By Edgar Bazan, Mayor’s Star Council Class 2016-2017.
Refugee settlement and immigration is a crisis that many countries around the world are facing. Many people are fleeing their countries to preserve their lives and families. This is a complex and difficult challenge that can’t be addressed in a simplistic pragmatic way since people’s lives are at stake. As explained by the United Nations refugee agency, refugees “have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.” (unhcr.org) This same dynamic applies to immigrants. Both the refugee and immigrant communities fled their country of origin to escape oppressive governments and to provide to their families an opportunity for a better, healthy and safe life.
These challenges, for too many amongst us, are a rare sight, an almost non-existent reality. We have grown accustomed to hearing about them in the news, but have yet to come and see and meet the people, and learn their names and stories. This is not a reality of which we are exempt to engage --particularly if we happen to live in metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Texas.
Vickery Meadow community is our reality here in Dallas. This one of the most complex and unique neighborhoods in our midst where refugees and immigrants from around the world have come to dwell and call it home – people from places like Bhutan, Bosnia, Burma, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mexico and many more. These are people that represent stories of heroism, survival, suffering, loss and hope. Over 30,000 people live in this 2.86 square mile area of northeast Dallas, of which half are foreign born speaking more than 30 different languages. This community is a little United Nations within our city. (KERA)
On November 15th, 2016, the Mayor’s Star Council held their monthly corporate meeting at the Northwest Community Center, in Dallas, Texas, to learn ways in which we can serve to make our city welcoming and supportive for our new neighbors. Through our panel of Martha Stowe (Executive Director, Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation), Kathy Doyle (Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Half Price Books), Monique Ward (Chief Planner, City of Dallas Neighborhood Vitality of the Planning and Urban Design), Sarah Papert (Executive Director, Vickery Meadow Learning Center), and Muna Mejbel (Vickery Meadow resident), we heard and engage in proactive conversations about the challenges for the communities in our city that are a host to refugees and immigrants.
The Northwest Community Center is one of those communities in our nation, and it is located in the Vickery Meadow community. Although they serve all people, they have become a particular place of hope to refugees and immigrants by providing them with resources such as through English as a Second Language classes, after school programs, a food pantry, job readiness training, prayer, a medical clinic, and a variety of specialized social services by partnering with non-profit agencies. (Swartz MSC 2016-2017)
However, the efforts of the Northwest Community Center are more than just being a provider of goods and services; they are primarily conducive to practices and relationships that actively help create a place for everyone they can call home. (vmydf.com) In this regard, what makes Vickery Meadow so unique and intricate is that this community has a sense of self-identity, almost as in “a city within a city.” Here is a place in our city where miracles of hope of new beginnings have happened to families from all around the world; it is indeed “a place brimming with diversity, culture, compassion, cooperation, improvement and opportunities.” (Swartz MSC 2016-2017)
A story we heard during this meeting was from Muna Mejbel, a resident of Vickery Meadow who came to the United States as a refugee in 2009 fleeing from Iraq. She recounted her peripeteia of how she and her family came to the United States of America after suffering a hard life in Iraq. In her words, “everything was new and different… our case worker helped us to settled and taught us how to open a bank account and to enroll our children in school.” Muna is now an American citizen that has successfully adapted to her new life, but she couldn’t have done it without the help and care of the people around her, and places like the Northwest Community Center.
But this is not all rosy, the struggle is real, and it is one of economics and assimilation primarily. The median annual income in this community is about $22,000, and residents generally work several jobs. Many of the children, for example, struggle to adapt to the educational system and expectations in this country since they did not have formal education in their places of origin, not even to mention learning a new language at the same time. And it goes without saying, that the realities of racism and rejection are ubiquitous. It is not uncommon for this community to be labeled and demonized as a threat. The case being the recent event of a man who was visiting the neighborhood and was diagnosed with Ebola. He died, and Vickery Meadow dominated world headlines for weeks being the recipient of backlash and rejection.
Since this is our city, these struggles and neighbors are our responsibility. If they do well, we all do well. It is in our best interest to help and support each other regardless where we have come from, our race or language. It is our humanness that ultimately reminds us that we all are the same, and that we all want the same: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. (United States Declaration of Independence 1776)
What can we do to help? One of the essential first steps anyone can take is to begin to learn, understand and have an awareness that these people, our neighbors, are refugees and immigrants who want to rebuild their lives in this great nation. These are families that are trying to make it. Most of them live in fear and anxiety trying to adapt to their new life and are only asking for an opportunity to raise a family.
What is so inspiring and humbling about all this, is that our city is a beacon of hope to the persecuted and broken. There so many good people all around us, and although we may not know their names, they stand strong as a light against darkness. In such challenging times in our nation, our best behavior and solutions come out when we are reminded that we are good people, and that our neighbor is not our enemy, but our fellow human being.
Our mission in the Mayor’s Star Council is to Learn, Serve, and Connect. And we have claimed Dallas as our city and our responsibility.