Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Refugee Resettlement Syllabus

As we have launched Canopy NWA, many volunteers have asked for a refugee resettlement reading list. Quite a bit of contemporary fiction has been inspired by the migrant experience, so such a list could become quite long. If you're looking for a few holiday reads that will deepen both your empathy for the refugee experience, and your understanding of it and how to advocate for and with refugees, I recommend:

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which begins at the very end of the Vietnam war, and chronicles the refugee experience in what may be THE refugee novel so far of the 21st century. It won the Pulitzer Prize.

They Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration, by Stephen Bouman, which is not directly about the refugee experience, but is tremendous in understanding a theology of immigration and sanctuary from a Lutheran perspective. Makes a compelling case for the problems that have arisen in our nation when we began calling the undocumented "illegal."

The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience, by Mark Bixler. Bixler, a reporter, chronicles the resettlement of Lost Boys in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the best and clearest description of refugee resettlement I've ever read. It really helps potential volunteers understand their role.

Longing for Home: Forced Displacement and Postures of Hospitality, by M. Jan Holt. "Longing For Home offers a frame for understanding how communities can respond to refugees and various homeless populations by cultivating hospitality outside of their own comfort zones. This essential study addresses an urgent interreligious global concern and Holton’s thoughtful and compelling work offers a constructive model for a sustained practical response."

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Refugee Camps, by Ben Rawlence. Although many of us involved in refugee resettlement think about the experience once refugees arrive here in their "third" home, this book is direct description of refugee life in the camps.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson. Sometimes we forget that one of the most recent and major refugee crises happened within our own borders, with large portions of the African-American population in our country seeking refuge in northern cities.

Where the Wind Leads, by Vinh Chung. By a refugee, a memoir of his own experience entering the United States through Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and thriving in his new country.

Strangers at Our Door, by Zygmunt Bauman. "Today we find ourselves confronted with an extreme form of this historical dynamic, as our TV screens and newspapers are filled with accounts of a 'migration crisis', ostensibly overwhelming Europe and portending the collapse of our way of life. This anxious debate has given rise to a veritable 'moral panic' - a feeling of fear spreading among a large number of people that some evil threatens the well-being of society. 

In this short book Zygmunt Bauman analyses the origins, contours and impact of this moral panic - he dissects, in short, the present-day migration panic. He shows how politicians have exploited fears and anxieties that have become widespread, especially among those who have already lost so much - the disinherited and the poor. But he argues that the policy of mutual separation, of building walls rather than bridges, is misguided. It may bring some short-term reassurance but it is doomed to fail in the long run. We are faced with a crisis of humanity, and the only exit from this crisis is to recognize our growing interdependence as a species and to find new ways to live together in solidarity and cooperation, amidst strangers who may hold opinions and preferences different from our own."

A few more novels:

Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
What is the What, by Dave Eggers
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman (not a novel, but literary)

And for those looking for a biblical theology of refuge:

Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth
Or, just read Exodus, about Israel as refugee, or Matthew, about Jesus as refugee.

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