Lynette Harper and “Mira”
The twentieth century has been called the century of the refugee because of the vast numbers of people uprooted by war and politics from their homes and their accustomed lives (Bateson 1990). While most immigrants choose to come to a new life, refugees are forced to flee, often for their lives. They face a double crisis. Like all immigrants, they need to survive: to find shelter and work; to learn to speak an unknown language; and to adjust to a drastically changed environment despite barriers of poverty, prejudice, minority status, pervasive uncertainty, and culture shock. In addition, the refugee must come to terms with what has been involuntarily lost from the past, including home, country, family, friends, work, social status, material possessions, and meaningful sources of identity.
Even the best prepared refugees experience distress, which is intensified by the complex and restrictive regulations imposed upon them in most host countries. Emminghaus (1987) concludes that as a result of these regulations and their exclusion from participation in their home country, refugees often begin to feel alienated from both their indigenous culture and from the society in which they now live. Attendance to these dual factors is a much overlooked area in programs for immigrants. While immigrant and refugee services and education programs are proliferating, most programs are designed to serve only a remedial function, focusing on communication skills, job skills, and activities of daily living. Programs rarely consider how migrants learn and adjust in new cultural environments. This chapter offers one woman’s life history as a way to revisit and reframe our thinking about refugees.
I am the grandchild of refugees, and in an effort to honor their lives, I began to study refugee learning and transition and the implications of this knowledge as it relates to program design. I have always valued personal narratives told by