October 8, 2017

People : All Are Welcome

This weekend I went to a symposium called All Are Welcome, on supporting the health of immigrant children and families. From the panels of speakers and workshops, I learned several concrete ways to advocate for this community.  Equally valuable were the more abstract, less tangible sentiments and perspectives.  These made me remember the importance of creative thinking and openness to reframing how we view the things closest to us: our work, our language, our values.

To be honest, I thought the conference would emphasize the need to be sensitive to these vulnerable communities facing so much fear and hate, and I wasn't sure if this would be useful since I'm already sold on this being important.  But we're continually hardened by the day to day, making it more difficult to be malleable and absorb new things.  We get stuck in our framework, even if that framework is about being open.  So it's still very possible for smart, kind, passionate people to challenge us to widen ourselves.

There were several sentiments that pushed me and I found important, and wanted to share:

"Don't underestimate how hard it is to elicit the story." 
From Nick Nelson, a physician who cares for patients seeking asylum from countries where they have been abused and persecuted. He reminded me how much trauma is not visible, and how even after an intentional search and direct questioning, people don't always answer and inform in ways that we expect.  Someone responded that after twenty years of being her patient's primary care provider, she didn't feel like she would have missed this.  But I think it's very possible, and more likely than not, that we miss a lot.  That the onus is on us to keep asking questions and leaving space for untold stories for as long as you know someone.

"People don't yet perceive and understand the effect of trauma on people's ability to tell their stories."
From Jason Thompson, a clinical psychologist who studies resilience in youth from marginalized communities.  We often refer to patients who are unable to provide a clear narrative as "poor historians," a term more functional than descriptive or inclusive.  This reminds me again of our responsibility to hear more carefully, to look for pieces.  To re-scramble our own linear processes so that we can see experiences that are beyond us, that are often too unwieldy for those who actually experienced them.

"The original dreamers are not the young people; they were the parents and grandparents." 
From Bill Ong Hing, a lawyer and professor of immigration policy and race relations.  He refers to the recipients of DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals), undocumented immigrants who came to America as minors.  He finds issue with the argument that these people entered the U.S. "under no fault of their own," which implies that by contrast their families bear fault.  He argues instead that their families face phenomena beyond their control and aren't to blame for their movement. "These parents came here not for adventure. If given a real choice, they would have stayed home. They want to stay home.  They came because of violence, because of economic imbalance not created by them."  This really resonates with me.  I've believed for a long time that choice is qualified by the circumstances imposed on us, which necessitates a more careful way of considering volition and fault.

"What is our responsibility to the world?" 
From a student, on a sign in a classroom of the high school where the conference was held.  I loved that the conference took place in a high school, a time when our belief systems are starting to form.  It reminded me of the need to continue to ask these questions, and not to lose sight of the answers we developed when we were sixteen, even (especially) if the world is so much more complicated sixteen years later.

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