Written by Matthew Longhurst
I am a third-generation resident of Western Washington state. My grandparents (both sides) moved here in the 1950s, uprooting their families after a handful of previous generations had set down roots in Utah and eastern Idaho. Before that, most of my lineal progenitors migrated to this country directly from their homelands across northern and western Europe: England, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden. My family history is a tapestry of migration.
As I have learned more about my family history it has become clear that I am the product not just of immigrants, but of refugees. Whether their persecutions were religious, economic, social, or natural, many of my ancestors were uprooted in fear and turmoil. For me, the refugee crisis of the last several years has closely coincided with a growing knowledge of and a strong sense of connection to my forebearers. My ancestors’ life experiences echo the stories of so many whose stories we’ve shared over the last two years.
In the same way that my life and prosperous circumstances were made possible by so many sacrifices over many generations, I hope that today’s refugees will be able to create a future of possibility for themselves and their children. However, one look around reveals that they must combat suspicion, distrust, and even xenophobia and racism in heavy doses no matter where in the world they land. I cannot help but feel a strong sense kinship and an obligation to help where I can.
This is the reason I help to tell their stories.
The Emerald Project is a Utah-based organization that carefully designs dialogues to engage with non-Muslims to make Salt Lake Valley a more welcoming home to Muslims. As many of our refugee friends belong to the Muslim faith, we applaud opportunities that foster understanding and were pleased to support The Emerald Project’s 3rd annual “Slam the Islamophobia” event on February 15th.
Refugees often risk their lives crossing deserts, jungles, and oceans all in the search for shelter, freedom, or happiness. Yet, even once they’ve reached physical safety, mental mountains emerge that make daily life an uphill climb. At the November 2022 conference for the Utah Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (USOPHE), presenters Shurooq Al Jewari and Sasha Sloan discussed mental health and inclusion, focusing on immigrants and refugees.
Holidays are an important time to include newcomers. Newcomers are often aching for the traditions and holiday magic they knew at home - and the connections with family and friends. The Garcias* came from a strong family and community that knew generous and giving holiday traditions. I knew, when I met our new friends from Venezuela, the rich bond we would have; this was a kindred spirit family. Even though we have been bad at communicating (Google Translate is such a false hope), it was easy to find connections that helped us love each other.