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|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|May 1, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 19
There's no place like home
by Patrica Lynn Morrison, managing editor of NCR
To drive, or better, walk along Chicago's Devon and Milwaukee avenues is like a trip through the United Nations. Along Devon Avenue the languages and cultures change almost by the block. Signs in Hebrew are seen, then Chinese, Arabic, Urdu, Swahili, as the muliticultural mosaic unfolds. Along stretches of Milwaukee Avenue, home to the largest Polish community outside Warsaw, the signs in Eastern European restaurants and shops are gradually give way to Spanish, first Mexican and then Central American, as more and more people settle here from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It's not uncommon for a sign in Polish announcing an attorney's or doctor's practice to have another propped in the window: Se Habla Español.
Last Spring I was visiting a favorite store on Milwaukee Avenue. As I waited at a corner for the light to change, I couldn't help but notice the colorful group of people clustered there, some waiting for a bus, some just congregating in Old World style to chat. There were Polish women in their babushkas, two raven-haired Latino women with young children in tow, Eastern European Muslim women, and an elderly man in a worn suit jacket. Suddenly, the man was at my side, speaking in plaintive tones in a language I didn't understand. He touched my arm, then started gently stroking my sweater. His eyes were filled with tears.
Just then a young woman appeared at his side. "He's from Turkey," she said. "He thinks you are too." Why would he think that, I asked? "Your sweater. It's a Turkish design, very common in his country." I had never been to Turkey, but I remembered that indeed my pullover had. The sweater was bright and colorful, and on sale. As I always do, I looked at the tag for the country of origin. It was made in Turkey.
The man continued to stroke my sleeve. The young woman continued his story. He had come here a few years ago with his wife, but she had died. He had no more family in America, and he hadn't made any connections with the Turkish community. I -- more accurately, my sweater -- was the closest thing to "home" he'd seen in a long time.
I muttered something about my Turkish sweater being very beautiful as I was sure his country was and that I hoped he would be happy in America. Then, feeling awkward for intruding on his private loneliness, I went on my way.
I often think about the old man and the millions of people like him around the globe. How difficult it must be to be uprooted from your home, from your language, from all that is familiar, and forced to live somewhere else -- even when that somewhere is America, the object of their dreams.
At this writing, according to the United Nations High Command for Refugees, there are approximately 14.5 million refugees or displaced persons on our planet. According to UNHCR, that doesn't include some 3.8 million Palestinians, who are under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works agency. That number also doesn't count "asylum seekers, certain groups of internally displaced people, stateless persons and others affected by war and conflict."
For many refugees, fleeing to another nation is a new beginning. For the majority, however, it is just a step further into deep poverty, into a perennial state of disenfranchisement, a limbo state of limited or no rights and never quite "fitting in."
"There's no place like home," declared Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Millions of the world's peoples share her sentiment. But in their case, there's no clicking the ruby slippers to magically transport them back -- to bring them home.
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