Immigrants and Refugees

A long time ago in a faraway land known as Omaha, Nebraska, I went to a private school. I was in the 6th grade, studying Spanish and a member of the Spanish club along with my best friend, Mary N.

Christmas came around and the head of the foreign languages department, Dr. Espinosa (known as Dr. Halitosis because kids are both young and cruel) wanted to organize a Christmas music event for the Spanish Club of Omaha. What this meant was that we learned a lot of Christmas songs in Spanish, some just the usual carols and some songs from Spanish speaking countries.

The big night came and because Mary and I were the only two middle-schoolers in the group, we had to dress like the other girls who were in high school. It was the first time I wore nylons, and I had to borrow a red blazer. Middle schoolers wore sweaters.

My dad took me and dropped me off at the Spanish club, and Mary’s father volunteered to bring me home though Bellevue was NOT on the way from downtown Omaha where our school was located to Council Bluffs, Iowa where Mary lived. From there we’d ride the school bus to the Big Event.

My mom’s nylons felt creepy on my legs, that plus my mom felt that 11 year old girls should NOT wear nylons. They were also cold. It was December in Nebraska, damp, biting cold hit my essentially bare legs. Both Mary’s mom and my mom drew the line on heels. Neither of us were going to wear them. Dr. Espinosa accepted that. We didn’t really look like high school girls anyway, especially for 1963 which was a lot of bouffant and hairspray, blue eye-shadow and orange lips.

We arrived in an old building in downtown Omaha. We were ushered into a room which was filled with old people, all dressed up, women all in red lipstick. There was a table filled with cookies and punch. As it was 1963, people were also smoking. They sat in three or four rows. We assembled ourselves in front of them and Dr. Espinosa introduced us.

It was an interesting introduction because he didn’t just introduce us girls to the group of well-dressed old people, but he introduced them to us.

They were all refugees from the fascism of Generalissimo Franco’s regime. Our songs — especially those that came from Spain — meant a lot to the people sitting in that room.

The only one I remember is this one, “Arrurru, Arrurru.” As I remember, it’s a song from Mexico, one often sung during La Posada, a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find a place to sleep.

We sang it much more slowly than this version, but I have no idea what’s the right way or wrong way to sing it or if there is even such a thing.

The people attending the concert that night were very touched by our music. One woman said, “Thank you for bringing a little bit of Spain to Omaha tonight. Bless you, girls.”

My friend and I were silly pre-teenagers, caught up in our own passions (hers was horses, mine was Lawrence of Arabia) but we got it.

It was an important experience for me, unforgettable (obviously). It was the first time I fully understood how people could be forced to leave a country they loved, a culture to which they belonged, because of politics.

8 thoughts on “Immigrants and Refugees

  1. I keep reminding myself I have a second passport. Not that I’m planning to go anywhere — these days the grocery store is a long journey! — but it’s good to know there IS a place to go. And that is why there is an Israel, so Jews — this time — have somewhere to go other than to their deaths.

    When I stop and really think about what is going around us, I feel so lost. It all seems so sad.

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