For much of my childhood my Mom was involved in smuggling illegal aliens across the state. One of my earliest memories is driving all night in a van to pickup a group of refugees from El Salvador and drop them at the next pickup point.
My mom went on to work for many years legally resettling refugees into the U.S. Northwest and Idaho (where we lived). Most of the individuals and families she helped had survived horrible persecution. Many of them had been waiting for years in war camps (or worse) to resettle to the U.S., leaving behind what was left of their families.
Once they arrived in Boise, they were placed with a family to live for one month, taught some English and work skills, and then found a place to live and work. So it was a very normal part of my childhood to have a family of refugees living in my house for a month at a time. They came from all over the world: Ethiopia, Laos, Russia, pretty much everywhere… My sister and I were tasked with teaching the older kids english, and our home became their home. Some of them I loved and they intrigued me, some of them scared me because they acted and smelled strange, but we all ate dinner together and shared our different ways of life, often without even being able to speak the same language.
I was often too young to be able to hear the stories of what brought them here, but their bravery has left an huge imprint on me to this day. I could hardly imagine leaving everything I had ever known to start a new life in the hope of something better, yet you could feel on each one of them the magnitude of suffering that had driven them across the world in search for a better life. It taught me the profound resilience of the human spirit – that against unthinkable odds people not only survive, but somehow thrive and grow.
Now as an adult, I am also deeply inspired by my Mom and how she chose to live her life as an educated and privileged upper class American citizen. She quite literally modeled for me how to take action in an unjust world, stand up for the underprivileged and repressed, and grow love in times of hatred. One day when my sister and I came home from school my sister’s bed was gone. She asked where it was, and my Mom had given it away to a refugee family that didn’t have a bed to sleep in. So, given the frightening times we are now living in, it seemed like a good moment to share my story. I think in these dark times we must be immensely vigilant against ignorance, greed, intolerance, and hatred – both in the world around us, but also in our own hearts and minds.
Story written by Lily Cushman and shared by Sweet Lemon Pies with permission from author. Lily is now a yoga instructor and founder at the Brooklyn Yoga school.