I didn’t realize until later in life that my grandparents were all refugees. Let me explain. My grandparents on my dad’s side were Catalan from northern Spain. At the time my grandfather was a very young man who was about to be sent to fight in northern Morocco, a Spanish colony. His father decided to send him away before he could end up in the sand war.
My other grandfather, a Syrian Christian had to flee his country at the age of six because at the time the Ottoman empire was sending very young men to the front, so families in these small towns would collect money to make sure the young men could flee from the madness of war. Today the story is repeating itself, except Syrians are fleeing from their civil war to Turkey (former Ottoman empire and Lebanon.)
I have always had a soft spot for refugees. They are forced to live elsewhere from the familiar, the common, and what is comfortable. They often suffer tremendous trauma. Many lose everything; their homes, their jobs, family members and many are forced to lose their dignity through no fault of their own. They are often discriminated for being the wrong religion, color or tribe. Some end up living in refugee’s camps all their lives in squalid conditions. Today the country with the largest number of refugees is South Sudan with 5 million. In Syria where over 35,000 people have died in the civil conflict, hundreds of thousands refugees are fleeing daily from the violence. http://bit.ly/Tw3vto
While the world watches the bloodbath without much action, I wonder when humanity will stop its relentless cruelty towards others.
Last year I found out from friends at the Alliance for Progress, a refugee resettlement center that they were struggling to get funding for the refugees. Houston is one of the largest recipients of refugees in the United States. What grabbed my attention is how little is known about this mostly self-sufficient communities. They come here, hardly speaking the English language. They have suffered so much trauma, including rape, physical and mental violence, starvation, isolation and tremendous loss. Yet what I found so incredibly uplifting was their spirit. These people tend to live in the same apartment complexes. Therefore, they all learn to help each other, even if that means they don’t speak the same language. They know if someone needs bread, or daycare. They worry if someone needs a ride, or a bus token. They simply care for each other and they know they can’t survive any other way. I was blessed to meet three women who came from three very different cultures Congo, Burma and Bhutan. Their stories were similar but also very different. What they had in common was a sense of loss and the inability to go back. Can you imagine being forced out of your country, culture, and people and know you most likely never see that place again?
That is the case of the three strong, intelligent, peace warrior women I featured in the special that won most probably last Emmy I will win for HoustonPBS. What they suffered cannot be put in words or images, yet they were not angry. They focused in the future and what they would do for their children. They were full of hope and what they taught me is much more valuable than any award could give me.
They taught me that you can’t look back, that family has to remain strong and driven to survive, that their children will have to value every bit of life they have been given because they were lucky enough to survive, that there is no time to think of the past, that work is a way out and education is a way up. These three quiet women are my heroes.
I am full of gratitude for this Emmy, my 7th. It is the most meaningful to me because I am no longer working for the station and because we worked really hard with the team (Fujio Watanabe, Joe Brueggeman, Shannon Harrison and Julie Coan) and my production interns Todnesha Brown, Esti Garcia, Hiren Yoshi, Monique Andy, Blanca Perez to give a voice to the voiceless.
I thank God for this opportunity. Now every time I complain about life, I think of these women and what they have endured and I smile at heaven for I am so blessed to have met them. They remind me what’s important, resilience and love of family and community. They just won the Emmy for us. They did it.
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