City support a welcome relief to migrants’ stress

By Katharhynn Heidelberg Montrose Daily Press Senior Writer

Members of the migrant community and their supporters packed Montrose City Council Chambers to capacity Tuesday to hear a formal proclamation naming Dec. 18 International Day of the Migrant in the city.

The proclamation is especially important to a community that has, since the Nov. 8 election, felt the brunt of racism and xenophobia, Ricardo Perez, director of the Hispanic Affairs Project in Montrose indicated to council Tuesday.

“This is the opportunity to demonstrate our consideration and solidarity to all immigrants around the world, but more specifically to the Montrose immigrant community,” he told the Montrose Daily Press Wednesday.

“They migrated mostly for economic factors and settled in the city as their new home. I would like to emphasize, Montrose is the home for immigrants and migrants.”

He cited Olathe corn grower John Harold, who attended Tuesday’s proclamation presentation, and whose business depends on migrant workers to harvest “Olathe Sweet” sweet corn. Other workers live in Montrose and go elsewhere for jobs. “It’s a very dynamic population and this is the way our economy works,” Perez said.

International Day of the Migrant is a worldwide celebration and show of support for migrants and refugees. The city has routinely issued proclamations of support.

“We here in Montrose support legal immigrants. That’s what our country was built on,” Mayor Rex Swanson said Wednesday. “We do welcome them and want them here, as long as they’re legal. … It was really neat to see that (turnout). I’ve never seen that many people in the council chambers.”

The city’s proclamation was not intended as a political statement, but as one of support, he said. 

The document states that the city honors the dignity of all residents, regardless of nationality, and recognizes their contributions to the fabric of society.

Immigration “enhances Montrose’s cultural diversity, as foreign-born individuals add to the variety of languages, customs and cuisines enjoyed in the city,” the proclamation states.

For Perez, the local proclamation recognizes migrants living and working here, particularly at a time when many in the community served by the Hispanic Affairs Project may be feeling marginalized or threatened.

“The migrant groups are having a hard time in the current political climate,” Perez said, asking for the city to encourage more connection between people. “We are one community and need to take care of each other.”

Since the presidential election, the Hispanic and other minority communities have encountered people who feel emboldened to be racist and xenophobic, Perez said.

The proclamation can help change the tone, he elaborated Wednesday.

“At Hispanic Affairs Project, this is a great opportunity to bring a positive conversation about immigrants and immigration, which is most important after the last election, when people are emboldened to talk in a very disrespectful manner about newcomers,” Perez said. “In our findings, people are talking (negatively) because they don’t know the ‘others’ — the immigrants. If we want a vibrant community, we need to work in a more inclusive manner to overcome those barriers to improve our social and economic infrastructure.”

Post-election talk among those HAP serves produced “not a single positive answer,” but instead reports of sadness, fear, stress, anxiety and confusion, per Perez.

“In the workplace and in schools, we learned about incidents of verbal harassment or bad jokes about deportation, etc. But also, we realized, not only are the immigrants scared, but the minority groups in general,” he said. “Having the opportunity to talk with allies and organizations, it is the same feeling. To find a solution to our social and political problems, we need to be honest … we need to recognize that racism, discrimination, xenophobia, white supremacy and those kind of things are there.”

But there are positive signs, Perez added.

“We are receiving a lot of solidarity from our community, employers, businesses, churches, elected officials, and I know there is a lot to do together,” he said. “We could overcome many differences if we connect and educate each other about our personal experiences as human beings … This is the way our democracy works and this is the way we can build a better community for all.”

Hispanic Affairs Project of the Western Slope is hosting a Migrant Day celebration from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Dual Immersion Academy, 522 W. Main St., Grand Junction. The Montrose office can be reached at (970) 249-4115.

Montrose Press 12.8.16