Words. I recall this saying,

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

It was a lie.

In the adoption world, especially in the transracial adoption world, words hurt. Intentional words meant to alienate, separate, and ‘other’ my family.  As a family, we often talk about using our words to respond in appropriate ways that both protect our physical bodies and our emotional selves.

So this week, when my children heard the words adults are using to describe the ‘foreigner’ or refugee (very different words that lately have been lumped together), they frown, communicate feelings of sadness, and ultimately look to me to answer why adults would talk about others in such a way.

And I have no words.

We live in a community full of foreigners, immigrants – to summarize – Americans. My children’s schools reflect a diversity of life experience culturally and ethnically.  So when there is rabid talk about foreigners and refugees being evil, un-American, or an essential threat to safety, my children wonder first, do the people talking know anyone of whom they speak? And secondly, would they say those same words to an actual person? Because some of the foreigners and refugees they know, are CHILDREN.

Many are not aware that there are foster families that foster refugee children in the United States. These are unaccompanied minors who are fleeing, alone, because of violence, war, and/or reprehensible life conditions that have separated them from their biological family. They are vulnerable, and as children, in dire need of protection. Thus enter American families trained specifically to foster children with refugee status.

In October, the International Business Journal has stated, “Estimates by international aid organizations suggested that between 4 and 7 percent of the approximately 700,000 asylum applications made in 2015 came from unaccompanied minors.” That’s 28,000 – 49,000 children who are currently at great risk for exploitation. And I want to believe that people actually don’t want to dispossess a ten year old, standing all alone in the world, of the remainder of her humanity by calling her an evil, hate-mongering terrorist.

Labeling all because of the one or some is not a logical response. But if we are honest, it’s an American cultural pastime. We ‘other’ in order to protect our presuppositions, to posture, or I believe today, in response to fear. What I am encouraging today is mindfulness about the words we speak as we wait to pick up our children outside their classrooms, in line at the grocery store, as we gather in community neighborhood groups, and yes, even on social media. There are those who are being harmed with our thoughtless words – little ears with fearful hearts just learning to be unafraid again.

Words. Let us be ever so careful, or I fear that refugees, long living in the United States as sons and daughters, must now also take refuge from our words.

Interested in finding out more about fostering a refugee child? More at these two leading organizations:

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops