World Refugee Day and “You’re Welcome” in Omaha

“We are not so different.”

The boy writing on the dry-erase board had asked about You’re Welcome, a new collaborative effort in Omaha to promote a welcoming, inclusive community. The idea is that immigrants resettling in a community have a far better chance of integrating if the others in that community are receptive to including their new neighbors. One current project is collecting comments from Nebraskans about why they care about welcoming immigrants. That’s when the boy’s mother turned to him.

“What do you think?”

He wasn’t quick to respond. Hakim took the time to think about what he wanted to say. The result was simple and profound.

“We are not so different.”

Hakim was exactly right, and his statement fit his environment. At World Refugee Day at Omaha Benson High School last Saturday, there were a lot of things that made every individual unique, but to the core, we are not so different.

Since its establishment in 2000 by the United Nations, World Refugee Day celebrates brave individuals who flee persecution in search of a safer life. The Omaha event included cultural presentations from refugee groups represented in the area. Karen, Bhutanese, Birundian, Acholi, Nepali, and other group performances demonstrated the talents and traditions that contribute to a diverse society. It also included a naturalization ceremony where 27 Omahans became new U.S. citizens. The day of festivities proved that while our differences are worth celebrating, so are our similarities.

If there is one thing that all Nebraskans share, it is just that: we are all Nebraskans. And the label isn’t an empty one. Nebraskans are hard-workers with a commitment to actualizing the state’s promise of “the good life.” Regardless of birthplace, neighbors in Nebraska can carry out the responsibility of actively contributing to their communities, and including one another in the process.

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