PHOTO VIA THE WELCOME PROJECT
Residents vent on issues related to immigrant communities
As a major initiative for 2019, the team at the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), in collaboration with partners at DigBoston, Somerville Media Center (SMC), and various other outlets, is focusing on identifying and reporting critical stories in the City of Somerville.
To that end, we have been leading journalism workshops at SMC, including some with high school students, and in February BINJ turned out more than 100 Somerville residents and active community members to the ONCE ballroom on Highland Ave to converse with area journalists about issues they think need more coverage. The information these participants provided has already seeded articles and will continue to bear fruit over the coming months.
In addition to our follow-ups, we have transcribed all of the presentations given at ONCE. It’s a lot to chew on, so for the purpose of reporting back we parsed sentiments of the participating Somervillians into the following categories (many of which overlap at multiple intersections):
- Neighborhoods, transit, and accessibility
- Union Square and other development
- Low-income residents and affordable housing
- Immigrant communities
- Trees and the environment
- Arts, artists, and artisans
In addition to reports that stem from the February meetup, over the coming weeks we will also publish words and ideas that stood out at the summit. This week, we get into excerpts from various testimonies related to immigrant communities.
Ruth Farris, Center for Arabic Culture
The Center of Arabic Culture is a small nonprofit [with] offices right in the Armory. Let’s face it, if anyone needs good press, it’s Arabs. Specifically we are, in our charter, a cultural arts organization. We take no position on politics and religion and we’re pretty unique in that way. Most Arab organizations are sort of based in a church or a mosque, so what we do is we have one of our biggest things is a large Arabic School that runs in Newton at Brimmer and May for adults and children to learn Arabic.
We [also] run a lot of programs right at the Armory. We recently had a big calligraphy workshop, we do foreign films, Arab films. We’ve participated with [the Somerville Arts Council initiative] Nibble in doing an Arabic cooking class, and we do it because we love our culture and we want to keep our culture for our children to enjoy. Also, because we don’t want non-Arabs to be afraid of us. We want people to learn about the beauty of our culture and to counter some of the negative things that go on in the press.
Kenia Alfaro, The Welcome Project
We are an immigrant nonprofit based in Somerville, but we work with immigrant families throughout the Greater Boston region. Some of the news … we would like to be covered is … about some of the issues that many immigrant families are facing here in the city. I think as a very liberal city, sometimes we don’t focus on some of the bad things that are happening … especially things that are affecting immigrant families.
For example, in equity and education, the stories that we hear from many family members—or even our students—[are] about different acts of discrimination or racism that they’re hearing themselves. Some of the other things that we also seeing and sometimes hearing about, and maybe want to have more conversation about, is centering the voices of immigrant families that are often not centered. For example, the way we are hearing a lot of the stories, it would be really great for those voices to also be centered within the news to hear what it is that they want changed. So if they’re looking for some changes in specific locations, let’s say more greenery and more family spaces in East Somerville, those voices should be the ones that are centered, and not necessarily the outer community or us ourselves as an organization.
Healthcare access for many immigrants and healthcare access is [another issue that warrants attention] as well. What does healthcare look like within this city? What does it look like if we’re talking about environmental racism that often affects many underrepresented people of color and immigrant families themselves?