Last week I shared a story about how an experience I had during our year abroad put me in the shoes of any new immigrant who’s ever come to America. It’s impossible to understand the difficulty of being a stranger in an unfamiliar land until you experience it firsthand. That’s why I did a little dance when I discovered the nonpartisan, nonprofit, Welcoming America.
Welcoming America is multi-regional and multi-faceted, just like the communities they serve. The foundation of their approach is to build bridges: between immigrants and their new communities, and between leaders and programs with the same goals. Welcoming America’s mission is to create a culture that makes it possible for all newcomers to feel valued as they fully engage in their new country.
Coincidentally, we’ve just celebrated a holiday in the US that’s about the welcoming of foreigners to “American” land. Leading up to the very first Thanksgiving dinner, members of the Wampanoag tribe taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn, helping them to survive. Welcoming America follows the lead of this early hospitality. They empower recent immigrants by “teaching them how to fish” while at the same time nurturing the communities they’ve moved to. The wisdom behind this philosophy is that everyone benefits.
Our national ideal of being welcoming is represented both by the origins of Thanksgiving and through the symbol of the Statue of Liberty (“…give me your tired, your poor…”). Yet our actions have often contradicted this. We must own our dark history regarding the original inhabitants of the land we occupy and the generations of immigrants who haven’t felt welcomed.
One way we might heal the past is by paying forward that historic graciousness the Pilgrims received. Why would we treat newcomers in any other way than we ourselves would want to be treated?
Writing these posts reminds me of the value in creating connections with immigrants. We all can do that by supporting a local immigrant business; speaking up on their behalf; or even exploring our own immigrant roots as a way to build empathy. And we can support changemakers who do the deeper work every day, like those at Welcoming America. Consider joining me in making a donation. Or click around WelcomingAmerica.org for more great ideas on how you can help immigrants thrive.