On March 17, the latest Spirit of the Barrio luncheon was held to promote the exciting cross-sector work being done to support San Diego’s refugee population. The event was hosted by Family Health Centers of San Diego and featured a panel discussion about the services and resources available to refugees in San Diego. Panelists included Erica Bouris with International Rescue Committee, Kathi Anderson with Survivors of Torture International, Mohammed Tuama with Newcomers Support & Development, and Dale Fleming with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency’s Community Action Partnership. The conversation around refugees was emceed by ABC 10 News San Diego’s Virginia Cha.
“As a community, we have a long tradition of embracing refugee and immigrant families as a part of the fabric of our region,” said Bouris. “I think it is important to have community conversations about topics that are relevant to all of us here in San Diego. Particularly as these topics become more prominent in our local and national conversations, it is an important time to have engaged, substantive conversations with each other, and Spirit of the Barrio is a great space to do that.”
The Spirit of the Barrio luncheon is a celebrated part of Family Health Centers of San Diego’s history and is still held at the site of their flagship clinic, Logan Heights Family Health Center in the Barrio Logan neighborhood. The luncheons are open to the public and are designed to inform, educate and entertain audience members through a diverse list of guest speakers and subjects.
The luncheon topic was selected to highlight the diversity and challenges faced by the local refugee population and to provide a voice to the large population of refugees Family Health Centers of San Diego serves in their El Cajon and City Heights clinics. During the event, refugees and their advocates shared compelling stories about the struggles they faced in their home country and the difficulty of coming to a new country with little-to-no support or financial resources.
“It is important to recognize that refugees are a contributing part of our community,” said Fleming. “They have become our workforce, our professionals, as well as our neighbors. They’re not all on public assistance. In fact, many refugees are contributing to our local economy, our culture and our Live Well San Diego vision.”
A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. This differs from an economic immigrant who chooses to leave their country in hopes of having a better life. An asylum seeker is a person who is fleeing from persecution for reasons of race, religion, social group or political opinion and has crossed over into a country with a request for sanctuary until they can be granted refugee status.
“San Diego has long been a very welcoming place to refugees, asylum seekers, and newcomers,” said Anderson. “We're very fortunate to live in California where state lawmakers have expressed an interest in helping refugees, but we need to have continued conversations with lawmakers to demonstrate the importance of this issue to the San Diego community and to clearly communicate to our lawmakers that we want to welcome newcomers.”
Since October 2015, 5,848 refugees have been resettled in San Diego County by the federal government, with 31% from Iraq, 18% from Syria and 14% from Afghanistan.
The March 17 luncheon was one of the highest attended luncheons in the history of the Spirit of the Barrio, with many of the guests expressing that the discussion was genuine and moving. Family Health Centers of San Diego highlighted ways the community could get involved to help local refugees and noted their commitment to continually work to develop cultural competency through clinical management trainings for healthcare providers and to facilitate dialogue with community leaders to break the silence and advocate for sustainable change.
The next Spirit of the Barrio luncheon will be held on Friday, May 19, 2017. The event regularly draws about 400 people to learn from some of the top names in the community while feasting on delicious, homemade tamales. Learn more here.