You can be standing anywhere on the four-way intersection of Manor, Charlotte, Strawberry and King streets on Lancaster city’s westside, you will not miss the welcoming mural. Claudia Rojas, who is a former client of Church World Service, a former employment specialist and case manager, was painting along with other local muralists when our global communications team got there on a busy Tuesday morning along with CWS Lancaster staff members. Some drivers were honking in support of the mural, and some passersby stood around taking pictures of the mural.
Earlier this year, the project was launched with a survey to the Lancaster community, which went out in five different languages. Feedback from the community showed the need to see other people holding hands, hugging, and people sharing food. “Lancaster communities come from cultures where no matter what little they have; they share with those who visit them. It is a group of people working together on a common goal. The goal of embracing different cultures,” said Claudia.
Lancaster is a certified welcoming city; the nonprofit Welcoming America certified Lancaster in 2019. This means Lancaster is recognized as the city with policies and programs that promote inclusion and equity. “Lancaster is the capital of refugees in America because it is the city that has more refugees per capita from the whole country,” added Claudia.
When Claudia found out she was participating in this mural project, she felt honored to serve her community in the city where she started her new life. “The minority communities sometimes don’t have a voice, and I am all about giving them voice,” she said. The mural answers many questions anybody may ask themselves. What does diversity mean? How do you think the diverse communities around Lancaster can be represented? Looking at the mural you can see many different flags represented with quotes like “Migration Is Beautiful.”
Claudia moved into Lancaster from Cuba in 2015. She first volunteered with CWS as an interpreter in orientation classes. Immigrants often face challenges when they arrive in their new permanent houses. Claudia faced those challenges as a client, and over time during her work with Church World Service she was able to find a community of different backgrounds, often thanks to the space Church World Service provided to her and many others. Today, she sees more refugees moving into her city facing challenges, and the mural is one of the forms she sees she can give back to her community. It’s also a way to combat the wrong perception of other people about the diverse communities around Lancaster and a way of expressing the strength of these communities.
“Having a place to call home is a human right regardless of where you come from,” Claudia says. “We have to support, show compassion and love for those who are forced to leave their countries. We all come from somewhere else, we just happen to arrive at different times.”