CLAIR VOICES is a platform where we conduct interviews with refugee/immigrants centers and professors whose studies focus on refugee and immigrant issues.
The purpose of the program is to raise awareness to our audience regarding refugee and immigrant issues through hearing the firsthand experience of affiliated personnel and to express our appreciation towards the works of those centers and the people.
FCJ Refugee Centre [Ontario, Canada]
FCJ Refugee Centre is a non-profit organization that serves refugees and others at risk due to their immigration status and welcomes anyone asking for advice, counsel, and support regarding these issues. The organization addresses systemic issues that newly arrived refugee claimants face in Canada, including lack of resources, marginalization, and discrimination.
CLAIR Voices interviewed Ms. Melina Caroprezo, the coordinator of English program at FCJ Refugee Centre. The interview focused on the English program provided at the Centre as well as common issues faced by refugees in Ontario, Canada.
[FCJ has several] teams, [such as; the] food delivery team, for people of low-income or for people that cannot access government assistance. We create baskets of food and deliver them on a weekly basis, to support their families. We also have a program where we aid workers who are in precarious situations so that they can either regularize their status or apply for PR (permanent residence). For example, we also have a medical clinic so that people who do not have access to OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) or other medical subscriptions…can see a doctor, create appointments, and have follow-ups. We also have a program that is called the “Child Minding Program”, [as] we are looking to educate kids in music, art, [or] French. These kids have [online] classes because of the COVID situation, [which provides] parents [with a sense of] relief for an hour [by] seeing that their kids have some entertainment [since] sports and musical activities are being cancelled [in school].
So this is our way of distracting [the kids] through fun learning. I also mentioned the English Program that is growing so fast and it is really nice to see [this growth], as it started with six people, as thanks to COVID, [the program] now has around 100 students attending the classes. Since the online classes save a lot of money and time for the students [since they do not have] to commute to the center. [FCJ also provides] legal aid [services] and has a youth group that [aims] to encourage youth to form relationships within the community and with people of their age, [while also showing them] future opportunities and building their skills for these opportunities. We also have a home for women and kids who have experienced violence, like a shelter, so whoever has assistant home needs, we can provide them with this service.
- FCJ is not just to help individuals settle, but also to regularize their status by providing them with essential skills and aiding them with documentation processes.
- Our experience with refugees has two sides, it’s beautiful to know the needs of people in this community and to help them. Although it is also heartbreaking to see the hardships these people must endure.
- The center started with two refugees, that are our co-directors, so they know what it is like to be a refugee and know the needs of others. It is not that they have never been there, they have been there and have built this community and this centre exactly for this reason; to help others that are passing the same situations that they have faced, in the past.
- I am an immigrant myself and understand the challenges that are faced because you have to learn fast, [which can be] hard.
Dr. Carranza of McMaster University
Well, I am not pro-assimilation. I am more about ‘integration’ and bi-culturalism because again assimilation to me has some colonial undertone in relation to newcomers who are racialized themselves when they come to Canada, and they already face lots of barriers that maybe because of skin color, facial features, and the accents they have. So if you look at studies within second or third generations who are racialized, they are by birth Canadians but yet they face a lot of exclusion and discrimination just because of the way they look. So again, I think the term assimilation is a little bit more in relation to [the] early 1900s when a lot of white Europeans came to Canada. They, because of how they looked like and how they sounded, could easily share those elements of culture and ethnicity and develop a sense of belonging into the Canadian context.
Having said that, those who come from other parts of the globe who are racialized, when they enter Canada, they don’t have the same processes. In fact, even if people want to assimilate, particularly young people, with [sense] of belonging, they are faced with very strong connotations around who they are and what they represent in relation to prejudice. There is a lot of prejudice. Again, I would say that mentoring to be more in relation to cultivating cultural belonging, cultural identity, but also developing the skills and the sense of belonging that you need within the Canadaian context. So it is more about bi-culturalism and that sort of sense of integration, in which you keep aspects of your cultural identity and integrate some aspects of the Canadian culture that make sense to you. And that makes you a stronger sort of a citizen in your sense of belonging to both places. In fact, nowadays, given that we operate within a global village, those bi-culturals and identities are very well sought out and students who are able to develop that bi-cultural [connection] are sought out because of their skills and what they have to offer. So I think when it comes to mentoring, [we need to make sure] so that young people do not feel ashamed of who they are and who they represent just because there is a hierarchy belonging in relation to superiority and inferiority. We are all the same. We are all humans. But yet you know the race construct is still related to colonialism, and we are still living within remnants of that.
Ashley Fisher: World Relief Seattle
Ashley Fisher is the Resettlement Coordinator at World Relief Seattle, where she is in charge of all pre-arrival prep, reports, reviews, and overseeing the support of the casework team. This includes preparing case files, completing assurances, contacting UST with travel information, completing intakes for walk-in SIVs, and reviewing 90-day reports. The interview focused on the process of resettlement and integration for refugees, immigrants, and asylees.
Ms. Christine Zeller-Powell at Refugee and Immigrant Services Program (RISP) [Oregon, USA]
Christine Zeller-Powell is a refugees and asylum specialist and a full-time employee at the Refugee and Immigrant Services Program (RISP), in Oregon, USA. She has aided many refugee and immigrant families throughout her career by providing client-focused care, to ensure that the families receive the resources they desire. RISP provides immigration legal services, and has developed a refugee resentment program and an asylum services program, to fulfill language, documentation, and housing needs.
The interview focused on the services RISP provides as well as their accessibility to rural populations and to individuals of varying backgrounds. The interview also discussed the process of employment and how politics may impact refugee and immigrant communities.
Will Zarillo: Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance
Will Zarillo works at the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance at Rutgers University, New Jersey. His work focuses on trauma-informed care as well as masculinity and engagement of men in violence prevention. He also works with survivors of violence (sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, etc) on college campus and surrounding communities.
The interview focused on the concept of trauma of immigrants and refugees in our society and the importance of engaging men as well as peers, surrounding people, in violence prevention and trauma-informed care.
Men’s engagement and masculinity are the two things I do [teach] at Rutgers University. That work is incredibly important too. When we [learn] about violence prevention efforts, gender equality, and all these efforts, lots of people not showing up to the work are men. And there are a lot of reasons for that. One is many men viewing these [violence] issues as women’s issues. But the thing is violence and trauma affect everybody. And often men are the ones who are enabling [and conducting] that violence. 98% of the time men are the ones engaging in sexual or domestic violence. So that’s one reason why it’s important to engage men, that they are the root of the problem. There are also plenty of other reasons to engage men. [Some of them] are survivors. One in six men are survivors of sexual violence before the age of 18. Men are at higher risk of committing suicide. They commit suicide about three times more likely than female do. Men are more likely to resort to more violent means for coping and often use alcohol as a way of coping. So, we also know that men are not adjusting to their own mental health. And they are not [aware of proper means] to cope when they also may have experienced violence. So, men need to be part of the conversations because these issues also affect men in different ways. And we also know that it affects men across different communities, cultures, religions, and different identities in general.
I think the first thing in order to define trauma-informed care is to define trauma. So trauma is a response that comes out of either physical or emotional experience. It’s an experience that has to be distressing or disturbing in any way to a person. And in that process, it affects that individual’s ability to cope and navigate [the problems]. And often it brings on a lot of symptoms. One thing we hear a lot is ‘trauma lives in the body.’ And that’s incredibly true. Trauma will showcase itself in so many different ways. So, people might showcase their symptoms in PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) through flashbacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, panic attacks, memory loss, and fragmentation of memory. There could be tons of triggers that might pop up for survivors. A lot of times for survivors, big triggers can include things like sense, seeing these and people. And there are a lot of emotions that come up in forms of sadness, depression, frustration, anger, and fear. So, knowing that, we can go into trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care is basically the assumption and approach in any field that assumes that any individual is more likely than not to have experienced some form of trauma in their lives. And that makes sense. We know that many children growing up experienced adverse childhood experiences. We know that one in three women have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. We know that many people across refugee communities have experienced trauma both where they might be coming from and but also a lot of times in where they end up. One example is child separation at the U.S. border. A lot of those children experience trauma before coming and that [child separation] policy also induces more trauma on them. There are also different forms of trauma, and that’s one of them. That’s called ‘system-induced trauma.’ There’s trauma that can come from war, gun violence, and again anything that’s really adverse or distressing. So, trauma-informed care is somewhat new. Trauma has been studied for a while, but now we’re starting to do more training around trauma field, especially in more universities and industries, and teaching people that they should actively, in their roles, support the survivors because the goal of the trauma-informed care is prevent re-traumatization and decrease as many barriers that exist right now.
So [in] my office, a lot of the people that we see have experienced things like sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual harassament, domestic violence, and also stalking. So those are kind of the big three that we see. Stalking is something also that is not talked about as much and also impacts people greatly. The average length that stalking can occur for is about two years. And when we are talking about, you know, university students, oftentimes they are there for about four years, depending on the program. Two years is half of their time, that is a lot. Again, we see people that experience all forms of violence, we also see, sometimes, people that experience being robbed/robbery, sometimes gun violence. But…across the board, when we are talking about anybody that has experienced any form of violence, especially when it is women or someone of color that has experienced that violence, the system and the people respond in the worst of ways. A lot of times people are not believing survivors, a lot of times survivors do not have trust in judicial processes, and it is all fair why they would not have trust because a lot of times the processes are not supported. So one thing we can do, individually, is to try to ease some of those barriers. The way we do it– first step is believing survivors, you know that is a phrase that we often hear kind of thrown around. But the reason it is important and the reason to do it in action is because a lot of times when survivors are sharing their story, talking about their story for the first time, they are going to peers first, they are going to people that are around your [their] age. We did an assessment at Rutgers [so] we know that [in] our student body, 76% of the time, a student who has experienced violence is going to another student to talk about that violence first. So if students are going to students, and for the first time they are sharing their story to their peer, if that peer starts going into the mode of not believing and start questioning their existence, questioning why they [the survivor] did that, or even just flat out saying,
“I do not believe you”, that survivor might not ever get the support they need and they might not ever share their story again. Survivors are not asking people, in the moment, to be a lawyer, they are not asking people to be a judge, they are not asking people to be a police officer. They are just asking for support. Not every survivor wants to go through reporting processes, especially in the beginning, a lot of survivors are just looking for support. So by offering your belief in them, that is the first step, the next step is actively listening to them when they are sharing their story. These stories are hard to share and a lot of times, the stories are gonna be messy. Like I just said in the beginning, memory is something that is often impacted in the time violence is happening. It is gonna make sense for a survivor’s story to be all over the place, it is gonna make sense for a survivor to have trouble sharing their story because it is gonna bring on a lot of emotions. So active listening means being patient with them, it means validating what they are saying and feeling, it means clarifying anything you might not understand, and it also means not forcing the survivor to do anything. Another thing too is one thing we can do to support the survivor is to empower them and one way we can empower them is [to] not force them to do anything they are not ready to do. So one way we can empower them is to be there, sit there, actively listen, and it is also [to] know the resources. What we can do individually too, is look up the resources in our local community, it is different around the world, but there are resources.
Another piece of trauma is intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma is the idea that trauma can kind of be passed through from generation to generation. An example of that is, if you go back into the history of America around slavery…Jim Crow [laws], hundreds of years of history, that has a lasting impact in families and that impact can stay with families, again, for generations. Another example is also within Jewish communities, things like the Holocaust, that impact can last for generations. Where the fears, the distrust in systems, also the things that come out of it too, like financial injustices, systemic oppression, systemic racism, all of these pieces tie into each other, and all of these pieces continue to connect to each other year after year. What is important with intergenerational trauma is that we try to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. But there is no way of doing that until we also keep passing more policy and keep doing things that break what these systems are. So the way it kind of comes out within my work is one, the students I work with individually…I have a few different roles. So one of my roles is doing clinical work, so that is where I am sitting with the student one-on-one in more of a counseling capacity. So in that role, if I have students that come from different marginalized backgrounds or anything like that, it is important for me one, to make space to talk about that; how that might have impacted them, how might that be impacting their story, how might that be impacting their way of coping. And it is also important for me, like I said before, to listen, me being a white counselor too, it is even more important for me to make a space that allows whoever I am working with to talk about things, like intergenerational trauma. Within my class, it is talked about because I put it into the syllabus. I felt that it is important for the students that I work with [because] the students I teach are often going to work at universities, so it is important for them to know how does this [intergenerational trauma] come out at universities too. We see at universities kind of the impact of intergenerational pieces as well, a lot of universities in the U.S. were built by slaves, a lot of statues at different universities in the U.S. still might not be appropriate, a lot of names of buildings often are controversial people or white supremacists or people that have owned slaves. So that has a lasting impact, a lot of times it can tell people on the campuses that they are not welcomed. And when we preach the word inclusivity, we need to be mindful of how do these pieces, how do these different symbols, how does the history take away from the inclusivity that you are trying to reach, because it does have an impact on the people that are walking around.
Based on research, there is an impact. I think sometimes it plays out differently within sessions where that is part of the conversations. It is hard to determine if that is the direct impact on the person. It depends on the person, right? Oftentimes, people that come into our office have experienced direct sexual violence or domestic violence, but it is still intertwining with other experiences because a lot of the ways we interact with their life is through those different identities. And that could come out through the cultures that we experience, again, through the religions that we experience. And that could also add a lot of roadblocks or barriers, too. So I guess, to answer your question, that has an impact. And then in terms of resources, that is going to depend on where you are, what state you are in, what country you are in. I do have a list of some resources, though, that tie into whether it is in immigrant communities, communities of color… So some resources that I made a list for you all are the Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health, the coalition that is within the United States that provides a few different things. One of the main things that is featured on their website is a full list of therapists or organizations that could be tailored towards immigrant communities or more inclusive and understanding of those communities. I have Organization Therapy for Latinx. They do the same thing, but they have a list of counselors or agencies or things like that that are welcoming and understanding of issues that pertain to people within the Latinx communities. I have the Organization of Inclusive Therapists– same concept, that one is a little bit more broad, but these are a bunch of therapists and they have specifically on their website a section for immigrants/refugees of a whole list of therapists that know more about these issues. I have the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association. That comes out of the United States as well. Same concept there. And then the South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network– same concept where they include resources to specific people as well as ways to reach out to them.
For myself specifically, what I am trying to do is one: educate myself of them. I really have been investing a lot of my time and space into working in survivor communities and issues around violence. And again, that pertains to refugees and immigrant communities as well. But for me, I need to know more. So one thing I did, two years ago, was that I went to a conference that talked more about these issues. One really interesting discussion there was about access to technology. Especially immigrants who are undocumented don’t want to use technology out of fear of being tracked and things like that. And that’s important to note because a lot of universities are trying to use tech more to remove barriers, and that’s a good thing. It does help certain people, but if people are not accessing technology, then that does not remove the barrier for especially people who might be avoidant. Another thing I’ve been to, in the education process, just other workshops too are trying to learn more. And I continue to learn more about the barriers, and that’s kind of one of the unfortunate things that I want to see shift even within my office. You know, there’s still a lot of barriers on why survivors who are refugees or survivors who are immigrants might not want to come to our office. Some of that can be the fear that some of our offices are going to make a report, which is not true, but there is that fear. We do not push anybody to report in our offices because we do counseling, but people have that assumption. And the other big piece that you all are handling is the language barriers too– that’s a big barrier too in terms of mental health. A lot of therapists and a lot of counselors do not speak multiple languages and still statistically, a lot of counselors and mental health professionals come from white backgrounds. A lot of people want to talk to people within their communities because they feel like they are going to connect more and understand more, or they want to be able to do counseling in their own languages. So, it’s also important that we could figure out ways to have more representation across mental health agencies as well and find ways to get more people to become counselors. That’s another long discussion there too, but those are some of the pieces.
I mean, there’s a lot. I think what people need to do is start listening to education from people across more communities. What I mean by that is: in a lot of the history of feminism and gender equality, we often heard from women, which is good, but a lot of the stories are from white women. Not that these stories should be invalidated in any way, but again these experiences affect different communities differently. We need to make space for all voices. Topic-wise, like specific topic-wise, I guess these are my own personal interests, but I am interested in the issues of gun violence– a lot of children and a lot of high schoolers are coming in with exposure to trauma that is constantly showing on TV and through multiple mass shootings. Somebody does not have to be there to experience the trauma response. When we are exposed to all this trauma that is seen on social media– TikTok is another big space– some people might internalize that as trauma. When this trauma is not handled, it’s coming into college too. And college may be the first time that maybe they will explore it a little more. And I guess that’s another topic in itself, which is K-12 education (I know it’s different in other places). School before college is a topic in itself because we need to talk about how a lot of this work is not happening early enough. Children can start talking about these issues when they are young. I think there’s a fear of talking about it in high school, middle school, or things like that. Sometimes, it is a lack of funding or a lack of people. But when we do not make these spaces, it normalizes the silence. And the silence should not be normalized. We need to encourage these conversations earlier because then we can actually try to prevent the outcomes of it, which is unaddressed mental health, violent behavior, or ineffective coping mechanisms.
We are not gonna be perfect 100% of the time, but what we can do is try to strive to be better. And a lot of people are afraid to admit that they either got it wrong or just do not even know, a lot of people are afraid to say that they do not know. And how can we make progress if we are not admitting those things, we have to say that we do not know and [that] we are not educated fully, and we need to start the conversations, cause that is where we learn. [16:54]