remainder economic migrants. Yes, that was a severely flawed system.)
It’s a mess, but that is the point, isn’t it? Life is messy. Don’t judge until you understand. First, try to understand. As Atticus said, you’d get along with all sort of people if you first tried to understand them.
All my love, always,