As the Radio Readers move on from this month’s book Enrique’s Journey to October’s read, Dave Eggar’s book on the story Somali immigrants titled What is the What, we continue themes of separation from family, intense dangers in fleeing one’s homeland and eventual settlement and adjustment to life in the U.S. In the past decade, Amarillo has welcomed a large refugee resettlement program placing refugees from the likes of Burma, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, and Cuba among other countries.
This has transformed the Texas Panhandle city into a place with one of the highest per capita refugee resettlement rates in the United States. Many news articles from the past couple of years describe the refugee influx from a less than understanding point of view: For example, one story is titled “The Strangers Next Door,” another reads, “One Woman’s Story of the Muslim Invasion in Her American Town,” even another article is titled “Texas Panhandle City Says ‘Enough’ on Middle East Refugees” and “So it begins here: U.S. City ‘overrun’ with criminal refugees”.
The stories that the media has often told are not necessarily those of the refugees themselves. What these two books do, both Enrique's Journey and What is the What, and in a sense what all good books do, is to ask us to sit and listen to other stories not our own, to hear different stories than the ones we are used to hearing. These books ask us to set down our smart phones, turn our televisions off and take the time to understand something unfamiliar. In the case of these two books; to take a journey with a child refugee, to listen to their voices and their trials, to cross borders that we have not had to cross before and perhaps, just maybe, begin to comprehend the long and dangerous journeys that many refugees must take to arrive to the high plains.