by Ron Cooper
Refugees and immigrants moving to our communities may often feel like a duck out of water. They may be greeted, not with warm embraces and welcome, but instead with glares and ill-chosen words of intolerance and bigotry. Compassion demands that we respond to these newcomers with open arms. A simple way to demonstrate we are a welcoming community is by blanketing our city or town with signs of “welcome” in the native languages of those new neighbors.
Picture this: Businesses and churches could display a sign proclaiming “Bienvenidos,” for Spanish speaking people and “Karibuni” for those who speak Swahili, and (ahlan wa sahlan) أهلاً و سهلاً for Arabic speakers. Translation? A simple welcome.
Every month, the message on the sign could contain another word or phrase that shows we warmly welcome the rich diversity brought by our new neighbors.
Coinciding with the sign project, why not organize free language classes in Spanish, Swahili, and Arabic along with the English as a Second Language classes. That way, native-born and newly arrived residents could communicate with each other more effectively. The newcomers will feel valued and welcomed.
Tolerance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It must be built through patience, love and understanding. And a class in Arabic might not hurt at all!