My Midwestern high school was pretty typical. There were freaks, geeks, jocks, drama-types. Some were white. And some were black. All were recognizably “American.” The only unusual thing about Wichita Southeast was the presence of a reasonably large number of Vietnamese. That’s right, Vietnamese. We didn’t know what to think of them. We didn’t mingle with them nor they with us. They had their own classes in their own language. And they had come from someplace that we knew about from the news, or perhaps from a father who had served in “the War.” In hindsight, Southeast wasn’t that unusual in this regard. As Carl Bon Tempo shows in his engaging Americans at the Gates: The United States and Refugees during the Cold War (Princeton UP, 2008), communities throughout the U.S. were destination points for refugees from all over the world during the Cold War. Some of them fled war, as in the case of the Vietnamese. Others fled oppression, as in the case of the Cubans. Still others were opportunists. But all of them were being used by or using American power in a game that was deeply entangled in the U.S. confrontation with Communism. Look around. You’ll see them, just as I did at Southeast. Now, as the Iraq war winds down (we hope), we’ll see a new group of refugees coming to American produced by another kind of conflict, the war against terrorism. As he decides what to do with them, I hope Barack Obama reads this book to get the benefit of history. I hope you read it as well.
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