Sunday marked the start of a series of stories about our new neighbors from Somalia, who have been moving into the community over the past several years. We hope our readers find these stories informative and educational.
Over the past year, this writer has heard many stories and rumors concerning these new additions to Bedford County and decided to try to sort out facts from fiction. After personally witnessing the strained and somewhat tense interaction between Somalis and workers at Shelbyville's drivers license testing station, I began to look into the impact these newcomers have been having here.
This has not been an easy task. A great deal of information exists about how these folks are brought into the country for resettlement, but it is either tempered with glowing politically correct language containing plenty of praise about culture and diversity or paranoia and outright hostility aimed at the introduction of these refugees to various communities.
Indeed, many of the comments already left on our website reacting to our series have not shown the Somali in a favorable light. One could say it mirrors the reaction years ago when large numbers of Hispanics began to move to Bedford County.
But while the legality of many of the Hispanics that have come to this country is questionable, the Somalis have been placed in this country by our own government -- and they even have a quota of refugees the State Department intends to bring here over the next year.
The stories and rumors I've heard over the past few months about the Somalis in Shelbyville have ranged from derogatory comments about hygiene and behavior all the way to stories that would have people calling the Homeland Security tip line if they could be verified.
But we at the T-G deal with facts, not gossip, and that's why we've decided to tackle this topic, to let you know what the truth is about our new neighbors.
There are the touchy topics of culture and faith which must be taken into account. How are the schools coping with the newcomers' children and helping them learn the language and how we live? Will accommodations be made by the schools for their beliefs and how will that be viewed given the strong Christian faith of this region?
More importantly, are their parents learning our customs and language or are they holding on to traditions that would cause problems in the community.
Another issue that is beginning to be examined is how smaller towns will cope with the introduction of so many refugees so quickly. One part of our series will show that other communities across the country are taking issue with the practice of non-profit charities resettling thousands of newcomers in their towns, and then leaving them to cope with the burden of paying for translators, providing services and educating the refugee's children.
A city like Nashville may be able to absorb the cost of caring for refugees, but communities like Shelbyville and other towns with smaller pocketbooks may have a much tougher time meeting those needs.
As we continue to publish this series this week, we hope that the reader comes away with a better understanding of this issue and the challenges the Bedford County community will face in the coming years as a result.