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Community event designed to combat racism PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 16 September 2017 10:06

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times


About a year ago, three men were arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb a housing complex/mosque in Garden City home to more than 100 Somali Muslims.

Following that incident, community members in Liberal immediately began making efforts to assure that despite incidents like that, everyone was welcome in Liberal.

Not long after the arrests, the Liberal Police Department hosted a town hall meeting to send just that message. Recently, the local Welcome Initiative group hosted a Get to Know Your Neighbors event at Memorial Library as part of the effort.

In March, another local group hosted a rally at Light Park to let people know racism is not the way for Liberal. Kathleen Alonso of the We Are America group said another rally is scheduled to take place Sept. 24, starting at 1 p.m. again at Light Park.

“We’re going to stick with the anti-racism theme,” she said.

This time around, Alonso said T-shirts will also be sold at the rally, with money from the sales to be donated to current recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, scheduled to end in October under the Trump administration.

Alonso said there are many DACA recipients in the USD No. 480 school district, particularly at Liberal High School itself.

“I was working at the high school previously,” she said. “I met several of the students. I wanted to help them out. A lot of them do have current lawyer fees. They’re paying fines. A lot of them are in the process of getting their papers. With this coming up, I’m sure they still have those lawyer fees to pay off, but also the renewal fees. Oct. 5 is the deadline for those that need to renew. I know this came up really sudden to them.”

Under DACA, individuals who entered the country illegally as minors receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

Again at the Sept. 24 rally, We Are America participants will march around the park, and Alonso said she is hoping for a bigger group than the March rally saw.

“I want to continue to do these to kind of get our exposure out, but also to continue to raise money and help the community, help the people we are advocating for,” she said. 

Alonso said We Are America is planning to do more rallies, but also look at fundraisers as well and other events.

“It’s going to be more events such as selling food or raffle tickets, having a prize for people,” she said.

As far as the T-shirts sold at next weekend’s rally, Alonso said she wanted to keep them simple while still getting the message of We Are America across.

“We still haven’t decided on that. As far as T-shirts go, we do want to see if we can get sponsors for that,” she said. “We’re trying to get a good amount of T-shirts to help benefit these children. We want to get sponsors for that and put the sponsors on the back of the T-shirt and have our design and our logos up in the front.”

Alonso said she felt the efforts made by the community, including events like the LPD’s town hall, the Welcome Initiative event and the We Are America rallies, are a good step forward for the Liberal community.

“It’s showing people we’re taking initiative to make a change, to make people feel more close, to close off these gaps in between our different races, religions that we have in our community, but I feel like we can do more,” she said. “I feel as a community, we can do such more.”

Alonso said she does consider herself a leader in the community, and she feels more people including the general public, need to speak out, particularly when it comes to issues such as DACA and racism.

“I feel like with everything going on with the administration, everything’s just been tumbling down,” she said. “It’s going by so fast, and I feel like we’re not doing enough to speak up about the situation. With this current DACA situation, I’m fairly upset about it. I know a lot of people are, but we have a lot of DACA kids here in our community. I feel like we should lend a hand, reach out to them, speak out to them. Right now, they’re all going through emotional trauma with this. It’s really unexpected for them.”

Alonso said she plans to do much more with We Are America, particularly with fundraising, as she feels this is something that can be easily accomplished, as can simply making everyone, regardless of race or religion, feel welcome in Liberal. She did say, though, more efforts need to be made in that regard.

“We can speak up,” she said. “We can make these people feel welcome, but at the end of the day, they go home. Students go to school. They do eight hours. They go home. They do homework, and then several of them have night jobs working 11 until 7 in the morning. Several of them still have those responsibilities. Several of them are going to go home with fear. Is my status going to be taken away? What’s next for us? I kind of  want to give them a bridge to walk on to kind of move to the next chapter in their life.”

Alonso said what happens with laws such as DACA does not just have an effect on the current generations, and neither do the racial issues plaguing America.

“Kids are our future to our country, and I feel we need to welcome them and help them as much as possible,” she said.

Alonso talked about some other efforts to help promote her group’s efforts.

“I wanted to switch this over to online, kind of build a blog for We Are America,” she said. “We can get different T-shirts all the time, sell them there on our website once we get that set up. I want to expand We Are America, make it a movement.”

With all these efforts, Alonso said the We Are America group could see a movement into much more than just Liberal, and this is exactly what she is hoping to get.

“The more communities we’re able to help out, the better,” she said. 

Like many, Alonso does believe something needs to be done with the illegal immigration situation, and she also feels compromises need to be found to provide a solution.

“We have thousands of illegal immigrants here in the United States currently,” she said. “As far as throwing them out and letting them come back legally, I think that is impossible. I feel like we do need an immigration reform that works all the way around. I don’t know if that’s going to be fast, if I’m going to see this soon, but as far as community goes, I feel like people should be less judgemental about it.”

Much information for and against DACA has made its way around cyberspace, and this can easily lead to confusion on whether the policy is good or bad. That confusion can likewise come in the forms of myths and facts about illegal immigrants. Alonso did say one piece of information about DACA recipients found on the Internet is completely false.

“They don’t receive welfare,” she said. “They’re not eligible for welfare or several other benefits Americans are able to receive.”

Alonso said making people feel welcome simply comes down to one fact, though, and that is that legal or not, a person is just that – a person.

“They are a human,” she said. “They are a mother, father, daughter. At the end of the day, I feel like we need to put all barriers aside and be humane about the situation.”

Alonso is a Hispanic born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants, and she said her parents own three properties, all of which they pay taxes for, as they do for their jobs, and this puts the myth that illegals don’t pay taxes to rest for her.

Alonso said most illegal immigrants want what everybody wants.

“A majority of illegal immigrants do come here for a better life, for work,” she said.

Alonso said she liked what she saw from the March We Are America rally and is looking forward to next Sunday’s event.

“I think the first rally went good for the planning and organizing that we did,” she said. “We had a good turnout. As far as this one, I’m expecting to have a bigger turnout hopefully. I’m hoping this gets to more people. The more people it reaches to, the better. I want a bigger audience this time. We have big hopes for this one.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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