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Tyler Lundin t-shirt worn by refugee boy at Rhino Camp in West Nile District, Uganda.

Two Faces: Refugees and Illegals

Tyler Lundin t-shirt worn by refugee boy at Rhino Camp in West Nile District, Uganda.
Tyler Lundin t-shirt worn by refugee boy at Rhino Camp in West Nile District, Uganda.

I never met Tyler Lundin.

At least not when he was alive.

My journey to learning about his life and death began on a dusty soccer field near the Nile River in Uganda.

Africans wear all manner of American shirts and caps.  I always enjoyed talking to them about who the Boston Celtics were, Adrian Peterson’s Vikings jersey, and my favorite,  “Kiss me: I’m Irish.”

I snapped the above photo of the boy in the Tyler Lundin shirt.  The young refugee’s face is such a mixture of hope and pain. He’s probably seen things I wouldn’t imagine.

Then there’s Tyler’s smile with the date of 10-26-06.  Without knowing the story, I surmised it was the day he died. Eight years before I took this photo in one of the most desolate and remote refugee camps I’d visited.

When I left Up Country (what we called the Bush) and returned to civilization, I googled Tyler Lundin.

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Tyler was killed in a car wreck caused by an illegal alien who was drunk and had no license or green card.

Anyone with a heart and brain can agree that a drunk person with no license has no business on the road.

The fact that they’re illegal only deepens the feelings.  The fact that Tyler Lundin was killed by a Hispanic illegal alien, Wilfredo Brizuela, is a tragedy.  Most Hispanics are the hardest workers you’ll ever see.  They do the jobs many Americans won’t:  planting trees, picking crops, doing the dirty thankless jobs that are part of  every society.

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It’s a truth that hundreds of my African friends  told me,  “I want to go to your country. Take me back to America.  We’re looked at as the land of great opportunity.  And it is true, but I’d tell my friends,  “You wouldn’t like it. You’d miss Africa.”

My friends laughed not realizing I was serious.

If you’ve not seen the Reese Witherspoon movie, The Good Lie, I recommend it.  It takes place in South Sudan, Kenya, and Kansas City and shows the difficulty of refugees coming to America.

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The best book on this same difficult transition is Dave Eggers’ What it the What.

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Folks worldwide wish to come to our country.  I don’t blame them. I’ve seen where many of them live.

But they must play by the rules.

My experience was in central Africa, but I guarantee most Middle Eastern refugees want the same thing the Somalian, Darfurian, Dinka, or Nuer want: a chance to live freely without fear.

Before you judge an immigrant or refugee, remember that they’ve lived in places where living is survival.


I wonder what Tyler Lundin would say about it all.

I’m amazed at the fact that a t-shirt with his face on it made it from California to Uganda.

It’s a safe bet that the young refugee wearing the shirt is still wearing it most days.  It’s probably ripped, stained, and he’s outgrown it.  But as he wears it, having no idea who Tyler Lundin is, he still bears witness to a life lived on another continent.

If I ever go back to Rhino Camp, I’d love to find him on that soccer field and tell him Tyler Lundin’s story.  To place a face to a life.

And if could be with Tyler Lundin, I’d show him this photo.

He’s got a nice smile on the shirt.  I believe it would be wider and brighter.

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Tyler Lundin t-shirt worn by refugee boy at Rhino Camp in West Nile District, Uganda.
Tyler Lundin t-shirt worn by refugee boy at Rhino Camp in West Nile District, Uganda.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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