It’s World Refugee Month
The juxtaposition of inspiration and present reality is such a complex space to navigate.
We are endlessly inspired by the humanity and goodness we’ve been lucky enough to witness in the newcomers we’ve met in our city. We continue to hope for opportunities to come alongside those in the resettlement community; to learn from, listen to, and share life with each one.
In this present moment, as we invite each of you into the beauty and celebration of some of the best in our world, an honest look around tells us that there is so much to mourn and lament. At times, it feels unfair, even unjust, to hold on to hope as we walk alongside and listen to marginalized voices leading and teaching us in the spaces we find ourselves in. And yet, because of the call we have on our lives to walk hand-in-hand with our neighbors, that’s the place we land. Hopeful mourning that pushes us to the truth of knowing our neighbors in a way that honors and welcomes them into a complex city. A city full of wonder and turmoil. It’s never just one thing and we embrace that.
Entering into a week concluding with World Refugee Day, we find ourselves hoping for a world where those displaced from their homes would never have been removed from all they’ve ever known in the first place. That’s the pull of these moments. Seeing the beauty in our friendships with newcomers and knowing it was never really supposed to be this way.
This year we feel this tension heavily. Typically in June, our cities are packed full of gatherings meant to celebrate and lift up the stories of those who have joined our neighborhoods through the path of refugee resettlement. Languages, foods, clothing, and dances fill our city parks while those of us who have lived in this space all or most of our lives get the chance to learn about places and people we’ve never personally known yet. This year, as we focus on caring for Black folks in our community, a moment that is so wrapped up in the lives of so many newcomers, and as we take healthy precautions with COVID-19, things look a little different.
Even when we do have these events though, they’re not without their own complexity. I’ve sat with friends that have recently arrived in my city while attending these displays of welcome. I have applauded storytellers on a stage, seeing the deep resilience and courage within them. And as I’m clapping for the inspirational story shared to the masses, I’m aware of my friend sitting nearby that wishes they never had to endure the pain that brought him here in the first place.
For many of our newest neighbors these events and celebrations truly do serve as signposts pointing them toward the people and spaces of their new community that, with open arms, are saying “You’re welcome here!” For those of us that have called this country home for much longer, the danger is letting these celebratory events serve only as a pat on the back that we’ve aligned with those on the right side of history. It is easy to tell ourselves that we’re being a good neighbor in a way that allows us to sleep well at night while we still have much more listening and learning to do in order to really know those around us that have come to our city through refugee resettlement.
Acknowledging the complexity doesn’t mean there aren’t countless stories to celebrate in our midst though. And so this month we are endeavoring to do just that. While we may not be congregating with food and dance at Lents Park in SE Portland, we won’t stop looking for ways to step into this season with full hearts. We can honor the pain and listen to the stories and journeys of those around us that have led them to our community AND we can celebrate and call out the courage and hope we see in these folks time and time again.
The courage shows up on the stage of Memorial Coliseum as a young brother and sister walk across the stage, graduating with honors after coming to live here in NE Portland just five years. The resilience shows up in the recently arrived father of 6 that shows up to work cleaning a movie theater night after night, dedicated to whatever he can do to support his family and bring honor to his community. Beauty is found in blossoming relationships between grandmothers resettled from different countries of origin that don’t yet share a language, but find themselves laughing together as they take the Max to English classes day after day. Hope arises from places that had been unrecognized before when a group of young Congolese friends find themselves marching alongside others in the city fighting for their own lives and the lives of those they’ve yet to even meet.
Today, as we begin a month of reflection and celebration, bringing you stories and inviting our community to come alongside those in the resettlement populations, we want to share moments that educate, inspire, and challenge all of us. Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll bring you something to chew on, something to mourn, something we hope will draw you into the ongoing invitation to join us in the beauty and complexity of relationships as we listen to and live alongside the newest of neighbors in our city.