Community Dialogues Meeting

“They learned English quickly,” shared Councilman Chic Lantz about his ancestors who immigrated from Germany in the 1740s, “but they spoke German at home for six generations!” Lantz brought opening remarks to the Community Dialogues meeting Monday night with the focus “Bringing Cultures Together: Many Cultures—One Community.”

Anne Meyer Byler facilitated the evening, describing “dialogue” at the beginning of the meeting. “Dialogue assumes that many people have significant things to share,” she said, “and that the whole picture will be a better understanding of the situation than any of our individual opinions alone.”

Although many people are a mix of ethnic heritages, as is golfer Tiger Woods, and people often don’t fit into neat “cultural boxes,” the 100 participants spent part of the evening divided into broad ethnic or geographical subgroups. People with heritages from Central America or the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, Russia or the Ukraine, and South America shared their ideas on: the best things about Goshen, what they felt was welcoming, and what problems they experienced in the community.

After returning to the main meeting room, each participant engaged someone from another subgroup, sharing how many years they had lived in the area, and what each one valued most in the community. The ensuing exchanges were so lively that the group could only be brought back together and quieted with a loud whistle.

Safety, cleanliness, friendliness, good schools, the library, parks, churches, and diverse cultural influences were items mentioned as strengths in the community. Programs that helped people feel a part of Goshen were the language classes available, churches, diverse cultures present locally, and people who were open to meeting new people.

Among difficulties immigrants mentioned was the way people looked at them or treated them that hurt. Some felt that people assumed things about them that weren’t true, based on the color of their skin. “I have nothing against people from Mexico,” said Isrrael Mujica, “but I am from Venezuela, and it is a different country, in a different part of the world.” Latinos wished that more people would assume that they were honest, hard-working, and responsible citizens who cared about raising their families.

Of the 15 people who had come to the states from South American countries, all of them stood when asked who had professional degrees before coming to the states. Among them, a lawyer, veteranarian, teacher, and others were frustrated that it was so difficult to earn the certification necessary to practice their profession here. The many hurdles along the way to getting immigration status was another major frustration.

Russians also found it difficult to get jobs at times, and a number had handiwork skills that they could not market. In addition, it was difficult to get official papers translated, and find a Russian translator for appointments.