The image that usually comes to mind when one thinks of the American melting pot is a large metropolis like New York City or Los Angeles, crowded with people from around the world. But small communities across the country have experienced significant demographic change over the last quarter century. And in the melting pot of New Hampshire, immigrants are working together to ensure that everyone has a chance at the American dream.
Since it was incorporated as a city in 1846, Manchester, New Hampshire has welcomed people from all over the world.
"My grandparents, on my father side, came from Manchester, England over a hundred years ago and established a new life in our city," Manchester mayor Robert Baines says. He adds that his city embraces its diversity and continues to welcome new waves of immigrants and refugees.
"Hundred years ago families came from Greece, Ireland, Canada and Italy," he says. "Over the last ten years, we have been receiving refugees from different parts of the world. The most recent group was the Somali. We received a lot of people from Bosnia, Vietnam, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan Congo, Sudan, and the list goes on. We have 90 different languages and dialects that have been spoken in our community."
Even as they integrate into the community, Manchester's various immigrant groups maintain and celebrate their individual cultures, through ethnic festivals and civic organizations. "The Latin American Center, the American Friends Civil Committee, the Cultural Diversity Task Force and the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester," longtime Manchester resident Nabil Migalli says. "Most members of the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester come from Bangladesh, Pakistan and of course from the Arab countries."
The Egyptian American says it has not been hard for people of different ethnic backgrounds to work together through various organizations.
"We don't come as ethnic groups. We come as human beings, as community members of different ethnic backgrounds," Mr. Migalli says. "When we come together in our meetings, activities, demonstrations, we just come as average Americans with a common interest. Social justice here in this country and in particular in New Hampshire is an important concern to us. Social Justice means dealing with poverty, dealing with issues related to immigrants."
To help ensure justice for all immigrants living in New Hampshire, Mr. Migalli, along with other local activists, established the New Hampshire Immigrant Rights Task Force.
"We are a group of New Hampshire folks, probably about 50/50 immigrants and people who are native born," Task Force member Judy Elliot says. Over the last 4 years the group has addressed and resolved some of the problems facing immigrants. The Task Force, she says, has even defended the civil rights of undocumented immigrants.
"Last April," she says, "a police chief of a very small town in Southern New Hampshire picked up a young Mexican man who was just pulled over legally to the side of the road and charged him with local trespassing. And his interpretation was that 'since you seem to be undocumented, therefore you're in the state without permission and I'm going to charge you with trespassing.' We really reacted against it. We thought this was a terrible threat against, not only undocumented workers in this state, but against any immigrant worker because we thought it would lead to a whole ethnic profiling and discrimination against anyone who appears to be an immigrant."
So, as Leticia Ortiz, a Mexican American member of the Task Force, recounts, the group organized a car caravan to this little city and attracted many supporters.
"We got a lot of people join us," she says. "We got a lot of phone calls, a lot of walking, talking with churches. We went around asking for signatures and support. That's how they knew about it. There were people who were very sympathetic with us and they joined us."
According to Judy Elliot, this case showed the solidarity among immigrants not only in Manchester, but all over the state. "We did have 31 groups that sighed a letter to the Attorney General and it included the Indian Association. We had the Islamic Association and the Arab American Forum. When we went to talk with the police Chiefs we had some Latinos as spokespeople, one American woman who's probably with an Irish background, the other one was a Congolese human rights activist who is now in the United States It was really great to see these groups come together and sigh on to oppose these actions by the police. It was really great to see people just stand up and say no."
When the case came to court, the judge ruled that the arrest was unconstitutional because immigration issues are handled by the federal government. Task Force attorney Chris Wellmorton says she hopes this legal victory will lead to more success in dealing with other challenges, which keep immigrants from becoming an integral part of their new communities. "The infrastructure of a state like New Hampshire is challenged by an influx of groups, for instance that don't speak English very well," Ms. Wellmorton says. "Do we have standards for translation? We don't have that yet. How do we provide translation services? How do we provide mental health services and medical services to people that don't speak English as their first language?"
The cooperation and solidarity New Hampshire's many ethnic groups have shown so far will go a long way toward encouraging polices that will provide immigrants with better access to services and foster a feeling of community that includes everyone.