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A young disruptor and former refugee offers 11 ways to support the Philadelphia immigrant community

A young disruptor and former refugee offers 11 ways to support the Philadelphia immigrant community

A few weeks ago, I attended an open discussion held by the Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs on how to support immigrants after the election of Donald Trump. The fear in the room was palpable. Those who haven’t applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (commonly known as DACA) were discouraged from doing so, in case the  information they shared might be used to deport them. Participants were offered tips on what to do during deportation raids. A mother talked about one of her 12-year-old son’s friends offering to hide him under his bed come January. A local non-profit warned of unscrupulous lawyers who may seek to take advantage of a rush to legalize. Throughout, there was impassioned discussion on how to keep Philadelphia a sanctuary city.

As a refugee and immigrant—and now a U.S. citizen—my heart went out to the immigrants in the room. I thought about how it could just have easily been me. How lucky I was to have the opportunity to become naturalized four years ago. And how grateful I was that my paperwork fit the fortunate timeline of a friendlier presidency.

Since November 8th, I’ve been donating to refugee and immigrant-focused nonprofits. But it didn’t feel like enough. So I started looking for ways we can collectively show our solidarity and support to the immigrant community. It turns out, there are many different avenues to do so, from lending an ear, to picking up a phone, to volunteering your time or services.

1. Eat at immigrant-run restaurants

Philadelphia is a diverse cultural haven–full of authentic eateries specializing in cuisines including Taiwanese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Syrian, Lebanese, Afghani, Malaysian, Caribbean, West African, Ethiopian and many more. Thanks to the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians (WCNP) for providing an initial list that now resides in this public Google doc. This is perhaps one of the most gratifying (and tasty) ways to provide your support.

2. Call your legislators

It is the most effective way to reach your congressperson—more than petitions, emails, snail mail, and social media. This is the most comprehensive step-by-step article I’ve seen on how to start the call including resources on finding your reps/senators and a sample transcript with tips. You can find contact details of all your federal, state and local elected officials here. I was nervous and stuttered when I first called, but it was much easier than I anticipated. I felt relieved and empowered when I hung up. One upcoming issue you can discuss is the PA State Senate vote on the Sanctuary City Bill in early 2017. It has enormous implications for both funding and community safety in Philadelphia.

Photo: http://echothroughthefog.cordeliadillon.com/
Illustration: Echo Through the Fog

3. Patronize businesses that openly appreciate immigrants

Show your support by shopping at businesses that have posted signs welcoming marginalized communities as seen below.

Photo: http://echothroughthefog.cordeliadillon.com/
Sign at Saxby’s Coffee, 30th Street Station. Photo by: @NotesFromHel

Or, if you’re a business owner, add this #PhillySaysNoToHate sign to your window. First posted on Make It Right PHL’s website, Councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym is offering them for free in her City Hall office (or you can print your own here).

4. Check-in with your immigrant or undocumented friends

Imagine not knowing how to plan for your future. Hiding for fear of deportation. Worrying about your family and education. Being harassed for your skin color or accent. Tentatively counting the days down to mid-January. That’s a glance of how many immigrants are feeling today. Ask how they’re doing. Lend an ear without interrupting. Give them your unwavering support. A text, call or a get-together can go a long way.

5. Learn how to intervene as a bystander

Don’t know what to do when you see someone being harassed? This blogger put together a helpful illustration detailing four steps to help de-escalate a possible altercation. While it’s focused on Islamophobia, it can be applied to other situations. Another worthwhile resource is this two-minute video on 5 ways to disrupt racism, made after the uptick in attacks post-Brexit.

Photo by Maeril via Tumblr
Illustration: Maeril via Tumblr

6. If you're an artist, help humanize immigrant stories through your art

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to generate empathy towards others. Look no further than Humans of New York as proof. If you’re an artist or filmmaker, you can volunteer with the Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Southeast by Southeast project.

For inspiration, here are examples of what a few locals have done:

    • Catzie Vilayphonh’s Laos in the House video series features Laotian- American refugees and their commitment to preserving their culture while living in Philadelphia.  
    • Michelle Angela Ortiz’s “Aqui y Alla” public art project explores the impact of immigration in the lives of Mexican immigrant youth in South Philadelphia. Her “Familias Separados” venture is a series of stenciled portraits and phrases of immigrants that have been affected by deportations.
    • JR’s 15-story mural in Center City that highlights the faces of U.S. immigrants.

7. Volunteer your time or services

8. Attend fundraisers that support the immigrant community

Photo: LA&P Program
Photo: LA&P Program
  • Eat your way around the world at Global Tastes (coming Spring 2017). Celebrate and support the diverse tastes of our community through food.
  • Attend The Solas Awards on Thursday, March 2, 2017. The event celebrates individuals in Philly who have helped improve the quality of life for immigrants.

9. Follow the work of these Facebook groups

They’re focused on helping maintain Philadelphia as a welcoming place for immigrants.

    • Keep Philly a Sanctuary: For how to build and maintain political support if you’re concerned that, under Trump, ICE detainer requests will morph into widespread and suspect deportation.
    • United Voice of Philadelphia: A coalition of diverse voices in support of immigrants and refugees.
    • Make it Right PHL: Resources for organizations and individuals who are looking for ways to channel their energy into doing good post-election.
    • Juntos: A Latino immigrant community-led organization in Philly that advocates for the human rights of immigrants.
    • United We Dream: The largest national immigrant youth-led organization fighting for fair treatment of undocumented immigrants. 
    • Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition (PICC): A group that shares resources on community groups, legal service providers, healthcare organizations, immigrant leaders and more.

10. Hire or bring them on as apprentices.

The Welcoming Center works with both potential employees and employers to develop a diverse workforce that looks like Philadelphia and that treats their workforce with respect. Get involved or learn more here.

Photo: Welcoming Center of New Pennsylvanians
Photo: Welcoming Center of New Pennsylvanians

11. Donate or support these organizations that assist immigrants or refugees

Photo: Sabina Louise Pierce

  • Welcoming Center for New PennsylvaniansThe organization connects newly arrived individuals from around the world with the economic opportunities. You can also support them through Amazon Smile.
  • Nationalities Services Center: It is the leading immigrant and refugee service center. They provide legal protection, community integration, access to health and wellness services, and opportunities to achieve English proficiency.
  • HIAS Pennsylvania: It is a local nonprofit that provides legal and social services to immigrants and refugees.
  • Philadelphia New Sanctuary Movement: It builds alliances across faith, ethnicity, and class in order to give voice to immigration injustices and enact policies that reflect values of hospitality, justice, and dignity.
  • Juntos: A Latinx immigrant organization focused on fighting to keep families together and ending deportations.

Or if you’re still looking for holiday gifts, consider making a donation in a loved one’s  name.

This is  not be a comprehensive list. And you may find other ways to help in your everyday life. For example, at ROAR for Good, my wearable safety technology company, we’re providing our beta safety application to any marginalized person who feels nervous walking home or may be afraid of being harassed. And a group of friends and I have banded together to leverage our technical skills by building Pharos (the Greek word for “lighthouse”), a knowledge repository for incoming immigrants and refugees.

Getting started is simple. And you never know when one small act of kindness might make a world of difference in someone’s life.

Thanks to the Welcoming Center of New Pennsylvanians and the Nationalities Services Center for their help in putting this list together. And to Kostas Nasis, Mahmoud Mustafa, Melanie Joy Britt, Lauren Williams, Emily Lesko, Michael Kolb, Liz Brown and Philip Tribe for their time, passion, and energy building Pharos.

Yasmine Mustafa is a tech entrepreneur and community leader. Championing the underprivileged has been a core part of her identity since her family was rescued from the Persian Gulf War. She’s currently the CEO & Co-founder of ROAR for Good and sits on the board of Coded by Kids.

Header photo by Maryland GovPics via Flickr

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

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