Orange shirts were everywhere, and we weren’t at a UT football game! The shirts welcomed everyone who entered in their own language. Drums echoed beyond the doors, beckoning us all into the space. Smiles played across every face—volunteers and visitors.
Where was I? At this year’s World Refugee Day celebration: one day marked to celebrate people from many nations who have immigrated to the United States, escaping violence and oppression while bringing beauty and creativity to metro Knoxville.
When Chester Pun-Chuen immigrated to Knoxville in 1983, he didn’t expect to be an English teacher. He grew up speaking Filipino and English, with a bit of Cantonese from his father. In high school and college, he studied Spanish.
A couple of years ago, while leading his church’s Unity in Diversity ministry, Chester’s pastor asked him and his wife to assist a refugee family from Burundi. He didn’t expect to build such strong relationships with this mother and her four kids. The mom depended on the children to translate for her. Chester knew that was no way to build a life here in Knoxville, but what could he do?
Last week, a refugee family of nine arrived in Knoxville. It’s hard to find rental property to fit nine, so they had to wait in a hotel for a few days.
Cindy Hood doesn’t want that to happen again.
Yasmin was upset. She handed her quarterly inspection report to our culture coach, wondering why she was on the verge of being evicted. It said “uncleanliness,” but she kept her house clean and tidy. Our culture coach went to her apartment and found everything else clean, but the two bathrooms covered with mold and mildew.
Mold and mildew don’t grow in the dessert. It’s too dry. But here in East Tennessee, they can grow in a couple of days--just one of the thousands of things to which many immigrants and refugees must adjust!
Remember the excitement of the first day of school? Remember how proudly you shouldered your new backpack and marched into school?
International children now have the same feeling after they visit the Knox County Schools Welcome Center, where new families enroll their children in school throughout the year. Every child receives a well-stocked backpack, readying them for that first day in their new schools.
Sundays are different at Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church these days. Swahili songs bounce off the beautiful stained-glass windows, and people greet a few church members as “Teacha” when they pass.
Just one year before this was written, Pastor McLain and others looked across the chain-link fence separating their church property from an apartment complex full of African refugees. How could they reach these new neighbors? How could they tangibly love them? How could they break through the figurative fence separating the two cultures?
Read the stories of Knoxville's local internationals and the volunteers who have impacted their lives. Get a first-hand view of what it's like to move here and/or to serve those who've moved here from other countries. Discover how KIN has impacted life and culture in metro Knoxville.