Momentum Builds in Michigan into a Chorus of Welcoming
Christine Sauvé is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Welcoming Michigan is one of the twenty-two Welcoming America affiliates’ which organizes activities and uses positive messages to highlight the shared values and contributions of immigrants. Whether you emigrated from Mexico, your grandparents migrated from the southern U.S., your great grandparents came from Poland, or your Anishinaabe ancestors traveled here from Canada, everyone has a migration or immigration story to tell.
I come to this work as the granddaughter and great granddaughter of immigrants and can appreciate the sacrifices and hard work of my immigrant neighbors. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I saw first-hand the challenges faced by those wanting to move to America to make a better life for themselves and their families. In my travels I have been a stranger dependent on the kindness of others. I am also a community organizer and believe that good things happen when you bring people together.
At Welcoming Michigan I work with local communities to help U.S. and foreign-born residents get to know each other, share stories, and develop mutual respect and understanding. This immigrant integration initiative grew out of the 2010 Global Detroit study and is now a project of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Since launching in 2012, we have posted five billboards, facilitated four welcoming committees with over 50 members, and hosted more than 60 events that have reached over 3,000 attendees.
We couldn’t have done this without the active participation of dedicated volunteers or “Welcoming Committees,” made up of leaders from community organizations, faith groups, schools, businesses, law enforcement, and city government to organize activities to connect longtime and new residents. Community members engage in dialogue at film screenings, cooking classes, and multicultural celebrations. Committee members set a positive tone in their communities by promoting and modeling inclusivity.
In Detroit I work with community leaders who bring neighbors together through a TimeBank, an Arab community center, and a youth advocacy network. I know young Yemeni immigrants who are always willing to lend a helping hand and build bridges across race and ethnicity. I know African American residents who enjoy meeting their Mexican neighbors at community cooking classes. In Sterling Heights and Macomb County I work with dedicated and forward-thinking city and county staff, refugee resettlement agencies, and members of the business community. In Hamtramck, religious leaders, librarians, and public safety officers care about making their community a welcoming and harmonious one. In southwest Michigan, my colleague works with school board members, migrant farmworkers, and small town residents willing to share stories of welcoming and migration.
In addition to a Welcoming Week proclamation from our Governor, seven Michigan communities have issued resolutions encouraging longtime residents to join with immigrant neighbors in a spirit of unity. We frequently receive requests from folks excited about welcoming newcomers and wanting to get involved. It is heartening to hear so many voices from our Great Lakes State joining in a chorus of “Welcome,” “Marhaba,” and “Bienvenidos”.
Christine Sauvé is the Southeast Communities Coordinator for Welcoming Michigan, a grassroots immigrant integration initiative of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.