The message from Watertown was loud and clear last Sunday: Our community is not afraid to welcome and nurture immigrants and refugees. Over sixty people came to the Watertown Free Public Library to share stories and learn how to separate fact from fiction regarding immigration.
Presented by Watertown Citizens Refugee Support Group (a working group of
Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice & the Environment), President Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin opened the afternoon with a reading of “New Colossus,” the poem by EmmaLazarus engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Refugee Support Group member and Immigration Attorney Elizabeth Goss framed
the conversation with facts about the past history and current situation of immigrants and refugees who reside in the U.S. She dispelled many harmful assumptions and myths, then introduced the 3 featured speakers: Watertown Police Lieutenant Daniel Unsworth, Watertown Middle School student and Kingian Non-violence Trainer Shivani Sharma, and international scholar/peace activist Dr. Yakir Englander.
Lt. Unsworth spoke about the many challenges facing the WPD in their efforts to
ensure that all residents of Watertown feel safe and protected, regardless of their
immigration status. He also highlighted the new WPD immigration policy that was recently drafted by the WPD together with members of the Watertown Welcomes Immigrants Coalition.
Eighth grader Shivani Sharma spoke passionately about the challenges immigrant
students face, both by being subject to threats in the form of blatant bullying as well as more subtle harassment in the form of painful jokes. She urged parents, teachers, students and citizens to learn and teach the principles of non-violence and respect for one another as human beings.
Dr. Englander related his own history of growing up in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish
family, from which he later separated in order to satisfy his thirst to overcome the insularity, ignorance and prejudice that often arises in tightly held groups within a society. He told the tale of his own family’s transformation as he became more and more committed to peace by breaking down barriers between people.
Attendees then broke into small groups to discuss their sources of information about immigrants and refugees, and the concerns as well as challenges of immigration in our own neighborhoods and community. The afternoon closed with reports back from the break-out groups, a Q&A, ideas about ways to work on these issues, and continued, animated sharing over light refreshments after the formal closing of the afternoon’s program. In the words of one attendee, “This program sure got me thinking about what I might do reach out to people who are different from me – I was so inspired!”
Submitted by Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin