Posting Date: Sept. 24, 2018
Our Y is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and as such, our community members come to the Y with a variety of backgrounds and identities. Some have been in San Francisco for generations; others arrived here only a few months ago. Some are members of families that have been involved with the Y for decades; others walked in the door for the first time this Welcoming Week.
For Welcoming Week, then, we wanted to hold an event that could incorporate lessons from the past as well as relate to recent immigration experiences. We decided to hold a screening and discussion of a documentary about the Chinese Exclusion Act, the extremely restrictive policy that was in place in various incarnations from 1882 through 1943.
For me, the post-screening discussion groups were a particularly valuable part of the event. We began by reflecting on the history of exclusion, as well as the similarities and differences between historical and contemporary immigration debates. We then turned to how to create a more welcoming and inclusive, rather than exclusive, community.
The contemporary parallels we noticed led us to reflect on how to reduce the fear of the unknown that has caused so much strife throughout human history. One participant suggested that both education and meeting the “other” could help reduce the misconceptions which fuel this fear. Another participant proposed finding common ground with those who seem different from ourselves. This brought us to discuss how we might find commonalities without overlooking each person’s unique identity. Perhaps, we thought, identifying with a collective cause—something larger than ourselves—can create a sense of community and fellowship with others, while recognizing that different people with varied identities might work towards that cause in diverse ways.
Unfortunately, a “cause” can sometimes be twisted out of a fear of the unknown and manifest as a negative—one of the ugly “-ism”s, for example, which seemingly “unite” smaller groups of people while fracturing the wider community, spreading hate and attacking perceived others. As I understand it, the hope of our discussion group, our event and our Welcoming Week is that through community events, opportunities to meet new people and chances to learn about our past and think about our future, we can promote a positive collective cause: building an inclusive and strong community. By bringing people together to work, learn and reflect with those who may have previously seemed “unknown” or “other,” we can create a welcoming, rather than exclusionary, environment at our Y, in our community and beyond.