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Travel Blog

Refugees #1

Jessica Litwak

I met today with Jiri Honzirek about collaborating on a piece about Syrian refugees. Jiri is a director who has tackled this subject in the Czech Republic, a country that has very mixed feelings about refugees. He and I spoke in depth about the difference between his country and my country in terms of the relationship to racism and the fear of refugees. His country doesn't have many refugees. His country has stayed very much the same for generations and immigration into this country does not happen in waves. My country is a nation made up of immigrants many of whom were once refugees. My grandparents were refugees from Eastern Europe. They came in one of the many waves. If we open our hearts and gates, another wave is coming. If fear and racism abound, the fearful will try to stop the tides, and still the ocean.

In this country there are very few Syrians. The refugees walk around this country heading to more open borders. Some people proclaim welcome, and open their mouths and minds to change, others are worried and want the doors to remain closed to refugees.  They are concerned about how the country would change, after they have worked hard to build and rebuild and build again after the revolution. They have not resolved the issues with Roma in this country and some don't feel ready to allow the face of the nation to take on different shades of color. Not to mention the tolerance for other religions, other practices. One man at an immersive theatre piece I attended had a disturbing question for me. We were teamed up by this theatrical game and so were sitting next to each other when the game was over and we were drinking wine and eating cake as a reward for exploring borders in a controlled performance experiment for two hours. He asked me this: "You travel all over the world. You see many things. You come from America. So don't you think it's better that we don't let the Syrian refugees into Czech Republic? We are not a racist country. But if we let them in, we will become racist. So is it not better to do something else to help them? Send money, and they can go somewhere else" I asked him where the refugees should go. He was very clear on this: "Australia" he said.

It is a difficult conversation and one everyone seems to be having (at least the awakened alternative theatre folk I have been encountering) All over Europe the question of borders is so much more acute than in the U.S. We have so few borders and we protect them with the power of the free and mighty, the stars and stripes of defense and security. We were hurt bad once, and we won't be hurt again. Somehow U.S. fear is about war and threat of death while Czech fear seems to be more about protecting tradition and threat of debilitating the nationhood. At the heart of both nations is fear.

Jiri and I talked about asking an audience to look into a mirror- a cultural mirror and a personal one. What is it to be a racist? We would ask them. What is the nature of your fear? Why do we feel under so much pressure? Where is the love?

Then I found this: