Video: Cultural Conversation about refugees in San Antonio

by Brooke Cowey

Hundreds of people gathered at the Institute of Texan Cultures on March 27 for the fourth Cultural Conversation event which was designed to challenge misconceptions about refugees and examine how entrepreneurship in the refugee community is changing the face of San Antonio.

The event was reated by District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg and State Sen. José Menéndez to promote tolerance and diversity.

Watch video of the event or scroll down for more detail:

Facilitator Gina Amatangelo started by asking if anyone in attendance was an immigrant. A few stood up as others applauded. Then she asked if anyone’s parents or grandparents had immigrated to America. Almost everyone in attendance stood up at the question. A look around the room showed how immigrants have impacted the community over decades.

The groups then got to work on discussing their topics. Each group had a group leader who wrote down the overall thoughts discussed by group members.

Group leaders were asked to line up at the end of the discussion to talk about the group's overall idea on their topic.

The topic for the first group was on how to build a community with refugees.

“We need to support the local groups that are already working, like Center for Refugee Services, Catholic charities, RAICES,” said the leader of group one.

The next group’s topic was the law and what is at stake.

“We kind of just talked about what we think is influencing laws and politics right now, and we realized that the unfortunate truth is that fear is the basis of what’s driving all misconceptions that we have. So, it’s really breaking that idea of fear that’s been facilitated for us. We need to focus not only on our state, but really in our own homes,” said the leader of group two.

The group that followed had the topic on creating a tolerant and inclusive community.

“We decided that tolerant inclusive communities are created by a non-judgemental, safe, informed and engaged community through personal interactions starting with ourselves and our neighborhoods and schools,” said the leader of group three.

The topic for the next group involved a fear of other and overcoming misconceptions and misperceptions.

“We talked about all the misconceptions that people in the country have toward refugees, and we came up with reestablishing the value of welcoming community, practicing a visible hospitality, welcoming and inclusion by building relationships that need to be built into the people by overcoming fear. But one thing I want to add, as a former refugee, is that no one become a refugee by choice,” said the leader of group four.

The next group had the a topic involving the Refugee Program and how to get involved.

“Our main concern was that there’s only a four to six month time span of which the families have to become self-sufficient. So, we realized that everyone can offer something to help. Such as their time, or monetary donations, also donating their talent or their professional expertise,” said the leader of group five.

The law and what is at stake was again a topic of the next group.

“We talked about trying to dispel misconceptions about how we talk about immigrants. Especially using the correct vocabulary and learning the laws that describe immigrants and their different situations,” said the leader of group six.

The next group also had a repeated topic. Their topic was on creating a tolerant and inclusive community.
“We’re saying that we have a long way to go. We need to continue this conversation outside these doors. We have to have courage and open up, and be open to education. We have to treat people as people. Mindfulness, self awareness and be in the moment,” said the leader of group seven.

The topic for the next group involved a fear of other and overcoming misconceptions and misperceptions.

“I think we discussed that it’s important to engage and educate across multiple levels. So, the national, the community and the self. National level, of course that would be getting in touch with politicians and encouraging them to perhaps change policies. The community level, more events like this. If you’re at HEB and you see somebody who looks like they’re struggling, who they might be new to the country, just reaching out to them, smiling at them, and letting them know you’re a friendly face,” said the leader of group eight.

The topic of the next group involved former immigrant and refugee entrepreneurship.

“We’re talking about how vibrant it makes the city whenever we have new businesses being opened up, how good for the economy it is to have people come and open up new businesses. One of the big things that we were thinking about is having a central resource for small business start-ups,” said said the leader of group nine.

The final group had the topic of building community with refugees.

“One of the solutions that we came up with was more opportunity for English practice, including conversation clubs,” said the leader of group 10.

The event ended with people gathering around to talk to others who were in attendance.