|Master and protégé - Gustave and Zero in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"|
There's a moment in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which I watched last night, that struck me as particularly poignant social commentary. For the sake of not spoiling any of the plot, I'll speak as generally as I can...
Zero responds by describing the circumstances that caused him to leave his homeland: war. His father was murdered, his family was executed by firing squad, and their village was burned to the ground. Those who survived, like Zero, were forced to flee. "I left because of the war."
Humbled, Gustave says, "I see, so you're actually more of a refugee in that sense?"
"Truly," says Zero, proudly.
Gustave, who has to this point been nothing but supportive and protective of Zero, then profusely and genuinely apologizes for himself and on behalf of the institution which he represents: the hotel which employs them both and unites them in a vocation.
Recent discussions around the massive influx of children from various Central American nations crossing into the United States have used, exclusively as far as I've seen, the language of "immigrant."
The United States doesn't seem to have the word "refugee" in its current political lexicon, but it strikes me that if we did, perhaps we could talk publicly in ways that more accurately reflect the reality of the situation, and in ways that are more compassionate to the children coming into this country "illegally."
My own governor, Terry Brandstad, has said he doesn't want any of these children sent to our state because it might "send the signal to send...children to America illegally."
It's fairly straightforward political philosophy that laws do not encompass the totality of its society's morality, and that laws even sometimes lag behind morality and must therefore be changed to adequately reflect what the society deems to be for the good.
Relying on the term "immigrant" and using slavish, unimaginative conceptions of the law in the situation with these children is ignorant.
Like Zero, they're more often than not leaving their countries because of war. They're leaving because they seek a stable society in which to live, and not die, and to perhaps even flourish. They would more accurately be described as political refugees.
While my governor did say he wants empathy for these children, we can do better than a cheap lip-service empathy (which is not true empathy). How about we show concrete compassion for these children and continue Iowa's fine legacy of being a welcoming state for refugees?
(Also, read my friend Dora's poetic response: What mother among you?)