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(308 Stories)

Prompted By Refugees

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The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is heartbreaking as millions flee their homes and we watch helplessly on the TV news.

At the turn of the 20th century,  with the Jewish influx of the time,  both my maternal and paternal grandparents emigrated to the States from Eastern Europe,  my father’s parents from Ukraine.

They all came as young adults seeking opportunities for a better life and they studied and worked hard,  and raised their children with a sense of security and an American identity.

But decades later in 1930s Europe my husband D’s parents caught up in the Nazi horror had quite a different story.  His parents,  aunts,  and uncles fled their homelands as refugees – in some cases with barely the clothes on their back.  They left behind friends and relatives they feared they’d never see again.  (See Family Photo and Tracing Our Roots)

D’s parents went first to Bolivia where he was born,  and several years later came to the States.  Raised in a multi-lingual home D speaks several languages.  (For a light-hearted look at his language skills and my lack thereof see Parlez-vous Francais.)

And always sensitive to others who are foreign-born,  D often surprises and delights them by speaking their language and knowing the history and geography of their homelands.

And of course save for Native Americans,  we’re all immigrants or refugees,  even if the migration happened generations ago.  And along the way all our families may have known heartache and struggle and loss,  and all surely have stories to tell.

Early one recent sunny morning I was scheduled for an outpatient medical procedure and a Pakistani-American cabbie drove me crosstown to the Manhattan hospital.

At the hospital an African-American receptionist admitted me and did the paperwork,  a Filipino-American tech took my history and vitals,  and a Dominican-American nurse prepped me and wheeled me to the OR.

Then an Israeli-American anesthesiologist put me out,  and an Asian-American doctor performed the procedure.

In the recovery room a Polish-American nurse woke me, helped me dress,  and brought me juice and cookies.   And then my South American-born husband picked me up and brought me home.

I know our own refugee stories,  but I can only imagine the stories of the men and women whose paths crossed mine on that sunny morning in New York.

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Not surprisingly, Dana, we have very similar background stories. And I absolutely loved your outpatient story! It just says so much and reminds me why I (subject to COVID and crazy guys with guns) still love being on the NY subways and looking around at so many of us from different backgrounds all in the same subway car. It also reminds me of that great line from “Hamilton:” “Immigrants get it done!”

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love your description of the polyglot of people you encountered on your way in and out of surgery that morning, Dana. You are correct – very few of us are truly native born to this continent. I fervently wish that we could all get over ourselves, but unlearning racial and ethnic prejudices is so difficult. And only getting worse with the Twitter trolls fanning the flames and the leaders starting in 2016 heating up the rhetoric.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    A beautiful description of our common refugee and immigration histories, so much of which remains unknown to others. And important acknowledgment of the settler history of the Americas, where indigenous people were made refugees in their own land, and not to mention displaced persons in servitude. With so much in common, it is distressing that people manage to seize upon differences to cause further pain. And encouraging when people do come together in humanity.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Your story is a testament to what is beautiful about the diversity of our country. So sad that many Americans have forgotten this.

  5. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Dana, emphasizing the fact that we are mostly immigrants from somewhere else. But not all immigrants are refugees. It sounds like your husband’s family had to flee at a moment’s notice, and how lucky you are that they did! Would love to hear about their time in Bolivia.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    All of us getting along no matter our origins is a Trumpian’s worst nightmare!

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