This meme showed up on Facebook the other day, and it really got me thinking. Why is it that America houses refugees but never produces them?
The worst crisis to hit this country was the Great Depression. Poverty soared. Crops died. The Dust Bowl left people starving. Yet no one left …
The country, that is. But they certainly left one place for another, such as fleeing Oklahoma for California. Were they refugees? They may not have been called that at the time, but if people flee famine, what else do you call them?
More recently, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the infrastructure of New Orleans, destroying whole neighborhoods, many people fled to Texas and other states.
When news organizations referred to these citizens as “refugees,” a debate sprang up, in the news business if not among the general public. Technically, the word simply means one who seeks refuge. But it was a loaded term then, implying not only poverty and helplessness but also displacement from one’s homeland.
Advocates for the displaced Louisianans said the word was not applicable to someone who was merely relocating within their own country. News agencies finally settled on evacuees as being less inflammatory.
Whatever term you choose, all of these people—our fellow citizens—were forced from their homes, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They didn’t flee the country, though. Because where would they go? Mexico? They’d have to go through Texas to get there, so why not stop in Texas?
I think the real reason America doesn’t produce refugees isn’t because we “dust off the guns.” (Seriously, what gun owner do you know who lets their guns get dusty?)
No, the reason we don’t produce refugees is because when things go wrong—even spectacularly, disastrously wrong on every level—we are such a large and prosperous nation that our citizens don’t have to go beyond our borders to get the help they need. Even during the Civil War, a few places in the north and west never saw fighting. And that’s saying something. It’s a luxury of size that few other countries have.
Our prosperity relative to the rest of the world also works in our favor. Farmers who fled the Dust Bowl could still find work in California. We have commerce and infrastructure to support moving goods and people across great distances.
America is a great country. But let’s not kid ourselves, especially just for the sake of a mildly amusing meme. Our strength isn’t in our guns, dusty or not. Our strength is in our size, our prosperity, and our infrastructure. Our strength is in each of us individually, and in how all of us work together collectively.
That kind of strength isn’t broken when it is shared. If anything, it gets stronger still.