September 02, 2005

American Refugees

When was the last time that masses of Americans were refugees within the borders of the United States? I would imagine it was during the Civil War.

The other night on “Nightline” a reporter used the word “refugees” to describe the people fleeing the Gulf Coast, and Ted Koppel questioned him about the word choice. Had he used “refugees” carefully to distinguish them from mere evacuees or hurricane victims? Yes, the reporter said, he had used the word deliberately. He had covered refugee situations around the world, and the current crisis meets the conditions in its scale and its emotionally and physically dislocating impact.

Yesterday afternoon, picking up the kids at school, I saw a father rush up to the principal and say, “I’ve got two sisters who are refugees, and they’ve got daughters in first grade.” Would the children be allowed to enter our elementary school, the father wanted to know? Of course, no problem, the principal assured him.

Last night I got a mass email from a friend here in Austin, asking if anyone knew of a place where two of her friends from New Orleans could live for several months. Actually two places – the New Orleans couple are the separated coparents of a child, And they have three golden retrievers.

A population shift involving at least a million people over a period of days, weeks.

I have a dreadful feeling that this is the beginning of a new phase of the American experience.