It all started on a series of high school mission trips to an orphanage in Honduras. That’s when I first fell in love with the Latinx culture, or any culture other than my own for that matter.
It was the first time I questioned where different people come from, why they think the way they think or what they’ve gone through. Here were people who had very little and had been through a lot of trauma, and yet they were by far the kindest, most giving people you could ever imagine.
That really stuck with me.
And it continues to stick with me today in my work with young people who have resettled to Louisville as refugees from around the world. I am forever marked by young people who come here, usually but not always with their families, and make a new life.
One of my favorite stories is that of a young man from Cuba who had started nursing school before coming to the U.S. Without getting too detailed here, people who resettle to America have different statuses with the U.S. government and receive different (or no) benefits based on those statuses. People from Cuba typically get some limited help but mostly have to wait and do nothing until they have the right documentation to be able to work or pursue their options.
But this young man was determined to continue his studies. He was able to enroll at JCTC and is now able to work and pay his own way there while also contributing to his family. When he completes course work he will earn his nursing degree from another university. He had a goal, he came here and he made it happen. He’s very inspiring.
A young woman came here from Afghanistan with her younger sister in 2021 after the fall of Kabul. She spoke practically no English, but was, like the young man from Cuba, determined.
In the almost two years since, she has learned English well enough to earn her GED, gained legal guardianship of her sister, secured a good-paying, full-time job, and bought her own car. Soon she plans to pursue a college education, in part simply because, in the United States, she can.
I could rattle off stories like these for hours. Every one of them makes me think I could do so much more with what I’ve been given, considering I’ve never had to flee my home and start over.
I sometimes wish that people who do not have the opportunity to interact with those who have resettled here as refugees and immigrants could get to know them and understand their value to our community.
Many of these individuals are people who had lives before they came here. Successful lives. Some of them were doctors and engineers. Most of them had good jobs. Some of them have college degrees. And some of them don’t. But everybody brings something to your community, even on the most easily overlooked level.
Think about your favorite ethnic food. Why is that restaurant here? Because someone came from another country. They brought their skills and their culture and they decided they were going to share it.
There is such a variety of people in our community, and we are lucky enough to get to share their cultures. Because they are kind enough to share them. I hope that we as a society can come to understand and appreciate the gift and the benefit that these New Americans bring to our communities. I hope that this understanding will spark more empathy and support, especially for the young people building new lives here.
Layne Sanders is the youth programs manager for Catholic Charities of Louisville.