Our immigrant Neighbors
“We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” Jimmy Carter
Immigration, the movement of people from one country to another for the purpose of permanent residence there, is the basis of the history of our country. Unfortunately, the annals of our history do not take into account the fact that others were here before us. The displacement of indigenous peoples was the result of our ancestors taking the land for the purpose of building their own society.
We are all the descendants of immigrants. The United States has more immigrants than any country in the world, accounting for one-fifth of the world’s migrants. Today, immigrants account for 13.7 percent of the U.S. population.
The “American Dream” of finding a better life in general is not the main reason why people leave their country of origin. The main reasons people emigrate include: armed conflict, disaster exposure, gender inequality, lack of job opportunities, political corruption, and lack of healthcare and education. Unfortunately, these compelling reasons have not resulted in an “open arms” welcome by American citizens who perceive immigrants as a threat. Newcomers to America face barriers such as language, discrimination in housing and employment, wage exploitation, hazardous working conditions, and access to health care.
Immigration in Gloucester
For Gloucester, immigration was the central factor in establishing our community’s cultural and economic development. Immigrants from Portugal came to Gloucester to work in the fishing industry in the 1840s, followed by the Italians before the turn of the 19th century. Saint John’s was founded to serve fishermen from Nova Scotia, and Lanesville was home to the Finns who worked in the quarries.
Today, the cultural origins of Gloucester have been enhanced by the immigration of other groups that help make up the “texture” of our community. From 2017-2021, 9.3 percent of Gloucester’s population is listed as foreign-born, with Hispanics and Latinos constituting the largest group (3.1 percent). Gloucester has welcomed and helped to settle refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and the Republic of the Congo.
Immigration in Massachusetts
In 2018, 17 percent of the population of Massachusetts was listed as foreign born:
--top countries of origin of immigrants were China, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, India, and Haiti;
--more than half of all immigrants in Massachusetts are naturalized U.S. citizens;
--a fifth of the Massachusetts labor force is foreign-born, with immigrants supporting the state’s health care, science, and service industries;
--22 percent of the immigrant population is undocumented (2016).
Resources and Support for Immigrants in Gloucester
The ESOL program (English for Speakers of Other Languages) assists adult students to learn communication skills, preparing them for the workforce and furthering their education. All tutoring sessions are free, including citizenship test preparation, with beginner to advanced lessons based on the needs of each student.
The Community Services program provides assistance with job training, passports, housing, and education opportunities. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Clients can order groceries on line in five languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Arabic. In addition, The Open Door is able to offer translation services in 170 languages including Arabic, Nepali, and Swahili.
Resources Cited: U.S. Census Bureau, American Immigration Council, Cape Ann Museum
Building A Beloved Community for Everyone
Becoming a beloved community requires that we explore how we think, feel, and believe about those “others” who seek to enter and live in this country. Does “unconscious bias” play a role in preventing us from seeking justice for everyone, regardless of their origins? Our challenge as Christians lies in how we welcome the stranger among us, and see Christ in everyone seeking a safe life here. What should we do as both individuals and Saint John’s to meet this challenge?