Welcome to Kitty Gogins, Hometown Track Minnesota Author in the Spotlight.
Most refugees arriving in Minnesota today have spent over 14 years in refugee camps. I’m honored that Laura invited me to share more with you about refugees and is featuring my book, My Flag Grew Stars: World War II Refugees’ Journey to America. The book brings to life my parents’ experience as refugees and new Americans.
A refugee is someone who fled their homeland due to persecution based on race, religion, ethnic group, or political opinion; someone unable to return. Like my parents, they often leave unexpectedly, without important papers and with only what they can carry. Today there are 16 million refugees worldwide. The largest numbers are from Asia, Africa and the Middle East with Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Sudan and the former Palestine highly represented.
The U.S. resettles 50 to 100 thousand refugees a year. Most arrive from camps where conditions are primitive and difficult. Schooling, food, medical care, work, and things to do are in short supply. In this picture, a camp resident (from Karen ethnic group in Burma) uses a rock to teach camp children the alphabet ― he has no paper or books to use. The transition from this world to our modern one is challenging. Everything is strange, new and often intimidating. Climate, language, houses, plumbing, culture, government, nothing is familiar.
In Minnesota our percent foreign-born is low, half the national average, but our concentration of refugees is half again as high as the rest of the U.S. There are several reasons refugees are attracted to Minnesota ― although climate is not one of them! A diversified economy with employment opportunities, a well-developed non-profit support network, a strong educational system and friendly people all serve as magnets.
My Flag Grew Stars relates not only my parents’ refugee story, but the story of others my mother helped through the International Institute. “Area Immigrants Are Soon to Lose Their Patron Saint,” read the front-page headline of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune when she retired. If you are interested in helping refugees make the transition, contact the International Institute of Minnesota (651-647-0191, http://www.iimn.org/).