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Refugees’ Stories: Going Where it Hurts

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In eighteen stirring essays, refugee writers share their narratives of displacement from numerous countries during different historical periods.

In his introduction, former refugee from Vietnam, Viet Thanh Nguyen, shares why he continues to call himself a refugee despite the fact that he has lived in the United States since 1975: “I insist on being called a refugee, since the temptation to pretend that I am not a refugee is strong. It would be so much easier to call myself an immigrant, to pass myself off as belonging to a category of migratory humanity that is less controversial, less demanding, and less threatening than the refugee.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen does more than call himself a refugee; he keeps alive his “tattered memories of being a refugee” because he knows that, as a writer, he “is supposed to go where it hurts” and needs to know what it is like to be the “other.” 

Each of the writers of these very hard, yet sometimes hopeful stories, refuses to ignore his or her own history. Each does the difficult work of remembering home, grappling with painful memories, and coming to terms with the political context in which they live (especially under Trump’s administration and Britain’s ongoing Brexit upheaval).

Several themes pervade the essays: many refugees feel they must continually prove they are grateful to their hosts, even though gratitude is hard to come by after the ongoing trauma of displacement; many feel they need to prove they are exceptional so they won’t be viewed as a drain on society; and all need to cling to their humanity even as they are often discriminated against and dehumanized.

By reading The Displaced, learning about refugees’ struggles, and then acting on that knowledge, readers can answer Jesus’ call to love the stranger. 

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