Just happy to be here

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Andy Sauer

Andy Sauer

About 20 years ago, I was at a wedding party on Long Island. The bride and groom, both classmates my wife knew from graduate school, had invited about 50 of their closest friends. The bride was from India and, with her education completed, was required by law to return to Mumbai. Her boyfriend wouldn’t have it, so he married her in a quick civil ceremony. The big Indian/Italian wedding would have to come later.

At the party, I struck up a conversation with a dental student who had just returned from Sri Lanka, which at the time had been embroiled in an ethnic war between two groups, the Sinhalese-controlled government and a Tamil insurgency. About a week earlier, he had headed to the U.S. embassy in Colombo to get his student visa squared away. He got there early, and already there was a line that stretched down the street. At some point while he waited, he could hear some kind of clash in the distance. There was gunfire, but no one got out of line. More shots. No one moved. Then, an enormous explosion erupted. The embassy sealed shut. Everyone in line started to disperse. He followed the crowd. He was more than walking distance from home. He knew that the authorities, who could be brutal, would make massive amounts of indiscriminate arrests of Tamils, and he was Tamil. He called his uncle, the only one he knew who had a car, and was told to walk down a specific road. His uncle would find him. A short time later, he was in the car heading out of the city. As they drove, they worried the city would be sealed off. They needed to cross one bridge to get home. As they approached, they saw the gate was up and they sped by. As they drove away, they looked behind and saw the gates close.

And, here he was days later, 8,000 miles away, telling his story to an American, whose only concept of sectarian violence was Red Sox vs. Yankees, in a room full of people oblivious to Sri Lanka let alone its civil war. I apologized, if for no other reason than I had no idea how to respond. He laughed. I think he was just glad to be here.

I don’t know a lot about immigration and the security risks associated with it. I only know that the immigrants I’ve met, including this Sri Lankan student who would later become an American, were, to a person, just thankful to be here and far, far away from the fighting.

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