My Turn: Concord is lucky to have new Americans

  • Sayon Camara Drumming performs during the Concord Multicultural Festival in downtown Concord on Saturday, June 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

For the Monitor
Published: 1/20/2018 12:10:33 AM

I know many people who live here in the Capital Region who came from the countries that the president referenced last week in a derogatory manner. I also know people who resettled here from other nonwhite countries that he would probably group in the same category as Haiti and Africa. These people enrich our community immensely. They contribute to our economy. They add diversity and culture to our historically white state. They learn and adapt to the “American ways” and become part of our community.

As much as they learn from us, we can learn a lot from them. The new Americans (immigrants and refugees) that I have met, work with and have become friends with have a lot to offer.

After a hateful incident toward a Bhutanese family a few years ago, I got to know them. One man, who spent more than 20 years in a refugee camp, started a school for the children in the camp so they wouldn’t miss out on an education while awaiting resettlement, which in many cases could be their entire childhood.

I have become friends with a woman from Burundi who makes clothing out of “kitenge” – African fabric. Her sister sends it here from Burundi and then this woman makes clothes in modern, American fashion. She wants people from Africa to still have access to their culture and for American people to be able to experience the African culture.

I originally reached out to this woman to talk about how I could help her build up her clothing business so she didn’t have to work at a fast-food restaurant anymore. However, she wasn’t interested in talking about that – she wanted me to help her figure out how to help teenagers and young adults avoid going down the wrong path, and how to help homeless people by collecting items they need, and cooking for them.

Another Bhutanese man I know works four jobs and volunteers to help with multiple other projects.

I have a friend who came here from the Dominican Republic in search of the “American Dream.” For years, he worked multiple jobs while getting an education and supporting his young family. And he still had time to devote to volunteering and helping others. He is now a successful financial planner who wants to work specifically with new Americans and other minorities, helping them to be successful and financially stable.

Most of the new American families I know all live together, not because they have to but because that’s what they do in their culture: They take care of each other. Many have three generations under one roof. The elders are held in the highest regard and treated with respect and dignity.

Did you know that we have a Bhutanese couple living here in Concord who are highly skilled musicians and received their training from a Juilliard-level university?

Have you been to the Concord Arts Market and seen Saad’s artwork? Have you met him? He is a wonderful friend and neighbor, and takes pride in this community and in being an American citizen.

And how about the food? What would we do without Batulo’s meat pies or Aissa Sweets’ baklava or Kathmandu’s momos? Have you attended the Concord Multicultural Festival and experienced the wide selection of foods from around the globe? The festival is an opportunity for the new Americans to not only share their culture, but to make a little extra money. However, many of them donate their proceeds to local organizations.

I’ve gotten to know many of the immigrants and refugees who have resettled here and become citizens. They take pride in their community and they work hard to be good Americans. Despite the culture shock of resettlement and the hardships of assimilation, they love Concord, New Hampshire and America, and are grateful to be here.

Concord is not only a Resettlement City, but it is a Welcoming City. A Resettlement City is a city designated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to receive refugees and help them “maximize their potential in the United States by linking them to critical resources that assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

A Welcoming City is one that joins the Welcoming America network and works across multiple sectors, such as government, business and nonprofit, to create inclusive policies and practices such as making it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business or having government documents available in multiple languages. Welcoming Cities are guided by the principles of inclusion and creating communities that prosper because everyone feels welcome, including immigrants and refugees. The city of Concord adopted this resolution in July 2016.

While we are a welcoming community, in that our residents accept and embrace the new diversity that new Americans bring, there is always work to be done. Racism and intolerance come from ignorance and fear. But that can be alleviated if we put more value on human interactions than we do on headlines. There’s so much that we can learn from each other by just talking to each other.

We need to break down the barriers that the headlines and social media cause, and remember that we are all human beings, and our ancestors all came from somewhere.

I could go on and on about the benefits of allowing immigrants to come here. But the most important point is that these people – like all people, no matter the color of their skin – deserve respect and dignity, regardless of your stance on immigration.

(Jessica Livingston is the director of Concord Multicultural Festival and co-chair of Welcoming Concord Immigrant Integration Initiative’s Arts and Culture Pathway.)

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