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Foreign-born residents have their say in integrated communities plan

Foreign-born residents have their say in integrated communities plan
May 07
00:00 2015
(Above: Photos by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle- Aparna Shivram speaks about her experiences as an immigrant in Winston-Salem during the public immigration meeting on Thursday, April 30, 2015, at Goodwill Industries.)

Building Integrated Communities held a meeting for foreign-born residents to air their issues last Thursday, April 30, at Goodwill Industries on University Parkway.

The meeting drew more than 150 attendees who divided into groups to list problems that foreign-born residents face.

BIC is a program by the University of North Carolina Latino Migration Project that partners with local governments to try assess to the needs of immigrant populations and create action plans to help them.

“We are trying to come up with a way to bridge the gap between all immigrant communities in Winston-Salem,” said Wanda Allen-Abraha, head of the Human Relations Department that BIC is partnering with locally.

BIC, which started its local work last spring, presented research it had already done on the area, which Hannah Gill, director of the Latino Migration Project, first relayed in English and Jessicalee White, BIC researcher & program coordinator, translated for Spanish speakers.

Using U.S. Census Data from 2008-2012, they  found the majority of foreign-born residents in Forsyth County, 69 percent, come from Latin America, with Asia coming in second at 18 percent. Most local foreign-born residents, 78 percent, are not U.S. citizens.

Foreign-born residents often live in communities in the city whose populations are equal parts white, Hispanic and African-American. Residents in these areas tend to have lower incomes and are less likely to own their homes and have college degrees.

BIC also surveyed 20 groups that serve immigrant populations along with 211 foreign-born residents who came from 23 countries and Puerto Rico. They found numerous main issues that Gill said where common among foreign-born residents around the state, like language barriers, transportation issues, discrimination and problems with identification and documentation.

The attendees’ groups, which included several groups for those more comfortable speaking Spanish, came up with lists of specific local issues that filled the giant sheets of paper that group leaders wrote on. The group White led in Spanish listed workplace discrimination among its issues, with attendees feeling that they were paid less than U.S. natives and were afraid to speak out on their working conditions for fear of being fired.

Other issues included the need for greater access to public transportation, the need for parent orientation on local regulations and procedures and the need for more low-cost youth activities.

Among the attendees was Aparna Shivram who is originally from India. She’s president of the Indo-U.S. Cultural Association, a 45-year-old organization that does cultural presentations and holds events like this Saturday’s India Fest at Winston Square Park. She’s lived in America for 15 years, with four of those being in Winston-Salem.

Language was not an issue for Shivram when she immigrated, as English is one of several languages she knows because India has a multitude of spoken languages. During the group session, she said that it can be an issue for young children, who may get mislabeled as needing special courses in school, when all they need is a few more months to grasp English.

She said she came to the meeting because she wants to be a part of the solution for immigrant communities.

“I think building integrated communities is so important,” she said. ”Just the fact that Winston-Salem is thinking about it makes my heart swell with pride.”

BIC has previously worked in High Point and Greenville. High Point, where BIC held meetings in 2011 and 2012, formed an International Advisory Committee to provide immigrant perspectives for the city and an Interfaith Affairs Committee to promote understating between religions. Many other changes were made, including an increase in bilingual information and greater transit system access for immigrant communities.

“High Point has done amazing things with this process,” said Gill.

The next step will be going though all the needs that have been brought up and formulating an action plan, Gill said. More meetings will be held to get feedback on the plan as the local initiative enters its second year.

By the third year of the three-year program, the plan will be put into effect and will be evaluated to measure its effectiveness.

Pauline Morris, the director of Forsyth Technical Community College’s International Center who serves on the local BIC committee, assured attendees that change is coming.

“There will be a response,” she said. “There will be something happening because you came here tonight.”

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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