World Refugee Day is coming up on June 20, but we’re taking the entire month to celebrate #WorldRefugeeMonth and the invaluable contributions that New Americans, refugees, and immigrant workers make to our national economy. This has always been true, but over the past few months, it has been magnified by COVID-19 as New Americans have been risking their lives on the frontlines of the pandemic.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates 6 million foreign-born workers are employed in vital, frontline industries; another 6 million work in some of the industries hardest hit by the fight against COVID-19.
Despite the current administrations’ false portrayals of immigrants as a burden, this is a moment where we can all truly recognize New Americans for their essential contributions.
To show our gratitude to the New Americans who have been keeping our community safe, healthy, and poised for economic recovery, we are sharing the stories of our newest neighbors and the invaluable, essential work they have done through this period of quarantine.
Prasha Maharjan, Family Support Social Worker
Q: What is your role as an essential worker?
A: I work as a Family Support Social Worker. I work with pregnant moms/new moms and their kids under the age of 3 being their support person as they go through their parenting journey and connect them with community resources. I make sure that they are getting the prenatal care, medical help they need.
During the quarantine, I was still checking in with all the families I work with through tele-health platforms, making sure they were doing okay and had what they needed. Most of them are not literate or English is not their first language. I keep them posted about the new changes, expectations.
One particular experience still weighs heavy on my heart. One family translated lockdown as locking themselves in the house and didn’t even step outside of their house or in the backyard. It was good to be able to correct their misunderstandings and ease their life a bit.
Q: What is keeping you hopeful?
A: West Michigan is becoming increasingly welcoming to New Americans. Many people are willing to unlearn their biases and find ways to learn from and listen to minority groups. I have seen more and more people from minority groups attend our predominantly white church. I remember my first conversation with our pastor where he said he would like to see more and more non-white people find their church home there. I see their intentionality in works of inclusion.
At my workplace, I am proud to say it must be one of the rare organizations of this capacity led by all women from white, black, and Asian backgrounds. These women are also at the forefront in the advocacy work for important minority issues.
And the New Americans I work with are very hardworking and resourceful people. I believe that their contribution in every aspect of life in Grand Rapids is huge and positive.