Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****The Middle of Everywhere

The World's Refugees Come to Our Town

by Mary Pipher

Reviewed November 18, 2004.
Harcourt, New York, 2002.  390 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (305.9 PIP).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #1, Current Issues

My friend Leah told me quite a long while ago that I should read this book.  I kept putting it off, but after I read Mary Pipher’s book, Letters to a Young Therapist, I knew I was sure to love anything else she’d written.

The Middle of Everywhere tells us about the refugees and immigrants that Mary Pipher met in, of all places, Lincoln, Nebraska.  Now, I grew up in the Los Angeles area, so I’m used to the people around me looking different from me and speaking a different language.  But Mary Pipher looks much more closely at refugees and their challenges and strengths than I ever did.

She begins the book by talking about how almost all American have immigrant ancestors.  Even though the United States takes in less than 1 percent of the world’s refugees, still more and more are coming to America.  Each group comes with their own challenges in order to try to make a good life in America.

Mary Pipher tells us the story of refugees by telling us stories of individuals.  She makes us see them with her own loving and caring eyes.  Instead of seeing them as hugely different from us, she shows us how everyone has the same basic needs and desires.  She shows us how confusing America can be.  She highlights people from all different age groups, each with different challenges.

She shows us how working with refugees enriched her own life and how she learned valuable lessons from them.  She made me want to be as open and welcoming to others as she was.

She presents ten common beliefs about refugees and explains why those beliefs are just plain ignorant:

1.    Refugees are ignorant and have no formal education.
2.    The United States takes in most of the world’s refugees.
3.    Most refugees are here illegally.
4.    Newcomers are taking American jobs.
5.    Newcomers do not pay taxes.
6.    Tax dollars go to teach refugees in their own languages.
7.    Newcomers don’t want to learn English.
8.    Most refugees end up on welfare.
9.    Anyone who wants to can come to America.
10.    “Why don’t they go back where they belong?”

As in her book Letters to a Young Therapist, this book is full of wisdom.

“They knew that before housing, jobs, medical care, or money, community is what heals.  It is good to share pain, but what is really healing is to share joy.”

“We are not living in a global village; rather we’re quartered in a chain hotel in a global strip mall.  In global shopping malls, the stories and metaphors are not our own, but rather are designed to sell us stuff.”

“For all our flaws, we Americans have been, for hundreds of years, the people in the world who said welcome. . . .  We have another chance with all these refugees.  People come here penniless but not cultureless.  They bring us gifts.  We can synthesize the best of our traditions with the best of theirs.  We can teach and learn from each other to produce a better America.  This time around, we can get things right.”

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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