Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Refugees gather to celebrate Nashville home People from all over world dine, dance at 'block party'

Source: The Tennessean Jul. 11 2006

For two hours Sunday afternoon, the diasporas of Nashville came together with other community members to celebrate their deliverance into this tranquil city and their new home.

The scene at the corner of South Sixth and Main streets behind Holy Name Catholic Church was transformed into one that might have been found in an Istanbul bazaar, a bustling East African market or a New York City schoolyard as chatter in more than a half-dozen languages filled the street.

It was the first International Block Party hosted by the Refugee and Immigration Services department of Catholic Charities of Tennessee.

Inside the older people sat together and ate while young people performed a traditional Oromo dance from Ethiopia. Outside, Catholic nuns and young girls in traditional Muslim dress mingled under a banner that read simply "Pray for Peace."

Awal Michaa wore a T-shirt proclaiming "Oromia shall be free." He described the plight of his people at the hands of the Ethiopian government. "My people don't live with Ethiopians, Awal said. "They have killed and tortured us for a year and a half. There are many people dying where I'm from."

Awal, who arrived in the United States two years ago, recently moved to Nashville from Georgia to attend Nashville State Community College.

Swarms of children, many of whom will be their families' first generation of Americans, played and painted on a giant mural adorned with a cross and crescent.

Sunday's event was the first of what is expected to be a series of annual international block parties, said Holly Johnson, director of the Refugee and Immigration Services department since 1999.

"We wanted to have an open house so that we could bring together some of the refugees that we have resettled in Nashville and also some in the community," Johnson said.

Johnson said that Catholic Charities has helped to resettle about 15,000 refugees in the Nashville area since its founding in 1962, including 250 this year alone.

"Most refugees are hesitant when they come here and say they'll go back home eventually, but they get sucked in," said Johnson. "Most refugees are happy with Nashville. They find the people welcoming and supportive."

Johnson said Catholic Charities has helped resettle Cubans, Iranians, Somalis, Ethiopians, Kurds, Kenyans and Sudanese and including those who practice B'hai, Muslim and Christian faiths.

Once an application for asylum is accepted by the U.S. State Department and a destination city is set, the charity helps by picking up refugees from the airport, setting up housing and helping them apply for services.


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