There’s always something happening in Market Square at lunch time, and last Friday was no exception. It was Pittsburgh’s celebration of World Refugee Day, and it was colorful, moving and thoroughly enjoyable.
Each year, World Refugee Day is an opportunity for refugees who have settled in this region to share their cultural heritage. Refugee resettlement agencies and social service organizations, along with immigrants and refugees converged on Market Square, and offered a busy downtown crowd native foods and crafts, and several different performances of drumming and dance. From four young girls with swirling scarves and skirts, to some loud lively African drummer/singers that had the entire crowd clapping and singing along, for a few lunchtime hours Market Square became an international gathering place.
Perhaps most moving of all was a naturalization ceremony for ten refugees. As the representative from the Immigration Service administered the Oath of Allegiance, these ten people raised their right hands and solemnly swore to uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States, becoming new citizens of the United States.
Two of these new Americans came to the podium and shared the story of their journeys from their homelands to this moment. A young Bhutanese woman’s family left their home when she was just three years old, and lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for eighteen years! She warmly thanked her new country for giving her family back the ability to dream again, and to work to make those dreams come true.
An older man from Burma related a similar story of decades in a refugee camp. He said there was no work, nothing to do, very little to eat and no other place to go. Finally his family was offered the opportunity to resettle here in America. His joy was for his children and grandchildren’s future. “I am an old man now,” he said, “but I am so happy that my children and their children will be able to make something of their lives.”
Moments like these are at the heart of the refugee resettlement program at JF&CS. Real families, like most American families you know, want the chance to raise their children, engage in meaningful work and live in peace. It is difficult for us to really imagine their hardships, but we certainly can relate to their dreams.
Many thanks to the presenting sponsor the Urban Affairs Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. JF&CS was a partner in the event, along with Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach (AJAPO), Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Northern Area Multi-Service Center, South Hills Interfaith Movement, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, CISV Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and American Red Cross of Southwestern PA to mark World Refugee Day.