Whether it’s trying to cross the U.S. southern border to seek a better life in the U.S. or trying to make it to the U.K. from the poorest areas of Vietnam, my heart breaks for those who try to make the journey and don’t survive or who lose their children in the process.
You may or may not have been following a gruesome discovery this week involving 39 bodies found in a truck near London. I started reading some coverage of it on Reuters today, and then I got to a note that was found with one body:
“I’m sorry, mum and dad. My path abroad was not a success. I love you both so much. I can’t breathe. I’m from Nghen Town, Can Loc District, Ha Tinh, Vietnam … I am sorry, mum,” the message said.
A child apologizing to their parents for dying. Dear God…. I found myself just sobbing. Sobbing and also thinking of others who had lost their lives or sacrificed so much trying to make a better life as immigrants, and others who had fled Vietnam for a better life….
Many decades ago, I worked at a Level 1 trauma center in New York City. One of the patients admitted to my service was an older Vietnamese woman who had been blind since childhood from measles. She spoke no English, and she had been transported to the hospital by emergency services who had nowhere else to take her. She was one of many Vietnamese boat refugees — people who tried to get from Vietnam to this country after the war ended, and she had had a stroke while on the boat.
None of the staff in our unit spoke Vietnamese, and I only managed to communicate with her because I called the United Nations and begged them to send over a translator to help me translate my procedures and questions into Vietnamese. They did. And so every day, the patient would be brought to my office and she and I would try to work together to help her recover from the stroke-related paralysis. I would greet her in Vietnamese or my attempt at it, and she would feel the wedding band on my left hand so she’d know who was speaking to her.
But she was discharged from the hospital only a few weeks later because none of the other services could communicate with her. The hospital had called relatives of hers in New Jersey and told them to come get her. I wasn’t there when they picked her up, and never got to say goodbye to her, and I have always wondered what happened to her. Did her life wind up any better for her than it had been in Vietnam? Would she have had the stroke at all if not for the stress of being a blind refugee on a small boat going to strange land?
I hoped that this blind, paralyzed, woman who spoke no English somehow wound up with a better life, and I regretted that we had not done more for her.
This world that we live in…. this planet that we inhabit… why can we not make more room for everyone in it? Why is our country still treating immigrants horribly? Why is there not daily coverage of how many children are separated from parents or how many families are suffering because of inhumane treatment?
Thirty-nine people who went to extraordinary lengths to try to get to the U.K. to make a better life are dead in what looks like another human trafficking case. But why do people have to take such risks to make a better life?
We have all lost our way.
The Democrats have a lot of issues they can build their campaign around. Yes, healthcare is important. So are a lot of other issues. But can’t one issue be how we treat people who seek asylum or a better life here?