Dear refugee child,
He has long black hair, fine and straight, and always in his face. She is nice and inclusive when they play together. Your parents know their parents. They came from the same country, a shared childhood. But he speaks good English and has many friends to play with in the neighborhood.
You can’t go to her school, even though she tells you it’s wonderful, because she doesn’t have a program for children who don’t speak English well. Most of the time, when you play with her, you are shy and insecure. So, she is more of a relative than a friend.
In the school you go to there is a pale, shy and very quiet girl. You two started whispering to each other on the playground. When they go to the bathroom, they wait for the other to finish, before they both leave. She tells you about her family. He has many brothers and sisters. She is the eldest daughter of her family. You tell him that you are the second. She was born in the United States and you were not, but it doesn’t really matter in your friendship. You love the fact that she has an aunt the same age as her.
Friendship is big and small, although they are both nice to everyone else in the class. You are the kids who share your gum. Others know that if they need a pencil, you’ll be happy to help.
But then this friend befriends one of the hottest girls and things change quickly. He wants to run and run with the others on the school playground. You are no longer interested in searching for four-leaf clovers. Drying dandelions on a square of pavement, checking them day after day, is no longer interesting. You take it personally: maybe you are no longer so interesting to her.
A memory of friendship, forever and ever
There is another Hmong girl who is confident and outspoken. She is not with the popular girls, but she is not a loner either. Play where you want. You know her name, Julia. She was named after the nurse who gave birth to her, a white woman her mother remembers as the kindest.
Julia treats you like any other child and is fine. At first, you may not know that she will become your best friend for the rest of your years in public school, that together, they will grow closer and then separate, and then they will carry a memory of friendship, forever and ever. .
It happens suddenly. Everyone is caught up in their life and their responsibilities. You are the second child in the family, but now there are more and more and you are basically a big sister all the time. At school, you never spoke much, so your silence becomes more and more powerful. One day Julia sends you a letter, folded into a heart the size of your palm.
There is nothing special about the menu. The letter you write is nothing special either. You speak of the day. Both make your letters long and flowing, adult, full of style and personality. They are both mirroring the letters they see in history books, the way people in the past used to write the language and it’s fun to have something to do in school, when everyone else is talking or busy. It also makes you look busy.
‘She makes things beautiful for the people in her life’
In high school, Julia receives some money. He buys you balloons on your birthday. She puts them in your locker. When you open it, the balloons rise. The sides of the locker are decorated with flowing ribbons. She is the first person to do these kinds of unnecessary beautiful things for you.
He wishes he could do the same, but he doesn’t make a bit of money and he’s not artistic or creative, so he buys gifts from the dollar store and wraps them in brown bags from the grocery store. She is friendly and does not mind that gifts and celebrations are not your thing. She likes to make things beautiful for the people around her. That is all.
In high school, a boy who likes Julia writes to her and says in a letter: “Your friend is the loneliest person I have ever met in my life.” You feel uncomfortable with the truth that you seem to be embracing. You think it’s nice and that they could get into a relationship. Many of the other people in his grade are now in relationships. That pale girl who used to be your friend, and in many ways will continue to be, is already married.
Julia laughs at the notion of relationship and the boy’s observation.
She just laughs. Not with cruelty, but with a kind of maturity that you can’t understand. You smile because it feels appropriate. It is not cruel to observe if what you see is not something you hate or judge. Without her knowing it or your realization, Julia is teaching you how to become a writer. But you are Hmong and she is Hmong and you are a refugee and your parents are refugees and neither of you know any writers.
They both read voraciously. Your letters get longer and longer. Write about the books you are reading. You write about the stories within them. Write about how the authors came up with those ideas. Write about your own ideas.
And every day they flow fast because you are young and despite everything you have a friend who keeps you busy and who continues to put balloons in your locker as the years go by and you are very grateful.
Neither of them talks about the difficulties. You don’t talk about the fact that Julia’s parents farm in the summers and that Julia and her siblings help. You don’t talk about the fact that your mother and father work in factories and every day after school, you run home to take care of your little brother and sisters in your dilapidated house.
Neither of them asks questions or tries to meet up on hot summers when school is out, and they don’t do after-school things together because they can’t. Their lives don’t have that kind of space.
‘I’ll miss you when this is over’
One day, it is time to graduate. They have both done quite well in school. You go to different universities. He knows from the past that when they are not seen, they are not seen. You know that the future opens and the past will swallow. But they are together, with their heads together, looking at the camera, in their prom dresses and they both don’t say it, but they write it in the letters: “I’ll miss you when this is over.”
For a while, you will think that it is all over. Then one day, at your university, someone says to you: “There is a young woman who wrote to me looking for you. Here. “You get a postcard. It’s from New York City. On the back, there, in that familiar handwriting, they’re unfolding your best friend’s dreams. Life hasn’t quite gone the way it could. have done it.
Life never turns out the way it could. And you and she, over the next few decades of your lives, will find out on your own, but somehow the journey will be linked because you were friends for a long time. In their own particular way, they have tried to make the world a celebration of each other and have kept themselves occupied in the kindest way through some of the loneliest years of their lives. Long before the world knew it, they saw the parts of each other that were worth appreciating.
Friends, a refugee child, are essential to your journey. Even if they are not perfect, even if they do not behave like other people do on television and in books, even when they cannot include all aspects of you because their worlds are loaded with the demands of a new country. Your friends will teach you how to be nice to another person, how to take care of others, even while you are learning to take care of yourself.
A refugee woman who found friends on her journey.