Refugees and Stephen F. Austin
Thousands of them poured into our city, exhausted, traumatized. Not long after the refugees arrived, I began hearing the mutterings. That the people who came were criminals, thugs. Rumors swirled about a spike in violent crime. People grumbled about the children overcrowding our schools.
This was Houston, and the “refugees” were from New Orleans, fleeing the levee failures of Hurricane Katrina. Statistics later would find the fears of Houstonians ungrounded. There was no pattern of increased crime that could be blamed on our guests from Louisiana.
There was diversity among the evacuees not often seen in the media stories. Of the 250,000 who came to Houston, about 9,000 were Vietnamese. Sociologist Stephen Klineberg noted that rather than rely on public shelters, the Vietnamese New Orleanians were taken in by Vietnamese Houstonians.
Who do we recognize as “one of us”? Is it someone of the same country? Same ethnicity? Our governor sent a letter to the President this week, stating that Syrian refugees were not welcome in our state. He informed state agencies that they were to use their “full authority” to keep Syrian refugees from finding a home in Texas.
It breaks my heart. I think back to Stephen F. Austin’s words in a letter to his cousin, Unitarian Mary Austin Holley:
“We are trying to banish from our homes religious intolerance and despotism, and to establish in the place of it, liberty and freedom of conscience. How many thousands of families of all denominations might find a home…in Texas…if religious toleration were once firmly rooted there!”
This Sunday, we will celebrate both the religious value of hospitality and the treasures of diversity. Please bring a loaf of bread that either symbolizes your heritage, or is special in some way to your family.