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Posts Tagged ‘immigrants’

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As you know from your earliest history classes, the first immigrants arrived in Virginia in 1607.

For good or evil, depending on how much you identify with an indigenous heritage, immigrants have made America what it is today. The migration started as early as 1607 in Virginia.

That’s what came to mind when I read this news story about the contribution of immigrants to the economy of present-day Virginia.

Katie O’Connor writes at the Virginia Mercury, “A new report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis says immigrants are key contributors to the state’s overall economy, despite challenges that include health insurance access, discrimination, language barriers, ‘brain waste’ and housing costs. …

“As many parts of Virginia struggle to find enough workers, many immigrants are ‘relatively young, well educated, fluent in English and more likely to participate in the workforce.’

“The one million immigrants in Virginia make up 12.5 percent of the state population. … And while immigration from Mexico tends to dominate the national debate, Virginia’s immigrant population comes from a wide variety of countries.

“ ‘Mexican immigrants make up just 5% of all immigrants in Virginia, fourth after people born in El Salvador (11%), India (9%), and Korea (6%),’ the report says. ‘Looking at continent of birth, rather than country of birth, there is a similar diversity. Forty-three percent of Virginia’s immigrant population was born in Asia, the largest group from any continent.’ Most of them are also between the prime working ages of 25 and 54. …

“ ‘Immigrants participate in Virginia’s workforce at a much higher rate than U.S.-born residents — 72 percent compared to 65 percent — and at a rate six percentage points higher than the national participation for foreign-born residents.’

“But the report also points to public policies that would help address the challenges immigrants face. More than one in three noncitizen residents lack access to health insurance in Virginia, ‘even worse than in the country as a whole,’ the report states. …

“Immigrants face all the challenges that come with lack of health insurance, like large medical bills and a lack of preventative care. Virginia is also one of only six states to require legal, noncitizens to work for at least 10 years before they qualify for Medicaid.

“Housing and poverty remain problems for the state’s immigrants, as does what’s called ‘brain waste’: when people aren’t working jobs that match their educational attainment.

“ ‘In Virginia, 21 percent of college-educated immigrants 25 and older are working in low-skill jobs or are unemployed. This is well above the average for U.S.-born Virginians,’ the report states. ‘Lawmakers, employers, and workforce development officials all have a role to play in reducing this needless inefficiency and maximizing opportunity for the state.’ ” More.

When a much-needed resource is right under our noses, it’s penny wise and pound foolish not to help it flourish.

Hat tip: Economic Policy Institute on twitter.

P.S. I can’t resist adding this poem by Emily Dickinson from today’s Boston Globe:
“These Strangers, in a foreign World,
“Protection asked of me—
“Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
“Be found a Refugee—”

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Recently, I took a couple trips to New York to see my sister, who’s been having ups and downs with the brain cancer. We had decided to have a sibling gathering when the Midwest and West Coast brothers were in town with wives and several kids.

I’m not going to show you the group photo from our delicious Maialino lunch because my poor sister, despite feeling much better, is still horrifically bruised from tripping and getting a black eye. Falling is one of the biggest worries these days.

Instead I’ll share other pictures from my trips and explain any that need explaining.

In July, I took Amtrak from Kingston, Rhode Island, where there is a cute historic train station and, across the track, some interesting graffiti.

In New York, my camera was drawn to verbal images: Biblical messages chalked on the sidewalks, a port-a-potty pun for my collection, and outreach to immigrants (I saw the electronic kiosk message in Spanish and Chinese, too).

I also shot a giant balloon version of the city mascot (just kidding, it’s not the mascot) and one of the ubiquitous mini gardens planted around street trees. I especially admired the gardens that managed to do without the “curb your dog” signs because they completely spoil the charm. But how do people protect the plantings otherwise? I wondered. Do the doormen rush out and chase away dogs? Is there a spray deterrent that dogs hate? Some successful mini gardens used higher fences.

A large and glorious volunteer-maintained series of gardens in Riverside Park proclaimed a different kind of success with its clouds of delirious, happy butterflies, like the butterfly below. Red Admiral? Not sure.

Olmstead’s tinkling waterfalls in Central Park make me delirious.

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Photos: Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny
“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees, and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.” says the founder of Emma’s Torch restaurant, Kerry Brodie.

What are ordinary people supposed to do against the horrors of the headlines? Another violent person who has brainwashed himself with misinformation about immigrants has acted out. He did it in New Zealand, but his online buddies are everywhere.

I am an ordinary person, and here’s all I can do, little as it is. I can donate to causes that work to prevent ignorance and violence. I can remind myself that there are an awful lot of people whose views on immigration are completely different from the evil doer’s. And I can share another story about how one of those people took positive action, to the delight of many.

Amanda Holpuch reports at the Guardian, “Culinary adventures are woven into the fabric of New York City. But in Brooklyn one December night, only one restaurant could offer a five-course meal that began with salmon cake and couscous from Mali and ended with an Iraqi dessert, including in between dishes from Honduras and China.

“The restaurant is Emma’s Torch, a non-profit that teaches refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking the culinary and communication skills needed for a career in the kitchen. Six days a week, diners are offered a menu described as: ‘New American cuisine – prepared by our new American students.’

“The restaurant began as a pop-up [in 2017] before expanding this summer into a bright, airy restaurant known for its earthy black-eyed pea hummus garnished with dried chillies. The New Yorker food critic, Hannah Goldfield, touted their ‘perfect shakshuka’ served during weekend brunch service in her August review of the restaurant. In 2019, they will open a second space at Brooklyn Public Library.

“Emma’s Torch is named for Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

“On one night each month, Emma’s Torch is also the site of a graduation dinner that showcases the flavors of students’ homes, such as the lotus root dyed pink with dragon fruit sauce that was prepared by a Chinese student for the second course of the December dinner.

“Before the first course was served, as the clock ticked down, the restaurant’s founder, Kerry Brodie, spoke over the sounds of sizzling pans.

“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees,’ she said, ‘and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.’

“In an eight-week, paid apprenticeship, trainees learn how to properly use knives to slice, dice and chop. They also take English classes and participate in mock job interviews. They receive 400 hours of culinary training and are paid $15 an hour for their work at the restaurant and on catered events. In 2017, every graduate was placed in a culinary job. …

“Aya fled Iraq two years ago, fearing persecution because her husband was a professor. Violence against academics became common after the US-led invasion in 2003; the couple were being threatened for her husband’s refusal to obey militias. …

“She studied computer programming for two years but that gave way to cooking, as her efforts were praised by teachers and friends. …

“In Iraq, she could buy their favorite foods cheaply and easily. In the US, she had to craft meals from start to finish, scouring markets for Arab ingredients. … But as Aya kept friends, family and teachers happy with her meals from home, it was clear her future lay in cooking, not computers. The refugee agency Hias connected her with Emma’s Torch.”

Read more about Aya and the work of Emma’s Torch at the Guardian, here.

Emma’s Torch in Brooklyn, NY, is a restaurant that values the contributions of refugees. The name refers to the poem by Emma Lazarus quoted on the Statue of Liberty.

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Photos: Lowell Sun/Rick Sobey
Gardener Thomas Sarantakis harvests a watermelon at Mill City Grows’ Rotary Club Community Garden in Lowell, Massachusetts. The garden was recently highlighted in a podcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Many of us are fascinated by news from distant parts of the world. At Suzanne‘s Mom’s Blog, as you know, stories of far-away events and customs get featured quite a lot.

Today in a twist, I’m highlighting something the London-based British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wrote about near-to-me Lowell, Massachusetts.

Rick Sobey at the Lowell Sun wrote a story about the story in late August.

“The community garden is blossoming in Back Central. Giant kale as tall as the 5-foot, 8-inch gardener, in addition to monster zucchini and an enormous pumpkin.

” ‘Wow, they’re, like, Jurassic,’ Alexis Pancrazi says of the kale at Mill City Grows’ Rotary Club Community Garden.

“Pancrazi speaks to gardeners, immigrants and others to learn about the community gardens’ impact across the city. She recently released her findings in a 27-minute podcast segment as part of BBC World Service’s ‘Neighbourhood’ series. The title of the radio segment broadcast last week was ‘How a Garden Grows.’

” ‘We’ve been working with her for over a year on that piece, so we were really excited it finally aired,’ said Lydia Sisson, co-director of Mill City Grows. … ‘We hope this will bring more attention to the power that community gardens have.’

“The segment shines a light on Mill City Grows’ first community garden, the Rotary Club garden founded in 2012. … The segment discusses how community gardens across the country are blossoming in the place of empty lots and blight.

“In Lowell, the community gardens are helping improve urban access to fresh produce, Pancrazi says.

” ‘It’s so much more than just the food,’ says Mill City Grows Co-Director Francey Slater. ‘It’s the sense of belonging to a community. It’s the people that you meet. That sense of ownership you develop — transforming a piece of your neighborhood that had been blighted and ugly and vacant and dilapidated, into something that’s really rich and lush and welcoming. … There’s something so celebratory about that.’ …

“The series is a collaboration between the BBC World Service and the Sundance Institute. It’s available for streaming here.”

More from the Lowell Sun here.

Hat tip: Meredith on Facebook.

Flowers at the Mill City Grows’ Rotary Club Community Garden in Lowell.

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Mural in Little Village, a Chicago neighborhood with a strong Latino presence. Most research shows a correlation between immigrants moving into communities and an improvement in safety for all residents.

Despite lots of reliable data that immigrants tend to improve the safety of communities where they live, misperceptions persist. Naturally, anyone who is a dangerous criminal, whether a US citizen or immigrant, must always be dealt with, but people who come here just for a decent life are as likely as anyone else — maybe more likely — to try to make communities better.

Chiraag Bains, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, talks about the issue at the Marshall Project.

“A trove of empirical research contradicts the notion that immigrants are [a] violent criminal horde. … In fact, studies consistently show that they commit significantly less crime than native-born Americans, and although the data are difficult to untangle, this appears to be true of both authorized and unauthorized immigrants. Even more, new findings suggest that immigrants may actually cause crime to decline in the areas where they live.

“In a study published recently in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, researchers analyzed Census Bureau and Federal Bureau of Investigation crime data across 200 metropolitan areas in every census year from 1970 to 2010….

“The researchers found a reduction of almost five violent crimes per 100,000 residents for every 1 percent increase in the foreign-born population. Analyses of city- and neighborhood-level data in ‘gateway’ cities such as New York, Chicago, Miami and El Paso have similarly found that violent crime rates — homicide rates in particular — are not higher, but actually lower in areas with more immigrants. This might help explain how violent crime dropped 48 percent over the same period that our undocumented population grew from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

“One example of this effect in action is the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Researchers with the Americas Society and Council of the Americas found that as white residents fled the neighborhood during the 1990s, the threat of depopulation and disinvestment was countered by an influx of immigrants, mostly from the Caribbean. Today, Canarsie has below-city average rates of poverty and housing vacancy, and its crime rate dropped from just above the city average in 1990 to 44 percent below the city average in 2010.

“There are logical reasons immigrants would be less likely to commit crimes. They may represent those among their countrymen with the most motivation and the greatest ability to seek a better life abroad. They may also have the most to lose, especially if they entered illegally or have family back home counting on their income.

“There are also explanations for why immigrants help bring down violent crime — apart from the fact that they commit less of it. New immigrants often repopulate hard-hit neighborhoods and increase the labor market opportunities of native-born workers. They also tend to create and strengthen social institutions in their neighborhoods, leading in turn to communities that are more stable and safer. This is the explanation scholars find most likely.”

More here.

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Photo: Julie Van Rosendaal
EthniCity chef and kitchen manager Ajoy Sehgal helps immigrants to Canada as they acclimate to a new land and develop food and hospitality-industry skills.

I’ve written before about how immigrants often start their own businesses, especially food businesses. And I’ve also blogged on nonprofit organizations that use a food business to acclimate refugees to US job expectations and teach marketable skills. (Beautiful Day, “Granola on a Mission,” is a favorite.)

Today I have a story about the same sort of thing going on in Canada — and how great it’s been for both immigrants and customers.

Julie Van Rosendaal reports at CBC News, “Sharing a meal remains one of the best ways to get to know someone, and to learn more about different cultures and backgrounds.

EthniCity catering, a non-profit social enterprise run by Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, taps into the culinary knowledge of new Canadians, turning their cooking skills into a business, while helping prepare them to work in the food and hospitality industry.

” ‘It’s training for us also,’ says chef and kitchen manager Ajoy Sehgal, who worked in kitchens around the world, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Dubai and throughout the Middle East, before coming to Calgary. ‘They may not be chefs, but they bring expertise about their cuisine. We hope they take something in return.’

“Founded in 1997 as a Collective Kitchen, EthniCity Catering began as a peer support group for women in a church basement and has grown into a full commercial kitchen, providing work experience and training to immigrants during their transition to Canada. …

“Each course runs for 10 weeks with a group of 16 students, who learn in the classroom as well as in the kitchen and on location at catering jobs, under the wing of Sehgal. The group generated $216,000 last year, with profits reinvested into the program. …

“The Centre for Newcomers serves over 10,000 new Canadians each year. With a staff of 130 in their northeast office and students and visitors often in the building for classes and other events, the caterers have a built-in customer base for morning coffee and pastries and unique lunch offerings. …

“EthniCity caters groups of up to 500, and offers their homemade appetizers — pakoras, fatayer, spring rolls, samosas, satay and the like — for customers to bake themselves at home.

“The menu is inspired by cuisines from around the world — the regular menu includes chickpea chaat and bahjis, Philippine pancit noodles, Thai green curry, Indian korma, Arabic mujaddara, Greek moussaka and Russian stroganoff. New dishes are regularly added, and they create custom menus. …

” ‘We’re trying to give them exposure to as much as possible,’ says Sehgal.” More here.

That list is making me hungry. And I’m remembering one of the things I loved about the years we lived near Rochester, New York — the annual international food festival held outside the museum. If I was lucky, my husband would babysit, while I walked around in a happy haze, tasting everything. Mmm.

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Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/for the Washington Post
Mustafa Azimi, center, joins a discussion group hosted by Randy Harris, a friend, whose table is usually positioned near the Islamic Center’s table at a New Mexico farmers market.

Even though Thanksgiving dinners have an unfortunate reputation for fraught conversations among family members, it’s still true that sitting together and sharing food often bridges differences. That’s why going places where food is the main event — say, farmers markets — could be a great way to find commonalities with people from other cultures.

Abigail Hauslohner at the Washington Post describes one market’s experiment.

“The mother and daughter arrived just before 8 a.m., unpacking the table and folding chairs from the back of a white minivan. It was a chilly 43 degrees, and the sun cast long shadows between the farmers market stalls and the funnel cake truck, the smell of grilled meat and wood smoke hovering.

“Sureyya Hussain carefully laid out the Korans.

“Soon, the curious passersby began to approach with their questions, their comments and their concerns. The answers, Hussain hoped, would inform and enlighten — or at least spur constructive conversations about being Muslim in America.

“ ‘We wanted to have a voice about what Islam is for us,’ said Hussain, 50, who organizes the monthly table, where anyone can come to learn about Islam. …

“For some of the nation’s small-town mosques and groups of recent immigrants, the instinct has been to turn inward, keep a low profile, buy security cameras, and tell young people to avoid confrontations. Other communities have tried the exact opposite: public engagement.

“The Islamic Center of Las Cruces, the only mosque in this desert town of 101,000 about an hour north of the Mexican border, is one of them.

“Hussain and other members of the mosque’s Dawa — or outreach committee — come here, to the town’s farmers market, and set up a sign that says ‘Know Islam’ amid the stalls hawking apples, kettle corn and handmade soaps. They provide free Korans and pamphlets on different Islamic beliefs, and then they sit there for five hours, offering themselves up for whatever comes their way. …

“Sometimes the conversations get difficult — maybe even a little uncomfortable or combative — but the volunteers do their best to stay calm and friendly.

“ ‘I could very easily sit in my house and hang out, but I’ve decided to do something, and this is the consequence of doing something,’ said Mustafa Azimi, 27, a nurse, who joined Hussain and her daughter, along with his wife and another member of the mosque. ‘People are going to ask you questions. The goal is showing the community that Islam is not what the news portrays. If people knew that Muslims are also — like, that I’m a nurse who also knows how to cook food — that would be awesome.’ …

“ ‘Overall it’s been wonderful,’ said Hussain, a lawyer who grew up in Wyoming and is a mother of three. ‘People are friendly. People have a lot to say. Even people who disagree with us.’ …

” ‘We get more people that are stopping just to tell us that they either love us being here, or, like ACT for America, yell us down,’ Hussain said. ‘We get more of that because both sides feel the need to tell us how they feel.’

“As 1 p.m. approached and the farmers market began to wind down, a man in a cowboy hat, lugging a large metal washtub, walked up, looked at the sign and struck up a conversation. …

“ ‘Do you follow sharia law?’ [asked a guy calling himself Washtub Jerry.] ‘Do you want sharia law? Because it’s not compatible with the Constitution.’

“[Radwan Jallad, an electrical engineer and member of the mosque’s Dawa committee] explained: ‘Sharia law says you’re required to follow the law of the country.’

“Jerry seemed satisfied. He accepted a Koran, and said he would visit again.” More at the Washington Post, here. And check out a similar “Ask a Muslim” initiative started by one couple in Cambridge, Mass., here.

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