Latest "Cultural Conversation" Focuses on Assisting San Antonio's Refugee Community

By Morgan Montalvo


Advocates for San  Antonio's refugee community gathered at the Institute of Texan Cultures  Monday evening to develop assistance and assimilation strategies during  what many attendees consider a current political climate of  non-acceptance.

The two-hour  workshop was the latest in a series of "Cultural Conversations"  organized by District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg and State Sen. Jose  Menendez.

Facilitators like  University of the Incarnate Word history professor Lopita Nath focused  on the contributions the Alamo City's refugee population is making to  the local economy, especially on the Northwest side. She says while San  Antonio has largely embraced its refugee community, other U.S. towns and  cities are not always as patient or tolerant.

"The most  important challenge that the refugees face is the culture shock," said  Nath, who teaches a class on refugee issues and outreach, "and now it's  the misunderstanding that accompanies them wherever they go."

Nath says in a  time when the term "immigrant" generates heated debate, refugees are  often judged by the same criteria as people who enter the U.S.  illegally. She says to qualify as refugees, individuals and families  must endure an application and security vetting process than can take as  little as two years, but usually takes far longer.

Monday's event was  also attended by students,. many of whom are active as refugee  advocates, and interested individuals such as Kelli O'Keefe, a Bandera  business owner concerned over what she says is an increase in visible  hate speech and anti-immigrant political posturing.

"It's kind of  funny,"O'Keefe said, "not funny 'ha, ha,' but it's kind of crazy,  because people are a little bit more bold now to state some opposition,  or even feel like it's okay to have symbols that may alienate other  people."

The goals of the  Cultural Conversations series are to increase awareness of, and spark  dialogue about local issues and, in the process, promote tolerance and  community.

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