10 years ago I moved from Mexico to U.S. I felt welcomed in my new school, neighborhood, and community. My peers thought "it was cool" to be from Mexico and wanted to learn more about me. We exchanged experiences and learned about each other's cultures. Over the past few years however, I have seen how the discourse around immigration has changed in Utah.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, Utah’s immigrant population increased by 42.7 percent between 2000 and 2008. In addition, Utah was designated as one of the top destinations for refugee resettlement, with an estimated 25,000 refugees currently living in our state, nearly one-third of whom have arrived within the last ten years. These dramatic demographic shifts have led to increased anxiety among native-born U.S. residents that are not accustomed to the presence of immigrants and refugees in their neighborhoods. This anxiety has in turn led to mistrust and fragmentation within communities.
To build on the existing efforts on immigrant and refugee integration in the state, Comunidades Unidas / Communities United has launched the Welcoming Utah initiative. Through Welcoming Utah, we are part of a group of 20 affiliate organizations from different states that belong to the national initiative Welcoming America. Welcoming America is a national, grassroots-driven collaborative that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans. The ultimate goal of the Welcoming initiative is to create a welcoming atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their adopted hometowns.
Welcoming Utah is working to build communities that embrace and celebrate the diversity and positive contributions that immigrants and refugees bring to our state. Welcoming work focuses on helping communities understand and appreciate new residents by promoting cross-cultural dialogue and interaction, support from community leaders, and positive messaging that shines a light on the many values that we all share.