Born to Foreign Lands Preside: Seeking Freedom In A Hard New World

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The Vietnamese 

That was quick. Today comes the dismal if unsurprising news that many U.S. states - and likely many European countries - will seek to block Syrian refugees, thus offering a response to the Paris attacks that reeks of the same blind fear, hatred and unreason that fueled them. For some historical perspective, consider an earlier time when we did the right thing: After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the U.S. opened its doors to over 125,000 Vietnamese fleeing the debacle we'd created, making them part of the largest refugee resettlement program in this country.

For the commemoration of 40 years of Vietnamese resettlement in Australia, Sydney-born, New York- based artist Matt Huynh has adapted author Nam Le’s award-winning 2008 story “The Boat” into an online interactive comic that mixes text, audio, music and hundreds of animated illustrations. Huynh​ and Le - both their parents fled Vietnam after the war - tell the story of Mai, a young refugee sent off alone across hazardous seas who must watch helplessly as many around her suffer and die. The harrowing tale makes real what they, and those today, endure in the name of freedom.

Once, we are reminded, these people were celebrated as heroes, as "the daring, resourceful and brave...fleeing political chaos." In today's harsher world, Syrians and others have come too late: "They have been transformed from heroes into inconvenient, unwanted trespassers. Their extraordinary travails, suffering and courage aren't that different from the boat people in 1975 or the East Germans in the 1960s. Refugees haven't changed. What has changed is the heart of the free world." Thus does a fearful U.S. agree to take in just 10,000 Syrian refugees - double the original after international criticism - even as they stall on a backlog of 57,000 Iraqis desperately seeking safety from another mess of our own making.

One small beacon of hope: After the Vietnam War, Canada resettled more than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees. Today, many Vietnamese-Canadians are looking to pay it forward through Lifeline Syria, a citizen-led project that recruits Canadians to sponsor and financially support Syrian refugees. Those involved say they are moved to act because they've been there. It is, they say, "the good side of human." Now, it just needs to make its way south.

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 The Syrians

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