A warmer welcome

Roseville citizens discuss immigrant experiences  in the city


Roseville community members gathered at city hall on Wednesday, Dec. 15 to talk about immigrants’ experiences in Roseville. The Roseville Human Rights Commission partnered with the Minneapolis-based nonprofit The Advocates for Human Rights to host the conversation. The goal of the event was to determine what Roseville can do to better welcome its immigrants.

Roseville has a growing immigrant population, and foreign-born residents make up 12.4 percent of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The community conversation is part of The Advocates’ One Voice Minnesota Monitoring Project. For two years, the Monitoring Project has hosted community conversations throughout Minnesota in order to inform its “Blueprint for Welcome,” a guide for individuals, communities and policy-makers on welcoming immigrants. The Monitoring Project defines “welcome” as “the ability to live with dignity and fully enjoy basic human rights.”

Taking the time to talk

Roseville’s community conversation, moderated by Madeline Lohman, a program associate with The Advocates, began with a discussion of what it means to be a welcoming community.

Community members defined a welcoming community as one that offers freely accessible resources, provides opportunities to participate in the community, reaches out to newcomers, and above all else promotes equal treatment of all citizens.

Equality is the primary objective of the Roseville Human Rights Commission. “We advocate for human rights for all residents of Roseville,” said Wayne Groff, chair of the commission.

Some Roseville citizens who attended the event shared personal experiences, and small groups of immigrants and Minnesota natives alike discussed problems they and others in the community have faced.

A Karen woman talked about the shortage of translation services. An Asian man who was translating for his companions spoke about wanting more opportunities to get involved in the community. A Somali man discussed the difficulty of getting word out to immigrants about community events.

Natives of Minnesota talked about wanting to understand immigrants’ culture, but not knowing what questions to ask.

“A lot of people are scared to talk about issues of race and class,” said Roseville Human Rights Commission Member Kaying Thao. “Until we have this conversation in a very safe environment, things won’t change.”

At the end of the night, the small groups came together to propose changes to make Roseville a more welcoming community. The common factor was communication, and people suggested a number of proposals to improve cross-cultural understanding. Many immigrants requested more translation services and language-learning resources. Other citizens proposed cooperative programs between immigrants and Minnesota natives, which would enable immigrants to learn about life in Roseville, participate in the community and share their culture.

Moving forward

The responses at the community conversation were consistent with the Monitoring Project’s findings throughout Minnesota, according to Lohman. “You can see some of the clear trends,” she said, adding that “the patterns are the same pretty much across the state.”

What set Roseville apart was the turnout - more than 80 people attended the event.

“I was blown away,” Lohman said. “This is the highest attendance we’ve had at a community conversation.”

Human rights commission member Gary Grefenberg said there’s only one thing he wished would have been different. “The only disappointment I had is I would have liked more ethnic minorities (to attend),” he said.

The One Voice Minnesota Monitoring Project’s “Blueprint for Welcome” will be released this spring.

For more information about The Advocates for Human Rights and the One Voice Minnesota Monitoring Project, visit www.energyofanation.org/ovm.html.

Kaylin Creason can be reached at staffwriter@lillienews.com.

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