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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Refugees' impact being documented

Friday, November 7, 2008

Catalina Nieto, left, public awareness coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), speaks with Mohamad Ali at Thursday's Community Unity Night at the Fly Arts Building. The event was co-sponsored by the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative and El Centro Latino.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)
A crew from Chicago has been in Shelbyville for the past week shooting footage for a documentary focusing on the impact that immigration and refugees are having on the community.

The project is headed by director/producer Kim Snyder, who works with the BeCause Foundation, an organization created by Richard Kincade, the former president and chief executive officer of Equity Office Properties Trust (EOP).

"We believe in the power of story to help highlight communities and individuals tackling complex social issues right now," Snyder said.

This reporter will also be interviewed by the crew about the Times-Gazette's series of stories on the influx of Somali refugees and their impact on Shelbyville.

The foundation has previously done documentaries on the homeless and its officials feel the topic of immigration and how towns like Shelbyville is grappling with it is a big issue.

"We have been told that Shelbyville was not only an interesting example but a possible way for people elsewhere in the country to learn a bit through open dialog about what is happening here and what people are really thinking and feeling about it," Snyder said.

The film crew was at the American Legion Thursday to shoot footage of Catalina Nieto, public awareness coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Collation (TIRRC) and Abdul Farah, the social adjustment director of the Somali Community Center of Nashville, who both spoke to the Rotary Club of Shelbyville.

Looking for peace

Farah worked in a refugee camp in Kenya with Somalis, who had fled their war torn county, "where everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong."

He said that many refugees were very happy to be here and some had left family members behind. "They came for a better life and peace," he said.

A big stumbling block is the language barrier, Farah said, adding the Somalis come to America with great expectations, but find their opportunities limited when they are asked about their job experience, which may be just as a farmer or even worse -- they may have no experience at all since they've spent their entire lives in a refugee camp.

Another problem encountered by Somalis is the vast cultural differences. A supervisor might give a refugee a hand gesture meant as "come here," but in their culture, it is interpreted as obscene.

Another issue is the Somali habit of talking loudly, which is interrupted here as rudeness. Farah said that's just the way Somali culture is. Farah related his personal experience with this as he had to learn that saying "thank you" is encouraged when receiving gifts.

He said the purpose of meetings like at Rotary and the goal of the Somali Community Center is to "help to bridge gaps."

Wants reform

Nieto told her own story of being an immigrant from Colombia. Civil war and economic conditions led her family to flee the South American country for Chicago eight years ago, and Nieto moved to Nashville last year to work with TIRRC.

She praised the spirit of hospitality encountered in Shelbyville but said that there is a lot of work to do in Tennessee. Most immigrants come here for jobs and freedom and said that much of the influx of Mexican immigrants was due to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) which depressed the price of corn.

"In the south, there is fear in the community about immigration and that is stopping reform," she said.

Nieto said that a change in immigration law is needed instead of enforcement, adding that 450,000 low-skilled jobs need to be filled, yet only 50,000 visas are available for foreign workers.

Farah also took informal questions from Rotary members following the program, with some telling him about the refugees' demanding and rude attitudes and hopes that the Somali Community Center of Nashville can give the refugees an orientation on how to manage day-to-day life when they arrive in America.

One member commented on the briefing material passed out to the audience about refugees and said it would be helpful if the Somalis were given something similar when they come to this country so they would know what is considered proper behavior.


Director/producer Kim Snyder, with the BeCause Foundation, and an unidentified cameraman were shooting footage Thursday for an upcoming documentary about the impact immigration and refugees have had in Shelbyville.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)
Later on Thursday evening, the film crew traveled to the Fly Arts Building to document the community discussion that took place at the first Community Unity Night, which was put together by the Bedford County Chapter of Statewide Organizing for Justice (informally known as SOCM based on its former name, Save Our Cumberland Mountains).

The event was co-sponsored by The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative and El Centro Latino. Questions that were asked were, "What strengths does a unified community have?" and, "What are the first steps that we, as residents, can take to promote unity and the Golden Rule?"

"We in SOCM can put our differences aside and work for a common goal," said Della Nelson, Bedford County SOCM member. "We can also enjoy those differences, instead of fighting them."

SOCM member Joe Partin also said that in his time in SOCM, he has learned how barriers can come down between people.

Doris Smith, another long-time Shelbyville resident and SOCM member, said they want it to be easier for everyone to live in a diverse community.

"We planned Community Unity Night in the hopes that it can be the beginning of people coming together to try and better understand each other's cultural and religious practices," she said.

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