Saturday, September 25, 2010

Languages and Cultures: how a university Spanish department and the local Refugee Center can support each other

by Ann Abbott

The University of Illinois' annual Campus Charitable Fund Drive is underway. All the charitable organizations in the portfolio are worthy recipients of our giving.  However, I just sent the message below to my colleagues within the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese to point out the connection between our mission as a department and that of the Refugee Center (officially, the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center).  Any UI employee can contribute to the fund drive, and anyone at all can send a check directly to the Refugee Center at any time.  (Their address is available on their website.)

Dear SIP colleagues,

As you consider your choices for the Campus Charitable Fund Drive, I would like to call your attention to the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC), also known as "the Refugee Center."  They are the only Illinois organization of this type outside of Chicago, and they provide myriad services to all refugees, asylees and immigrants.  For instance, in the first few months of this year they assisted in the resettlement of new families from, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Vietnam, Syria and Liberia.  Furthermore, an alumnus from our Spanish BAT program, Guadalupe Abreu, is the sole Spanish-speaking counselor at ECIRMAC.

Many of our Spanish community service learning students work at ECIRMAC and learn not just about Spanish but also about global patterns of human migration, on-the-ground realities for our local immigrants and the impact of policies.  I especially remember the story of one of our students who was working in the office when an immigrant who had arrived from the Congo (originally from another African country) recounted the story of his torture while a counselor filled out his asylum request.  This took place in the midst of debates about the United States' use of torture in the war on terror.  As you can imagine, this was a very important learning moment for all the students in the course.  At the links below, you can see other students' reflections on what they have learned at ECIRMAC:

Summary at semester's end
Small cultural impositions create huge problems for immigrants (in Spanish)

If you would like to give to ECIRMAC in the Campus Charitable Fund Drive, you can give to the United Way of Champaign County ( and *designate* that your money go to the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assitance Center (ECIRMAC).

Thank you for considering this!


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