By Cliff Cawthon
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Neighborhood House’s High Point Center is a place where neighbors gather almost every day of the year.
But Saturday afternoon had something extra – a Neighbor Day gathering with an emphasis on welcoming and celebrating the neighborhood’s immigrant communities amid the Trump Administration’s attempts at what’s being called the “Muslim Ban.”
“A lot of people who we work with could be affected by the immigrant ban,” explained Megan Demeroutis, Neighborhood House’s Family Resource Center supervisor. Demeroutis said that the potluck’s international flavor and the activities were meant to bring people together in the mixed-income Seattle Housing Authority– managed community.
The event was co-sponsored by the SHA and the West Seattle Timebank, a community group that connects people with skilled neighbors who can help with tasks ranging from lawn-mowing to maitenance.
The theme of this community event followed the city’s passage of a Welcoming City resolution and decisive stance against the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. Though Demeroutis had no statistics, she said, “I’ve been hearing stories regularly [in] ways people will be effected … there’s a lot of questions, a lot of anxiety, and a lot of uncertainty around what’s happening or could happen.”
Saturday’s attendees were from a wide range of ethnic, religious and national backgrounds.
While they were enjoying Banh Mi sandwiches, chicken, rice, and Samosa dishes and coffee, Asmeret Habte from the Seattle Housing Authority led a know-your-rights workshop for the attendees. Habte intended the workshop to open up the conversation to be an open forum as well, where people could access resources and voice concerns. Habte said that some “[immigrant and refugee] families are facing situations that are legal and social” and that their neighbors have expressed interest in supporting them but don’t understand how best to do that.
Sophia Omar, a first-generation Somali immigrant who lives in High Point, came as a community member determined to “fight for her rights” going forward. Omar told me that she came to this country having experienced living under the rule of someone who became a dictator. Her neighbors have followed her lead, as “there are many who say that they want to help us … all of us, as Americans, can come together and fight for our rights.” She smiled and defiantly declared “I’m not going anywhere.”
Another resident, Fatouma Isaq, who relocated to High Point after the Yesler Terrace redevelopment, said that she was worried: “Some people have green cards … some people get in trouble … and they [are kept from] becoming a citizen and I’m very worried for our kids and our people.” Fatouma is an extremely enthusiastic community member, originally from Ethiopia, who came to the U.S. after the Ethiopian Civil War 18 years ago.
Her fear was not abstract. Fatouma expressed a palpable frustration with the political climate: “You move to another country … you [have] a good life … and when they say that, I remember where I come from. What happened to me over there, [I thought], would happen to me over here.”
Also at the event, local muralist Henry Luke. His murals have been featured around the city, particularly in the South End, as well as in places as far away as Oaxaca, Mexico, and in the Philippines. Luke and his colleagues have been tasked with painting a mural in the youth room and Luke “wanted to get people’s feedback on what heroes they wanted to [be featured], people in the community who have made a difference, especially for the Somali community here in High Point.”
Later in the afternoon, people started to make candles and postcards as a way to “Shine a Light” for neighbors who felt that they were alone. During the candle-making event, the volunteers asked people in the room for their immigration stories. Individuals from diverse origins – from Singapore, from China, fourth-generation Americans with roots in Norway, and more – shared stories of prejudice and migration. Then all of the participants assembled in the park behind the center for a rally around High Point Commons Park at the center of the housing community. They wanted to show their commitment to unity in their neighborhood. The crowd marched around Commons Park chanting “no to hate,” “community,” and “shine a light,” with their candles in the air.