Meet Hasna and Mu Naw. Both live in Austin, Texas. Both are refugees with incredible stories, set against the shifting backdrop of policy and politics in the United States.
Mu Naw’s family came from the hill tribes of Myanmar. Young and determined, Mu Naw and husband Saw Ku travel from the verdant hills of Thailand to the suburbs of Austin, where the overwhelming cacophony of English combined with social isolation and financial hardship nearly tear them apart. Readers are with Mu Naw as she goes to English class, finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant, is betrayed by sponsors who are supposed to protect her, forms close ties with other refugees and becomes a resilient leader. In After the Last Border, Jessica Goudeau illustrates that though stories of refugees like Mu Naw are everywhere, they can be hard to access and understand, even for those who have known the refugees for years.
Hasna’s story is less triumphant. A Syrian refugee who moves to Austin with the long-term goal of reuniting her family (Hasna has four grown children and, to date, four grandchildren), her transition is full of bitter surprises. After a lifetime of serving in the home, Hasna now works as a hotel cleaner. Her family struggles to make ends meet. Her husband, Jebreel, was disabled by a missile in Syria. Before applying to become an international refugee, Hasna lived in Jordan for a few years, and much of her story takes place there. From a rooftop garden, above an apartment she shares with two of her children, Hasna can see bombs firing in her home city across the border in Syria. Her children are now spread across the globe, refugees in three different countries. She hasn’t recovered.
These are only two stories among thousands. As Goudeau’s careful history demonstrates, attitudes toward refugees are shifting, and the current rhetoric surrounding refugee resettlement uneasily echoes the rhetoric of 80 years past. To keep history from repeating itself, it is time to understand the roots of refugee resettlement in the U.S. and to look fully into the faces of those who are being affected.