Community members gather to express solidarity with Madison’s immigrant community

Last week, Madison community members gathered to further discuss immigrant rights following the initial United We Stand gathering.

Alders Samba Baldeh and Barbara Harrington-McKinney hosted the meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21., with community leaders including Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Karl van Lith, officer of organizational and development and training for the City of Madison. 

The event began at 6:30 p.m. with the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the recitation of a poem in honor of Black History Month.

Bodies of every race, age and gender shuffled in and out of the room on the third floor of the central Madison Public Library throughout the evening’s proceedings.

The initial United We Stand meeting took place at the end of January and an estimated 2,500 community members attended.   

This follow up consisted of small group discussions designed to generate ideas to create strategy for a unified defense of Madison’s immigrant community.  

In the first small group breakout, attendees were asked to consider how they could help immigrant and Muslim communities in the wake of the new administration and its immigration policies.

One group included a high school student who is an immigrant, her mother who spoke limited English, a 40-year-old mother of a Middleton High School student, a young couple new to Madison and a local community organizer.

In the small group, the young woman who is an immigrant discussed the new “Dreamers’ Club” she is a part of at Waunakee High School. Derek and Dana, a married couple new to Madison, were overwhelmed at the number of politically engaged social groups the city has to offer.

This diverse group presented equally diverse concerns and hopes.

They hoped to see individual organizations unite for the immigrant community, which would create a symbolic sign of solidarity, and to take guidance from the immigrant community as allies. 

Other groups in the room echoed these sentiments.

After the small break-out discussions, the groups reassembled to further develop their visions for the city and how Madison might better protect and assist members of the immigrant community.

On group addressed the lack of Latino participants as well as the absence of a translator.

A woman whose daughter was serving as her translator for the evening said that even though she was in the room, her limited access to the conversation left her feeling excluded.

One man stated that he believed some members of his community did not feel safe to participate in such gatherings, as they were afraid to be in public due to their immigrant status.

Attendees further discussed how to eradicate barriers in the community.

One group suggested attending a Friday prayer service to learn about the Muslim community firsthand. Another requested the label “sanctuary city” be better defined. It also was suggested that emails in the future be sent in a variety of languages.

The attendees expressed gratitude for a space of open discussion.

“If we are all connected, we can really make some change,” the young woman from Waunakee said.

She said she felt supported by the city of Madison as an immigrant and is glad to see efforts being made to reach out to the Latino community.

“I’m coming to the point where I realize community action is a slow moving process,” attendee Tess Lewdanowski said. 

Despite this, Lewandowski remained optimistic and said that she would plan to attend another “Know Your Rights” event. 

“You need to let everybody get their ideas out on the table before you can figure out what the best ones are,” she said.

Omar Avarca, who spoke briefly at the initial event in January, said the group felt like “an army.” 

No dates have been set, but at the end of the event, organizers said  there are intentions of future United We Stand events.