“Chapel Hill is a good city, and I like the neighbors in the community,” she said.
RSC, which offers a variety of services including assistance with housing, finances, immigration legal services and translation, connected Ehpaw to a UNC student tutor who helped her children learn English.
Flicka Bateman, founder and director of RSC, said she was inspired to open the center after becoming close with and assisting a Burmese refugee family that lived across the street from her.
“We spend a lot of time focusing on refugees’ needs, their anxieties, their fear, and I want also to say: they have strengths, they are resilient, they are the bravest people I know,” she said. “They have been through much worse than getting used to American culture and learning the English language, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re going to come out on top here.”
Isa Godinez, a research associate for BIC and a doctoral student in anthropology at UNC, said that, though many immigrants and refugees have felt welcomed into the Chapel Hill community and have been able to integrate, this has not been true for all of them.
“One of the things that I heard among members of refugee populations is that there’s a language of being opening and being welcomed and being glad to have them in the community, but when it comes time to actions to show it, there hasn’t been a whole lot that has been happening,” she said.
BIC is focusing on increasing language accessibility within the Town through improved and expanded translation and interpretation services.
Godinez, who immigrated from Mexico, said she understands how important increased language accessibility can be for people with limited English proficiency.
“I’m not a native English speaker, so I had to pick up the language when I came to the U.S., and that period of time when you are unable to communicate, that’s exasperating, that’s terrifying,” she said.
Gutiérrez said housing is another concern for many immigrants and refugees. He highlighted fears of development projects that may affect different housing opportunities.
"They are concerned because they know that development is constantly happening, so they feel that their own communities are subject to those changes," he said. "But there is also an ongoing conversation with the Town authorities."
Godinez and Gutiérrez both said many refugees and immigrants whom they’ve spoken to have expressed have difficulty trusting authority figures.
“One of the things that I heard at the last community meeting that we held was that, from a refugee point of view, because of experiences that they’ve had prior to moving here, relationships with figures of authority can be difficult,” Godinez said. “If you lived in a repressive atmosphere, trusting that police or any sort of authority figure has your best interest at heart can be difficult.”
Gutiérrez said he has listened to stories in which people live in fear of being deported, threatened or subject to harassment.
"When you’re in fear, you don’t live your life in a regular way," he said.
Godinez said authority figures can help ease these fears by recognizing these issues and attending community and cultural events in refugee and immigrant communities. She also said she has experienced some of this fear and uneasiness herself.
“There are definitely places where I feel that I stick out more than others and feel sort of watched,” Godinez said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but when you walk into a space and it’s immediate that attention comes in your view, and this is just me speaking as an immigrant myself and as a member of one of these very same communities as I’m working with.”