Summit County immigrant leaders share stories of resilience, need for compassion in lead up to Immigrant Heritage Month
As the county’s population continues to grow more diverse, a leader for the immigrant advocacy group Mountain Dreamers said it must ‘build spaces where immigrants can be represented’
Moments before the Summit Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring June Immigrant Heritage Month, immigrants in the county spoke about their struggles, triumphs and the need for a vibrant immigrant community.
“Being an immigrant, I didn’t come with an idea of being different. I didn’t come with a label. I just knew that I was Yerania,” said Yerania Reynoso, who immigrated to the county from Mexico in 2015.
But as Reynoso filled out applications designating her ethnicity and immigrant status, she said she began to see herself differently.
“It took me a while to understand that this doesn’t make me less of a person,” Reynoso said. “Even though we might be living far away, we are still who we are. Our happiness and joy to face challenges with tenacity and the perseverance to continue working and be the best of ourselves.”
Reynoso, who currently works for the immigrant advocacy group Mountain Dreamers, joined other speakers during a May 23 commissioners meeting to detail the immigrant experience and to celebrate the county’s growing diversity.
According to the commissioner’s resolution, 2020 Census data shows that the county’s non-white population grew by more than 50% with Hispanic residents making up over 14% of the permanent population.
“Summit County celebrates the diversity and enrichments these individuals bring to our community, and is proud to hold as one of its core values the opportunity for individuals to participate and succeed,” the resolution reads.
“Immigrants have been tireless leaders not only in securing their own rights and access to equal opportunity, but have also campaigned to create a fairer and more just society for all Americans,” the resolution continues.
Reynoso said when she first came to the county, she felt embarrassed to speak Spanish in front of her children. She said she was worried if her children spoke in Spanish publicly, it could draw unwanted attention.
But eventually, Reynoso said she realized the importance of speaking “the language of your heart,” and encouraged herself and her children to take pride in their identity.
“We represent multiple cultures and languages that make this country rich,” Reynoso said. “Being an immigrant makes you fly and dream.”
Reynoso and others said immigrants have helped power the local community, especially during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. But major challenges remain, including societal prejudice and policy barriers that keep immigrants from accessing safety-net programs.
The lack of affordable housing both in the county and across the state also disproportionately impacts immigrants, speakers said. The preliminary results of a new housing study revealed that Spanish-speaking residents reported higher rates of facing evictions and living in overcrowded housing compared to their white peers.
“I think we sit here and we try very hard to make sure that we are building housing and providing behavioral health and services. But it is not lost on me how much more there is to be done,” said Commissioner Tamara Pouge.
As commissioners prepared to adopt their June resolution, Reynoso said the county must continue to celebrate diversity and “give people power to raise their voices and build spaces where immigrants can be represented.”
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