Immigration laws are federal, but immigrant lives are lived locally. While big ideas and laws matter, local stories and first-person accounts can break down the abstraction and bring the issues home. KARE co-anchor Gia Vang is the first Hmong-American television anchor in the Twin Cities. She connected with Michelle Li, who is an anchor at the NBC affiliate in St. Louis after the March 2021 killings of six Asian women in Atlanta. Then came New Year’s Day, 2022. Michelle Li did a short segment on New Year’s Day eating, ending with the comment that, “I ate dumpling soup. That’s what a lot of Korean people do.”
Her 30-second segment and comment got a nasty voicemail, criticizing her for “being very Asian.” The viewer also scolded that she should “keep her Asian to herself.” After Li posted the voicemail on social media, Vang suggested that they do something about it, and they started a quick, small business to fight racism and rai se awareness. Their project: sell #VeryAsian hats, sweatshirts, and t-shirts online. The sales benefit the Asian American Journalists Association. They were so swamped with orders that they had to close their planned two-week sale early.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, Vang explained:
“Michelle has talked a lot about feeling like the perpetual foreigner. I’ve felt that way in many instances, like I’m not American or not American enough. Well, the fact is we are American. I feel that very strongly.”
Another Minnesota immigrant is moving to the national stage, after great service to the state in both private and public sectors. Hamse Warfa, who came to the United States as a teenage refugee in 1994, has been Minnesota’s highest-ranking African official. Now he’s heading to Washington DC.
[Sahan Journal] “Hamse Warfa, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, will be joining the Biden administration as a senior advisor to the State Department at the end of the month, making him the highest-ranking Somali presidential appointee in Washington. …
“Hamse joins the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, a State Department office responsible for providing protections for displaced people. The Bureau also advises the president in determining the number of refugees the United States will accept in a given year. The refugee resettlement cap had previously been slashed to record lows under the Trump administration.”
Two more stories that appeared over the weekend highlight the newest someday-to-be Americans, the Afghan evacuees now being resettled across the country, including in Minnesota, where AmericCorps is recruiting volunteers to work with newly-arrived Afghan families. Remember AmeriCorps? Often called the domestic Peace Corps, AmeriCorps comprises volunteers who are paid a small stipend to give one or two years of their lives to service in U.S. communities.
[Star Tribune] “ServeMinnesota, the commission that administers AmeriCorps state programs, is teaming up with the state Department of Human Services to launch the Refugee Response Initiative. It’s looking for 40 Minnesotans to work as “resettlement navigators” for about 750 Afghan refugees arriving in the state over the next few months….
“AmeriCorps members have mobilized to respond to critical emergency issues the past few years. They helped conduct COVID-19 contact tracing at the start of the pandemic, and have long assisted with school programs like tutoring for math and reading.”
“Sayed Wardak, 32, spent five years as a translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. In 2016, after nearly a year of hiding from the Taliban and in fear for his life, Wardak and his wife, Sairah, immigrated to the United States.
“Knowing firsthand the perils of life in Afghanistan, and the challenges of resettling in a new country, Wardak now assists newly arrived Afghan refugees as an employee of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay….
“’I take people to the doctor, show them how to find a grocery store, help get their driving license, find jobs and legal documentation,’ he told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.”
And in other news
[El Paso Times] “The mural — depicting a farmworker, a woman in maquiladora uniform and a bridge whose structure becomes two hands, gripping one another — is a symbol of the history of the El Paso-Juárez border, Perez Mendoza said.”
The United States continues to turn away Cuban immigrants.
[Reuters] “The U.S. Coast Guard said late on Tuesday it had returned 119 Cuban migrants to their island home after picking them up at sea, marking a growing trend of migration by water from the poor, communist-run country to its wealthy northern neighbor….
“Cuban state media said Tuesday’s repatriation was the largest in four years. Footage from the docks on Cuba’s north shore showed masked health workers clad in white receiving the migrants, who had been delivered by boat by U.S. authorities.”
Waiting for asylum, women at the border fill time and fabric with art.
[YES Magazine] “One early afternoon, Sandra Vázquez sits on an old metal bench outside a bus station, next to two other women who, like her, gingerly embellish a piece of cotton fabric with decorative patterns. Buses come and go, day after day, but the women stay. And, needle and thread in hand, they keep stitching….
“Vázquez is one of dozens of women, and some men, at various Nogales shelters participating in Bordando Esperanza, Embroidering Hope. The program, which involves volunteers from Arizona and Sonora, aims to bring comfort to migrants in times of uncertainty, James says. ‘All of these folks are stuck at the border now, and so they need work like this more than ever. Oftentimes, this kind of work is the closest to any kind of psychological well-being that they’re going to be able to have, to take a moment out to find some peace.’”