In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia. At the time, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria. As Kosovars flowed into Bulgaria (usually on their way to Turkey), it marked the first time I heard the personal story of a refugee.
Stories of families leaving their homes because of persecution. And whether the persecution is religious, ethnic, tribal, or economic - their stories invariably have similar elements. Long and uncomfortable trips (on foot, pack animal, bus, car... you name it). Traveling with little or nothing. Separation. Tears. Hunger. Uncertainly. And fear. Fear of staying, fear of leaving, fear of dying along the trip. And finally courage. Courage to start over.
Over the course of the next two decades, these stories would become all too familiar to me. Whether in the Balkans, Afghanistan, or South Sudan or here in Chicago, I have been humbled by my colleagues’ stories of escape and return. And in our own Albany Park - I continue to be inspired by my neighbors’ stories, although here they don’t end with “return” as much as “and so I came to a new country where I didn’t know anyone."
Chicago welcomes apx 2,000 refugees a year and many of them live on the northwest side. As residents of Albany Park, we are lucky to live in such a diverse community - rich with so many cultures to celebrate, learn from, and honor.
One way to be sure we honor the experiences of some of our neighbors is to recognize World Refugee Day on June 20th. And here are a couple ways you can!
- Ask your neighbor their “coming to America” story or share yours if you have one.
- Attend the Chicago World Refugee Celebration at Beach Soccer Fields on June 20
- Read a book about a refugee’s experience and share the story with others
- Volunteer at or donate money to one of the great organizations in Albany Park that works with immigrants and refugees
However you decide to recognize the people and stories that make up the rich fabric of our neighborhood, please let us know how you celebrated the strength they bring to our community.