The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday November 27th

Column: Immigrants make Chapel Hill home for all of us


Liam Bendezu, opinion writer. 

On Sept. 26, the Trump administration announced that the cap on refugees admitted to the United States would be set at 18,000 next year, cut down from this year’s 30,000 cap. Both of these figures are a drastic decrease in refugee admittance since the Obama administration, which said that 110,000 refugees should be allowed in 2016. 

I feel as though I am writing what has already been written thousands of times, but is still true: this is not what America ought to be. Our country has long been a beacon for refugees and migrants, serving as a promise for the chance at a better life. And while we certainly have not lived up to this promise through our nation’s history, it is unacceptable that we take steps backwards in pursuing an ultimate goal as a land of freedom, justice and prosperity for all people. 

Maybe a better way to look at this is in terms of our own community, here in Chapel Hill. In 2016, the Town Council reported that 16.5% of residents were born outside of the United States; that is, about 10,000 of Chapel Hill’s 59,000 residents are immigrants and refugees. Of these residents, about 1,121 of them have arrived as refugees since 2005, primarily from Myanmar, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia and Syria. 

Asian residents are of particular importance to our town. Chinese migrants make up about 24% of all foreign-born residents, which is a significant proportion of the population. Think of what our town would be without them. David Yu, for example, moved to North Carolina in 2010, and now owns Gourmet Kingdom on East Main Street in Carrboro. The heart of his menu, he says, lies in the specialties: Szechuanese-style spicy, cold and fresh-fish dishes. Certainly, the food scene here would be less complete without his input. 

Encouraging diversity of background and origin also has personal implications for me. One of the great things about where I live in Northside is its proximity to La Nueva Guadalupana, a Hispanic grocery store on Rosemary Street. While they have a great selection of foods and products, I tend to go for one thing that I crave from childhood: Inca Kola. I remember the first time my grandmother, a Peruvian immigrant, gave me the distinctly yellow soft drink for me to try. It was instant satisfaction and obsession. I cannot get enough of the stuff. And, of course, the only place I have been able to get Inca Kola since beginning college is right on Rosemary Street, at La Nueva Guadalupana. 

Refugees and migrants have a place in the United States. Chapel Hill is an example of what happens when we invite them into our communities. Although food is one of the ways in which immigrants are made most visible in our community, they are more than the cuisine that they share with us. The value that immigrants bring is found in the ideas, traditions and cultures that continually enrich our town and University. 

The simple act of allowing immigrants a place in our community is very simple ask considering the richness that they bring to it. With all that they give, we should be more than happy to grant them a place here; immigrants do not weaken our communities, they make them stronger.

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