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In the gymnasium of St. Casimir Catholic Church, an assembly of Lansing’s refugees gathered to perform traditional songs and dance thousands of miles from the homelands they left for the second annual “New Americans Got Talent” show.
It is part of Refugee Awareness Week put on by St. Vincent Catholic Charities, the leading refugee resettlement agency in Lansing.
“Refugees are looking for opportunities to show people what they have to offer,” said Judi Harris, St. Vincent's refugee services program director. “This is a place where they get to wear their traditional dress and share their traditional language and it is really important to them.”
Performing under the American flag, Congolese and Burundian choirs sang traditional African folk songs while the Chin and Nepalese peoples performed dances in colorful garb. A Bosnian poet also performed. A Ugandan artist gave a speech about the importance of refugee awareness.
Each underwent an unimaginable amount of trials, tribulations and persecution to end up on U.S. soil.
Harris said while “these folks love the U.S.” the talent show allows them to reconnect with the food and language from their childhoods. The talent show is also a brief reprieve from the worldwide refugee crisis, Harris said.
“We are now facing the biggest refugee crisis since WWII,” Harris said. “There are 68.5 million people dispersed throughout the world right now. There are 25.5 million refugees, not just displaced from their homes but their countries.”
St. Vincent's resettled around 17,000 refugees since its inception in the ‘70s. The organization is also specialized in taking on refugees persecuted for being LGBTQ because Lansing is considered a safe haven for the LGBTQ community, Harris added.
Nathalie, who wished to have her last name unprinted for protection, is a refugee and artist from Uganda. She performed a speech on refugee awareness.
“I don’t just do art as a hobby,” Nathalie said. “I choose to use it as a way to promote human rights, advocate for culture and save lives because art is life.”
Traditional vases and maternal imagery make up a good deal of her work and she just finished a new abstract piece. She said it is similar to an African fabric pattern, but she thinks it represents togetherness and separation.
Nathalie added that while she doesn’t like separation of people, sometimes certain situations do “not allow togetherness.”
Her speech earned a round of roaring applause.
“Today I am happy to share with the world the resilience and abilities of refugees,” Nathalie said. “I want to let the world know that if we are protected and empowered, we can share the high insight of our experiences, a world without war, oppression and cruelty, where we can share our talents and skills.”
(For more information on Lansing’s World Refugee Awareness Week events, visit stvcc.org)