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You don't have to live like a 'refugee' - Chris Goltermann

Tom Petty's song rings true in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "You don't have to live like a refugee."

And you shouldn't have to think of yourself as a refugee either.

It's a word that never really came across as crude or primitive to me, despite the not too unfamiliar images of Elian Gonzalez a few years back. But that is until now.

For just this one time, the Associated Press has got it wrong and (gulp) the Rev. Jesse Jackson has it right. The term "refugee" is just not the proper term for those who have had to suffer the wrath of Katrina. And Webster's got to have a word among the thousands it holds between its covers that more closely groups these individuals together with their stories of survival.

Evacuees? Sure. Displaced? Absolutely. But refugees?

Not when they are the same as you or I.

Sure, in the wake of all that needs to be done – with our state and federal governments pointing at each other like four year-olds who just got caught by mom and dad for trying to create an indoor swimming pool with the kitchen sink – this is a moot point among a national crisis the likes my generation has never seen.

Unlike a flooded city, however, this is easily fixable.

Calling Katrina's survivors 'refugees' isn't as racially bias, as it is wrong in definition. For the record, Webster's New World Dictionary defines a "refugee" as "one who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere." So techically AP isn't far off. In their haste to tell such stories of strife and hardship, the likes we've never seen before – in the shadow of a natural disaster – they've categorized those affected in the Gulf Coast as best as they could.

Who could blame them? Just as our country has struggled to effectively deal with a tragedy, the type of migration made by hundreds of thousands of Southerners resembles those from "The Grapes of Wrath." And who am I, at 32, to be able to relate a book I read in eighth grade of a time I never knew, to today's struggles.

No, we've all been called names before, many worse than "refugee." But as the smallest regard to people who have had homes destroyed, families dislocated, possessions ruined, not using the word is the least we all can do to help if dollars and cents are just too much to ask.

I wish I had the perfect answer. The struggle to find a word isn't as far off as the difficulties of finding a new place to call "home." We'll do our best to stick with "evacuees" and "displaced" until something else surfaces from the waters.

"Katrinites?" Silly. Hurricane survivors? Yeah, that's better. Georgians? Some we hope, if they choose to stick around and become our neighbors, maybe even our friends.

But try this one on for size and see if it fits your liking.

How about ... "Americans."

Chris Golterman is a page designer for the Daily Herald and Weekend edition and can be reached at cgolterman@news-daily.com .