Posting Date: Sept. 14, 2018
When I listen to the news every day, I’m constantly reminded of our bleak reality and the strife bombarding us at every turn: war, poverty, hate, disaster, barbarians at the gate. Powerful people tell me I should be worried about strangers stealing from me and ruining my way of life. It’s practically enough to fool me into thinking that some imagined, nefarious other really could harm me, my family or my community.
But then I remember that strangers are faceless. They’re the blank slate upon whom we can project fears and anxieties; they’re others we can blame for the misfortune and change we perceive in our own lives. And I remember the very real faces of friends I’ve come to know over the course of my life, friends whose parents came to the United States from other lands, or who came from other lands themselves. My friends are no strangers. They’ve supported me, helped me, contributed to my development as a human being, as I have them. I can talk about how they came to this country to better themselves through work or education, but what truly matters most to me are their contributions as human beings. In my life alone, they guide and teach as mentors or tutors; learn as children, students and colleagues; laugh and carry on as friends; and love and care as family. When I hear politicians denigrate immigrants as criminals, I wonder how I might help to make visible all of those faces I know and hold dear.
Welcoming Week isn’t just a series of fun events to occupy your time, though it is fun. It’s also not merely a place to edify you or make you feel good about your community. Welcoming Week is about celebrating diversity, yes, and acknowledging the invaluable contributions that immigrants make to their communities and the country as a whole. But above all, to me at least, Welcoming Week serves as a reminder and an opportunity. It’s a reminder that immigrants are human beings with real faces—real friends and families that deserve visibility and all of the rights and privileges that humanness should imply—and an opportunity to discover, connect with and know some amazing people who may live right around the corner. Strangers remain strangers only if we let them. At this year’s Welcoming Week, share a story or two, listen to three and meet a neighbor. Better yet, make a friend.
To provide these reminders and opportunities, the University YMCA and its partners in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois will host or co-host over 30 different events as part of Welcoming Week, from cultural exchanges like an Eritrean Coffee Ceremony and Tasting (pictured at left) to informational gatherings and celebrations like Immigration 101: An Integration Workshop and an Immigrant Entrepreneurship Panel. The New American Welcome Center at the University Y will take Welcoming Week a step further to springboard a community-driven integration plan for all of Champaign County that not only enhances immigrant services and increases accessibility to resources for our immigrant neighbors, but that truly improves services for all.