Since its founding in 1822, Montgomery County has been a place for immigrants. When the squares of land were mapped out and made into the new state of Indiana just a few years prior, European migrants from the East Coast and those newly arrived from elsewhere, poured in. Those immigrants (whom we call settlers) had roots from all over Europe, especially northern Europe. All these new people met up with those already here. The Miami, the Potawatomi, the Shawnee and others called this region home.
For most of us, after 200 and more years of American history, the thought of the earlier residents is just a faint trace in our memories. All our Indiana fourth graders, though, do learn the story of Tecumseh and Prophetstown and about what happened at Battleground as those First Peoples tried to form a powerful Confederacy to be able to remain and share space. The huge wave of “settlers and pioneers” that started our history made that hope impossible. Nonetheless, most of our own personal ancestors were honorable, upright, and hard-working. They were caught up in their history as we are in ours, mainly trying to create a better life in a new place. Most of us are proud of them.
We know too if we are honest about American history that The Indian Removal Act was but the first of other harsh measures enacted against other groups who call our country home. History has a way of demonizing different peoples at different times, and Germans, Irish, Scandinavians, Mexicans and Japanese have all been targeted. More recently Muslims and Chinese have been singled out as not belonging. Today some feel that immigrants during the last 60 or so years stand poised to replace the mainstream culture that has built up over the last 250 years. That’s not how our democracy works. People come here largely for opportunity or because they’ve been displaced and they want to work and participate.
From our earliest history, our remarkable economic and cultural success as a nation has come from immigrants working hard and working together to create a nation. In current times, immigrants underpin the economic engine of our country as they always have. This is especially visible in agricultural work, food processing, health care, and hospitality fields. (All those strawberries must be picked, those pork chops cut up, those hospital and hotel beds changed. All those restaurant dishes need to be washed, and all those offices cleaned.)
Welcoming America is an organization created to help communities recognize the strength that comes when they welcome and include immigrants into all aspects of community life. Communities that are actively doing this become more prosperous even as they weave immigrant residents into the fabric of civic life. Welcoming America provides a series of tools and models that encourage broad networks among non-profits and local governments. It supports communities so they can become truly welcoming places, templates for a “a nation of neighbors.”
Early in 2022, a local organization, “Immigrant Allies,” applied for a competitive grant from Welcoming America. Crawfordsville was one of only 10 rural communities in the nation selected! So Immigrant Allies is now part of the Rural Welcoming Initiative network. Agata Brewer, who applied for the grant, and Kerri Warner spearhead the Immigrant Allies group (a sub-committee of Humans United for Equality — HUE). They are laying out plans for upcoming activities and events, starting this fall, activities that will authentically bring our immigrant communities into partnership with mainstream culture for understanding, economic development, civic engagement, government leadership and more.
Warner recently attended the national Welcoming American conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. While there she was able to meet with other Rural Initiative members from across the country, hear keynote speakers, and tour some local projects where immigrant and non-immigrant communities build trust and work on initiatives together. She reports that this inspired hope and promise even though our situation on the ground is by no means simple. “Communication and more communication is the place we must start,” she noted in a recent interview. “We need to listen to one another, learn about each other’s talents and skills. Community building grows from there.”
Kerri Warner and Agata Szczeszak-Brewer are natural leaders for this important initiative in our community. Agata is an immigrant herself and a professor at Wabash College; Kerri has been part of our public school system for over 20 years. She teaches English Language Learners, often continuing tutoring students during summers.
As Warner notes, “I have seen first-hand how difficult it can be for families, especially single mothers, to provide basic needs for their children.” Work, family connections, or the need to flee bring immigrants to our community. We now have the opportunity to strengthen our rural county by making these new neighbors a more integral part of it. Please visit the HUE website or Facebook page and leave a message if you are interested in becoming part of Immigrant Allies or helping with some aspect of the Rural Welcoming Initiative.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.
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