In an effort to help build a community among first-year students, Albion College alum Richard M. Smith founded the Richard M. Smith Common Reading Experience (CRE) program. Each year, the CRE task force chooses a book for all first years to read. This year’s selection was Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could Do.”
On Thursday, Bui came to campus and took part in two events put together by the CRE program, the first of which was a public lecture at Goodrich Chapel. At the lecture, Bui talked about the issues that make her worry for the world in relation to her illustrated memoir.
“The Best We Could Do” is about Bui’s family’s journey coming to the United States as refugees after the Vietnam War and how they built their lives here. Her book also explores the effects that displacement has on children and their families with an underlying discussion of what it means to be a parent.
I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book in its entirety, but Bui’s lecture intrigued me. I now plan and look forward to reading the book while learning about the experiences of a refugee.
As someone who was born and raised in the United States, the topics of refugees and displacement are something that I know about but am not completely educated on. So, when Bui began to talk about her experience fleeing Vietnam and how others were and are in similar situations as she was, I became enthralled by these people’s experiences.
It takes so much strength and courage to leave your country, the place that you are familiar with and have built memories in. But that is exactly what refugees do. Once these people leave their homes, they have to find new ones. They have to get used to a new way of living with different surroundings, and with outside factors that may threaten them to leave their newfound homes.
In light of that, knowing that the United States’ policies are preventing people from seeking asylum is appalling, especially since the number of refugees and displaced people is continually increasing.
“Being a refugee is not an identity, it’s a circumstance, it’s temporary and it could happen to anybody,” said Bui.
Bui said this while talking about how we often view refugees as pitiful and sad. She showed headshots of her family during the time that they were fleeing Vietnam and facing placement in a refugee camp. She said that pictures like this are dehumanizing because they, too, are people just like everyone else.
Although refugees and college students may not seem like two terms that are directly connected unless one identifies as both, individuals in both circumstances have to adjust to a new environment.
Being a first-year college student can be tough. In most cases, you are coming to a new city that may or may not have a different aura and culture around it. In response, you have to be able to acclimate into your new life.
“The Best We Could Do” not only educates readers on a very real situation that many people face, but it provides those that read the book with a sense of understanding toward people in new environments. And, if they are the ones in a new environment, readers can know that they are not alone, and that a lot of people experience similar things.
Thi Bui is more than a skilled artist. She is a clear voice calling for our moral souls. Her personal story is gripping; her extrapolations are a clarion call to action in a world drowning in isolationism and nationalistic populism. May her message take root in our psyches.