Statue of Liberty. Photo by Callen Harty.

Statue of Liberty. Photo by Callen Harty.

This has been on my mind for some time and I have not been able to clarify or express my emotions about it. But my heart hurts right now. It hurts not only for the Syrian refugees who are being treated like pariahs by the likes of the governor of my state, but also for all of my fellow Americans who are so filled with fear that they have lost their ability to show compassion and empathy to others.

Except for those in this country who are of Native American heritage we are all either immigrants or descended from immigrants, including many who were escaping war, horrible political situations, or other dire circumstances. My great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother came to this country during the Irish potato famine to escape the terrible famine in their native land and to find a better life here. They were greeted with contempt by those who were already here, those whose ancestors had come from many other lands.

In my lifetime I have seen Hmong immigrants who fought alongside our soldiers in Viet Nam come to this land and be greeted the same way, Cuban refugees who were treated like criminals, Mexican immigrants who settled on the bottom rung of the social ladder because people thought they were stealing jobs. If the Statue of Liberty–the “Mother of Exiles”–were a real woman she would cry at what we have become. If Jesus were to walk among us he would be ashamed to see what we have become.

Prejudice and hatred are borne of fear taken to its most extreme, and we are a fearful people. We fear our own political leaders, our townsmen, our neighbors, and, especially, the strangers among us, those who do not look like us or pray like us, those who do not share the same skin or the same ideas. The melting pot has become a weapon to bash the heads of those who would look to Lady Liberty’s lamp for refuge.

I do not recognize my state. I do not recognize my country. I do not recognize the Christianity in which I was raised. I do not recognize my fellow citizens. We are told by many that this is a Christian country, but in a Christian country we would give shelter to those who have none, we would welcome strangers into our homes, we would care for those in need. We would take the tired, the poor, the huddled masses and we would care for them as if they were family.

During the height of the Great Depression, when my mother’s family had little or nothing, my grandmother gave food to itinerant men who knocked on her door fresh off the train that used to run past their house. It was the Christian thing to do, the moral thing to do. When my roommate Dan and I were as poor as I have ever been we shared our apartment with others who needed a place to stay and shared what little food we had with those who were as hungry as we were. It was the right thing to do.

It is not the decline of the family or the Constitution being undermined or Christian values being challenged that is leading this country into ruin. It is the loss of compassion and humanity. It is the idea that our lives are more important than anyone else’s lives and that we deserve what others can’t have. It is the lack of empathy, the inability to see the world from someone else’s perspective and to understand, or at least try to, how they feel.

We need to start walking the long road that will return us to a nation of giving and compassionate people. We need to find our moral compass. We need to welcome the Syrian refugees to our land as much for us as for them.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to Refugee

  1. marcea0k says:

    Moments after I posted something on facebook that touched on much of what you wrote here I found your post. I’m so humbled by your ability to react with a generosity of spirit that uplifts the reader. Whereas what I wrote was more of a diatribe with a clever title. Your final sentence is utterly eloquent.

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