The Tacoma City Council declared Tacoma a Welcoming City in 2015 and again Sept. 13, with a proclamation.
A Welcoming City does not say, “Go back to your country!” This kind of inflammatory statement is not who we are as a community. We cannot embrace this kind of bigotry or enmity.
A Welcoming City means a place where immigrants and refugees, those who look different from the mainstream, feel safe and supported. Yet last weekend, a Tacoma Community House student, a mother and a Muslim who wears a headscarf, was publicly humiliated and harassed while shopping at a big box retail store.
Imagine the horror, if that were you and your child. What should have been a normal shopping exchange turned into a racist assault when an older couple yelled these five words, “Go back to your country!”
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The mother was afraid of what might happen. She called her husband, who advised her to leave the store immediately.
Tacoma’s welcoming climate is being tested. Immigrants and refugees in the area are afraid for their safety; they’re afraid of harassment, of deportation, of their families being separated.
Tacoma Community House provides education, employment, immigration and domestic violence services to immigrants, refugees and others in the South Sound. We have received many anxious calls from mothers, from victims of domestic violence, and from students, all concerned about their future.
At the same time, we have received 10 times the usual number of inquiries from potential volunteers and supporters. These individuals know that we cannot change the past; we can only learn from it. They understand that we cannot plug our ears when immigrants, refugees and people of color tell us they fear for their lives, but we can bear witness to their pain and try to do something about it.
We must stand up for our immigrant and refugee friends, neighbors and co-workers. They are our fellow Americans. It is the right thing to do.
When we hear harassing comments, let us stand by the person being harassed and show support. Let us engage the victim in conversation and defuse the situation. Let us advocate for fair policies, volunteer with organizations that work for justice and contribute funds to those causes.
As advocates for immigrants and refugees, we challenge everyone to make a simple commitment: stand up for decency, stand up for respect and human dignity and against any sign of bigotry and enmity.
Together we can fulfill our simple and dignified commitment to be a truly welcoming and inclusive community.
Liz B. Dunbar is the executive director of Tacoma Community House and Marilyn Strickland is Tacoma’s mayor.