In 2015 I moved with my three babies from California to North Dakota to start a new job as a federal employee.
In August of 2015 my son entered 2nd grade in Bismarck, ND. He came home after his first day and with deep concern he says “Mom I don’t understand this school and the kids, they told me I’m welcome here because I’m white, but they made this boy in my class sit alone during recess because he looks brown.” With sadness I told him that was very unfortunate and regardless of color or nationality we treat all people the same with love and kindness. “Mom I want to go back to California, we have all colors there and no one cares what color you are”.
September 2015 I sat in a coffee shop in Bismarck, ND and listened in on some locals talk in horror of the possibility of refugees coming from Syria to Minnesota and North Dakota. They made comments like “What will happen to our nation?” “What will happen to our state?” “What will happen to our kids?” “They should die in their own country.” “Send them somewhere else.” “We don’t have room here.” “They will sneak ISIS personnel in.”
I just listened and wondered if they were right or not. Do we help out? Is everyone in Syria part of ISIS? Will they sneak in the bad?
In October 2015 my Army unit was activated to deploy. In May 2016 I boarded a plane with over 400 Soldiers to deploy to the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Yes, we trained leading up to the deployment, but in reality no one knew what to expect on the deployment. It wasn’t bad, it was a lot of hard work… but the experience… that was unforgettable.
In October 2016, five months into the deployment, I stood in line at a pizza/coffee shack (yes it was a shack) on a military base in the middle of Iraq. I got to the front of the line and the Iraq gentleman says “Madam we are closing”. I smiled and said “that’s alright, I should have came sooner”. He says “Madam you look so tired.” I laughed “I am, but I shouldn’t be, I have three kids back home, this should be nothing.” He smiled “let me put some pizza in for you and your friends and make you a Turkish coffee, it will wake you up.” I expressed my deep thanks for him staying late. Not knowing at this time what it meant for him to stay late.
The next morning I went back to the shop for more Turkish coffee (if you haven’t had one, find somewhere in the states that makes it). The same man smiled and asked me if I had talked to my kids last night. I explained I had not because by the time I got off work they were heading to school on the other side of the world and I’d have to stay up late tonight to talk to them when they got home from school. He says to me “yes I understand that”. He looked very sad. So, I sat down by the counter with my coffee and asked him if he had a family.
His story – “I have three kids and a wife. They live in India. We used to live together. Two years ago our town kept getting attacked. I sent my family away to be safe. I get to see them once a year. I stayed here because my aunt refused to leave and she owns a bakery, I didn’t want her to be alone. I was able to get a job on the military base helping the people who come from America to help us. I get up early every morning to come here and run this shop. I have to leave before dark or I can’t leave base and I have to sleep in my car.” I stopped him “last night when you stayed to make me coffee and pizza where did you sleep?” I asked. He responded “In my car, but it’s ok, you were sad and you needed some comfort and I understand that feeling.” He went on to say “You and I are the same, my family lives in India so they are safe, you come here from America to help defend our country, your family stays behind and waits for you to come home, I come back to serve coffee and food to those who come to protect our country.”
One year later in December 2017 we started reading a book to our three kids called “Refugee”. It’s a book about three kids that escape to America. One from Germany in the early 1900s. One from Cuba in the late 1900s. One from Syria in 2015. Last night we got to the part in the book where the little boy and his family from Syria had their entire house blown to pieces and they start to make their long journey to America. I had to pause every other word to try and maintain my composure wanting our kids to grasp every detail. But, all I could think of was my friend the barista from Iraq and his family and how they had to escape. In such a short time my knowledge of refugees from Syria went from not knowing if there were any good people left and wondering if the locals in the Bismarck coffee shop were indeed right to actually hearing first hand from a Iraq local and how his family had escaped.
I don’t blame anyone who thinks that refugees coming to the states is scary, they simply fear the unknown. I’m lucky to see and hear first hand. But, when in doubt think of this. America was founded in 1776. Refugees have been coming to America since then and continue to come. We are a diverse nation because we are not made up of one type of person or country but of all nationalities, backgrounds and cultures. Making us the best nation. We can’t stop now. America was built on freedom and will continue to be a place where those being mistreated can seek refuge.
- Chris Angle, Mother, Soldier, Veteran Advocate