Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Or, Happy New Year! The lovely thing about the lunar new year, called "Tet" in Vietnam, is the second chance it offers to those of us who celebrated the solar new year on Jan. 1 and have been less than pleased with occurrences during the month that followed.

'Tis the Year of the Rooster --- Chinese zodiac signs revolve during 12-year cycles through the lunar new year process. I'm excessively fond of chickens; it's a propitious sign.

The card, manufactured in China no doubt, came from a shop in Las Vegas and, with its companions, was darned expensive. So I only distributed three --- and kept this one for myself and to share.

If I thought about it long enough, I could come up with the year that George and I marked the first day of Tet by sharing a celebratory supper with the Nguyen family in their apartment above the family beauty shop somewhere in or near the Cholon district of what then was Saigon.

The most rewarding part of that long-ago year was interacting with the Vietnamese civilian and military types we worked with in a "combined" center where Americans were outnumbered six to one, or something like that.

Returning to the United States, quite a number of those I'd worked with there arrived as refugees here after Saigon, and Vietnam, fell. None ended up in Iowa, so far as I know, but under the prophetic leadership of Republican Gov. Robert D. Ray, thousands of refugees did. The Tai Dam in 1975; others, commencing in 1979.

During the early 1980s, it was an incredible honor to serve as co-sponsor --- with several others --- of the Luangnikone family, forced to flee their native Laos. So long as I live I'll never forget meeting these wonderful people, fresh from a Thai refugee camp and newly equipped with cold weather gear, at the airport in Minneapolis on a freezing winter day.

There were those who objected, of course --- "they'll take our jobs," "they're 'foreign'," "they're not Christian." But until quite recently Iowans continued to open their arms to refugees --- Sudanese, Burmese and more. And they have enriched us, as have all the immigrant groups who have found a home here since the 1830s.

That's no longer the case and controlled by fear, facilitating hate, we've become preoccupied with turning away desperate refugees from Syria and elsewhere, building walls between ourselves and our neighbors to the south.

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day and among the items I looked at was a video clip of a good-old-boy Texas politician, speaking during the 1930s as the "America first" crowd was growing in size and strength, denouncing proposals to ease immigration restrictions on Jews fleeing the Nazi regime. His counterproposal was to deport immigrants then living in the United States who were "taking our jobs" and, in his view, had caused the Great Depression.

It's often said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Others add, those who remember history are doomed to watch the repetition.

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