NH's Immigration Story
Wed September 28, 2011
Concord Residents Rally to Support Refugees
At least 200 people wore yellow, waved signs, and pledged unity with their neighbors, saying hateful actions against refugees don't represent the Concord they know.
As Namory Keita and the West African Drummers played, the crowd swelled. People drifted in, many wearing yellow shirts.
They picked up yellow and black signs proclaiming Love Your Neighbor. Soon, the lawn was a sea of yellow.
A series of speakers denounced the crime that occurred early this month – one that shocked people here in the state capitol.
On the homes of three refugee families from Somalia and the Congo, vandals had written that they were subhuman and that they “bring death wherever your cursed people go.” In crude words, it said these families were not wanted here.
At the rally, Concord Mayor Jim Bouley said that couldn’t be further from the truth. “This is not something that represents Concord, and we’re going to say no, we stand with the families, and we want them to know that we are accepting of them and we want them to feel as welcome in Concord as anyone else.”
But the speakers didn’t simply criticize the xenophobic actions of the still-unknown graffiti writer. Bishop Gene Robinson urged the crowd to respond positively.
“Every citizen and every person of faith must call on members of our community not only to tolerate but to wholeheartedly welcome these men, women and children from Somalia and Bhutan, from Sudan and Nepal, who want to make this their home,” he said. “Let’s not settle for tolerance.”
And after thanking New Hampshire for making refugees feel welcome, Honore Murenzi of the New African Americans made a simple plea. “Say to the person on your right, I like you.”
But the warm feelings among this peaceful crowd didn’t mask reality.
Many refugees have to navigate a host of tensions in their adopted homeland.
Hema Gautam, a Concord high school student who came here from Nepal a few years ago, says she knows that in America, race matters. “I was not surprised at all because I knew it would happen someday”.
It was likely to happen, Hema says, because refugees and native-born Americans don’t mix very much. And if they don’t mix, some people can get strange ideas in their heads. But for her part, Hema has made many friends at the high school – and is a member of a multiracial student group called Be the Change.
When all the speeches and all the music ended, and people began drifting away, carrying their signs, Mohammed and Eveline Mambueni remained, chatting with their English teacher.
The young couple, refugees from the Congo, came here about three years ago. Both are both students now. They are happy to be here. “We feel safe, because we know this is America,” he said. “This is a free land country, is a blessing, you know, freedom is a blessing.”
Another blessing, Mambueni says – this rally, this day, on the sunny state house lawn.
To see so many black people and so many white people together, working for unity, he says, makes him feel very happy.