Local View: Fleeing Afghans not unlike decades of immigrants to Duluth

From the column: "I fervently hope our government is doing whatever it takes to get these people who have served as our allies safely resettled as soon as possible."

Marian Kamensky/Cagle Cartoons

As I watch the news, I learn about the Afghan people who worked with our government during the longest war in our history and the efforts to get them and their families safely out of Afghanistan. As they were promised. Many have been safely evacuated and are being resettled here and in other countries, but many remain behind and are in danger of retribution for their collaboration with our government forces during the war years. Perhaps we’ll even have some rescued Afghan folks resettled in our community.

As I watch this process, I can’t help but remember the many people I met who were in similar situations during my 25 years, from 1985 through 2010, teaching English to adult immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers in Duluth.

I remember the many Vietnamese collaborators who were desperate to leave when Saigon fell so quickly. Many of them later became “boat people” before reaching refugee camps on their way to their final destinations to be resettled.

I had many Hmong people in my classes who told stories of helping American soldiers when the war spilled over into their homes in the mountains of Laos; this later became known as the “Secret War in Laos.”

One story in particular remains etched in my mind. A Hmong man who was closely associated with the Hmong military leader, Gen. Vang Pao, had been assured that if Vietnam fell he and his family would be airlifted out of Laos and resettled in the United States. Years later, his daughter told the story of being 6 years old and walking to the secret airstrip early every morning to meet the helicopter that was going to evacuate their family. After many mornings, the family finally realized no helicopter was coming for them, and they began preparing to make the dangerous trek to the Thailand border where they would need to get across the Mekong River without being spotted. Once safely across, they were able to ask for asylum in one of the refugee camps that had sprung up along the Thai border. That’s where they spent the next decade, until they finally received permission to come to America.


I remember the Kurdish family who came as refugees because the husband/father had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq. My heart broke when the Kurdish people, long allies of the U.S., were abandoned in northern Iraq by the administration of President Donald Trump.

I worry about the Afghan people now who are stranded, either still in Afghanistan or in limbo with no status somewhere, in a transitory “camp” of sorts. That is survival-level existence and very challenging, especially for the women and children. Those who have made it here are on their way to establishing themselves in their new homes. This process of cultural adjustment has its own challenges, but it’s generally not a survival-level existence anymore. I fervently hope our government is doing whatever it takes to get these people who have served as our allies safely resettled as soon as possible.

Bea Larson of Duluth retired in June 2010 after 25 years teaching English to immigrants, refugees, and applicants for political asylum through the Adult Basic Education program of the Duluth public school district.

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Bea Larson

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