“Anyone—from anywhere—can write the next chapter of our story.”
That’s the powerful message President Obama gave the world when, in 2014, he declared June to be National Immigrant Heritage Month. It’s a relatively new celebration, but now it’s starting to catch fire. 2016 is its third year, and many celebrities, everyday people and organizations have stepped into the spotlight to showcase their culture and their #immigrantpride.
Here in our county, OneMacomb has been leading efforts to promote inclusion and diversity for many years, and recognizing Immigrant Heritage Month is one more stepping stone in that process.
“By listening to our neighbors share their stories, we can better appreciate and connect with them,” said OneMacomb leader and Deputy County Executive Pam Lavers.
There are many reasons it’s important to celebrate diversity and immigrant heritage, especially now. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, “there were 26.3 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force.” That’s nearly 17 percent of our total workforce. And “the participation rate of foreign-born men was 78.2 percent, higher than the rate of 67.3 percent for native-born men.” Immigrants contribute a great deal to our workforce and our economy.
Furthermore, “Immigrants enrich the fabric of our society by sharing their art, food, music and culture with us,” said Lavers. “And nothing brings people together like food.”
That’s an idea that OneMacomb clearly believes in. Every quarter, they host a Diversity Lunch and Learn which allows county employees to explore food, stories and artifacts from a foreign culture during their lunch hour.
In addition to Lunch and Learns, OneMacomb produces county signage in different languages and hosts diversity summits, school outreach programs, storytelling events at local museums and educational video screenings. Later this month, Lavers will be going to the White House for the Building Welcoming Communities campaign, of which Macomb County was an early participant.
One of OneMacomb’s biggest celebrations is Welcoming Week, which runs this year from September 16-25. Welcoming Week is a national campaign to celebrate communities’ immigrant integration efforts, and in Macomb County, it includes a naturalization ceremony. This year, there are expected to be approximately 160 new American citizens at the ceremony, nearly twice as many as last year.
OneMacomb recently received a national matching grant to develop a plan to make our county more welcoming to immigrants and refugees. The grant will help OneMacomb develop a strategic plan with community and stakeholder input. OneMacomb helps with immigrant integration by “connecting newcomers to language classes, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, which helps make our community more vibrant socially, culturally and economically,” said Lavers.
We must begin building bridges and reaching out to our neighbors with compassion and curiosity. After all, the America we live in now wouldn’t be the same without the contributions of Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn, Bruce Willis, Bob Marley, John Lennon, and even Alex Trebek—all immigrants—not to mention countless friends and neighbors who make up this beautiful patchwork quilt.
To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose smash hit Broadway musical centers on Caribbean immigrant/founding father Alexander Hamilton, “even immigrants can make a difference, can leave their fingerprints and rise up” in the “great unfinished symphony” that is America.
Happy Immigrant Heritage Month!
Jenna Russell is a summer intern for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development. She is a junior at Oakland University.