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Understanding World Refugee Day in Houston

World Refugee Day is celebrated every year on June 20th. This year the Houston Refugee Consortium, in partnership with the City of Houston Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities, celebrated World Refugee Day 2018 with guest speakers and a panel held at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The goal of the event was to discuss the global refugee crisis and Houston’s response to it. 
The main theme of the night was to celebrate Houston’s diversity as well as the courage of refugees. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner presented a city proclamation commemorating World Refugee Day and spoke about how diversity makes the Houston community stronger. Additionally, the status of immigrants and refugees in the current presidential administration was not lost on Mayor Turner as he proudly stated, “we don’t build walls. We cherish and value relationships. We value families and the family unit. We welcome them with open arms.” He went on to discuss how the role of diverse cities such as Houston has never been more important than it is today, and Houston should lead the way in opening its communities to immigrants and refugees.
Following Mayor Turner, Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Rice University professor and founder of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, presented statistical data illustrating the growing diversity, or demographic revolution, of the Houston area. His research, which was made possible through local surveys and United States census data, suggested that even if American boarders were completely shut down and all immigrants and refugees were barred from entering the country, the Anglo population of Houston – and eventually America as a whole – will continue to decrease while other populations grow.
In fact, Dr. Klineberg asserts that, “no conceivable force in world can stop America from becoming less and less Anglo and more everything else.” Given this undeniable fact, Dr. Klineberg states the next step for America is figuring out how to keep it from tearing us apart. 
State Representative Gene Wu for Texas House District 137, was the third speaker of the evening. Representative Wu expressed his anger and frustration with the current state of immigrant and refugee affairs in the United States under the Trump administration, reminding the audience that 39% of adults in his district were born outside of the United States. Much of the Representative’s anger stems from the fact that the individuals affected by the xenophobic policies of the current administration, “are his people.” However, he reminds us that refugees and immigrants are the very spirit of our nation, and our actions, our advocacy, our voice, and our passion have ever been more important than they are now. 
To end the night, a panel featuring several members of the community was conducted by moderator Lomi Kriel of the Houston Chronicle. The panel included Yuliya Labanouskaya, Starbucks District Manager, Jonathan Trinh, Principal of Margaret Long Wisdom High School, Jeff Watkins, Vice President of Global Initiatives – YMCA of Greater Houston, and Alyssa Stebbing, Director of Outreach at Trinity Episcopal Church and Diocese of Texas Liaison for Episcopal Migration Ministries. The panel discussed ways to help refugees succeed in resettling in America, including employment opportunities, volunteering to teach English as a second language, volunteering to teach valuable skills and trades, and simply checking in and keeping up with a refugee family going through the resettlement process. If you are looking to get involved with refugee resettlement in the Houston area, you can contact Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, YMCA International Services, Refugee Services of Texas, or Alliance for Multicultural Community Services.
 Overall, the night was filled with passion, conviction, and hope. While it is easy to feel discouraged in light of current events in the United States, World Refugee Day Houston reminds us that that our diversity is our strength, and it should be celebrated not vilified. It is easy for people to forget the power they hold, but everyone has a voice that matters – and right now, our voices matter a lot. I came out of World Refugee Day Houston feeling empowered and optimistic about the future of refugees and immigrants in the Houston community. If there is one thing I took away from the panel, it is that refugees and immigrants are here to stay. If you are looking to get involved with refugee resettlement in the Houston area, you can contact Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, YMCA International Services, Refugee Services of Texas, or Alliance for Multicultural Community Services. 
By: Chelsea Ogan, Vox Advocacy Ambassador on Refugees


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