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United in Song: The Tacoma choir that welcomes refugees with music

Sept. 8, 2016 | By Rosemary Ponnekanti

It’s not your average choir. Tacoma’s Community House Choir does “Do Re Mi” and Michael Jackson, sings in Arabic and Kurdish and welcomes refugees by singing with them. And director Erin Guinup wants it to inspire others – beginning with citizenship ceremonies for National Welcome Week.

We are a Welcoming Community

September 12-20 is National Welcoming Week – an opportunity to highlight the contributions of immigrants to American communities. As Americans, most of us are the descendants of immigrants. Tacoma has joined 56 cities, in over 20 states, to support locally-driven efforts to create more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environments that maximize opportunities for economic growth and cultural vitality, and position communities as globally competitive, 21st century leaders. Mayor Marilyn Strickland, born in Seoul, South Korea, presented a proclamation on Sept. 15, declaring Tacoma as a Welcoming City.

Tacoma and Pierce County have been welcoming immigrants into this community for over a century. Early on, these newcomers were Chinese, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Greek and others. In the last 40 years or so, the immigrant community has expanded and become even more diverse, with people coming from countries such as Mexico, Ukraine, Yemen, and Sudan.

One prime example of our welcoming spirit is the way we welcomed Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who fled persecution after the Vietnam War. Camp Murray served as a welcome center for hundreds of refugees in 1975, many of whom were sponsored by local churches and resettled here. Those families continue to enrich this community, through the businesses they have started and the success of their children.

Tacoma Community House has been welcoming immigrants and refugees for 105 years. TCH was created by Methodist Women as a settlement house for immigrants moving to the Hilltop area in the early 20th century. Today, through TCH’s four core programs – education, employment, immigration and advocacy – we help immigrants integrate into our community as they learn English, find jobs, become citizens, and help their children learn and adapt. We provide these services to a diverse array of immigrants and refugees from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Last year, TCH served 3,600 people from 95 different countries, including those born in the US. Everyone we serve at TCH is seeking the American Dream: the opportunity for a better life for themselves and their families, an education, a good job, the privilege to vote and most importantly, to contribute to our community.

Pierce County is home to over 80,000 immigrants who are a vital part of our community. They bring fresh perspective and new ideas, start businesses and contribute to the vibrant diversity we need to be competitive in the 21st Century. Immigrant-owned businesses have revitalized the Lincoln and South Tacoma Way business districts through their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.

When you look at immigrants in our community, you see people who share our values – people working hard to provide for their families and build a stronger economy for all of us.

Our community’s success depends on making sure everyone who is a part of it – including immigrants – feels welcome here.

View upcoming events on our website.