At the recent National Immigrant Inclusion Conference, the energy was one of enthusiasm, excitement and passion. Listening to the speakers I often felt chills and was moved deeply by the conviction in their voices. I left the conference with a renewed passion for the work that we do at CWS and a solidified understanding of why it’s so important. Here are my main takeaways from the conference:
- Unity does not mean uniformity: During one of the panels, activist Linda Sarsour said “unity does not mean uniformity,” and quickly this became the motto for the conference. While we all have the same mission, everyone has a unique role to play. Activists, lawyers and policymakers are just as important as educators, parents and community members. By identifying what we can each do to support the movement, we become stronger.
- Racial justice is an immigration issue: When we think of colonization as both a factor for immigration and racism, it becomes clear that these two issues are tightly intertwined. During an anti-racism session at the conference, one speaker explained that colonization creates an unconscious bias that white people are the only ones that have the right to freely migrate. Contrastingly, throughout history and in the present time, communities of color have been forced to migrate or prevented from doing so. Colonialism unfortunately is not a thing of the past and continues to exist in our systems and ways of thinking. We can see this way of thinking in current events and distinction in attitudes when an immigrant is white versus when they are Black or Brown. Acknowledging racism and tackling its roots is the first step that is needed to make progress within the pro-immigrant movement.
- Immigrant inclusion starts at the border and continues in our communities: When immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers arrive in our country, they are not at the end of their long journey. They have many more barriers they will need to overcome in our society. In our communities, we can do our part by making sure that our spaces are inclusive and welcoming, and that everyone has equal rights and opportunities. Recognize the newest neighbors in your community and be a friendly face that says, “you are welcome here.”
- The LGBTQ+ community should have clear representation and leadership in the immigrant inclusion movement: Oluchi Omeoga, one of the speakers at NIIC, said during the conference “trans and queer people are the key to the future because they create lives for themselves in which they have freedom.” This resonated with me because it brings the power back to the people and reminds us that immigrants are extremely resilient. By recognizing this within communities like the LGBTQ community, we create space for excellent leaders to thrive and consequently, help our movement thrive too.
- The pro-immigrant movement needs to be led by love: It’s easy and natural to feel anger or frustration when you feel like someone is against something you care deeply about. As an immigrant myself, I have had moments in which the current political landscape makes it difficult to remain hopeful and positive. We can see the way that the anti-immigration activists use anger and fear to fuel their campaigns. Our movement, however, must go against this and always be rooted in values of kindness and love.
Despite the hurdles we may confront, the voices calling for welcome are only getting stronger and more committed to our American ideals of inclusivity, togetherness and kindness towards all of our neighbors.
Mariana Gama is CWS’ Program Communications Specialist