Have You Noticed Any Immigrants?
Graduation from a family English Second Language literacy class in Grand Rapids. Video

In Southwest Detroit, Bridging Communities began to notice that not everyone was able to participate in their neighborhood programs. The small nonprofit had been developing housing, running intergenerational programs, a time bank and services for the elderly for a long time. Over those years the composition of their neighborhoods changed. Children from many new immigrant families that observed separation of men and women in sports couldn’t be in sports programs because the boys and girls teams practiced in close proximity to each other. Second generation bilingual children moved out of homes, leaving behind seniors who only spoke Spanish. The culture of the area had become more diverse.

Arab American business owner Edna Zaid shows how her firm's videoconferencing system works in Commerce Twp.
Arab American business owner Edna Zaid shows how her firm’s videoconferencing system works in Commerce Twp.

Diversity brings great benefits – such as the fact immigrants in Michigan are 3x more likely to start businesses, 6x more likely to start high tech enterprises and therefore create jobs – but it also brings challenges like those Bridging Communities faced. Like the challenges East Lansing faced when it noticed a boom in high income international students who spoke English well, but not to the degree needed to read legal documents or understand establishing credit or purchasing a home. Like the challenges rural areas face where migrant workers have transitioned to being permanent residents or citizens.

There’s a price to doing nothing. Macomb County has a diversity initiative called One Macomb, and as part of this they give presentations to key employers about how to welcome immigrants. After a presentation at a hospital, the hospital’s HR director said that they wished they’d seen the presentation sooner. Two of their very skilled new staff had left their jobs and moved because their families didn’t feel like the people in their community wanted them there.

Devi grows and sells local food in Lansing. She is a refugee. Video
Devi grows and sells local food in Lansing through Lansing Roots. She is a refugee. Video

If people were going to feel unwelcome, it was not going to be in Southwest Detroit with Bridging Communities. They took action. They adapted youth sports programs and put adequate distance between teams so children following the new religions in the community could play too. They did not have the money to hire a bilingual staff member full time, so they hired a part time staff member. The new person trained other staff on how to direct Spanish speakers to days and times they could get in touch with the part time staff member. Bridging Communities also began new programs that would help the cultures in the area learn from each other, for instance, through cooking classes where one person teaches a recipe from their culture.

World Refugee Day in Lansing. Video
World Refugee Day in Lansing. Video

Over in East Lansing, the municipal government found out how expensive it was to have 12 single pages translated into 5 key languages of the international students and families living there: $5,000. The city declined that outrageous price and instead developed a partnership with Michigan State University, where students in bilingual classes translate the documents under their professor’s supervision. Another service that some municipalities use for ESL residents is video remote interpreting. This is a cost effective solution where you access a web service and an interpreter translates the conversation between both parties. It saves a lot of time and complication in the courtroom, as well as settings like hospitals.

ACCESS gives a walking tour of food businesses immigrants and their families started in Dearborn. Video
ACCESS gives a walking tour of food businesses immigrants and their families started in Dearborn. Video

In April 2015, Michigan lifted the restriction that said we couldn’t resettle any refugees who did not have a friend or family member in the area. Newcomers will be curious about how to start a new life here, meet people, invest their money in a business, a home, an education, a family.

Have the people you served changed?

Have you changed to include them?