The past week has brought a constant stream of stories of people whose lives will have been forever changed by a policy that is ripping apart the families and children of asylum seekers…but this is not the first time actions taken by a government have had a dramatic impact on the personal histories of an entire group of people…and it’s not the first time that the United States government has implemented policies that have fostered lasting trauma.
During World War II, our government’s actions affected several generations of Japanese Americans forced into Internment Camps and denied entry to hundreds of Jewish refugees who had come on the MS St. Louis seeking asylum, sending them back to almost certain death in Nazi Germany. We built a cultural and emotional wall between Native American children and their parents by making the children attend boarding schools where they were forced to abandon tribal language and custom, and deprived of any emotional nurturing and support.
As I confront the traumatizing events that are happening currently and put them into the context of similar moments in our history, I ask myself who in my family has been through something like this. I do have an answer. I will not share it here, but it has profoundly affected the family member and loved ones. Perhaps you do too, but if even you are fortunate enough not to, I imagine you may have close relatives, friends, or neighbors whose lives have been altered by such events.
And if you have the honor of interviewing someone who has been through such an experience, you will have the chance to learn about the suppression of emotion, the sacrifice of joy, and the search for resilience that has been a necessary part of all these stories. You may discover the extra effort they have to make just to stay present with other people, to be able to ever let their guard down or be able to feel safe in day to day activities. You will also have the responsibility of preserving that story, so others might at least have the opportunity to learn from history and make a choice not to repeat it.