Briefs on Briefs

Deandra Fike
July 06, 2015
Deandra Fike

Week 3 has rolled around which is pretty hard to believe, and for this week’s session I would first-off just like to take you all back to five minutes ago when I received WRAPS from the Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistant (aka BRIA) and is ultimately turning out to be one of the most exciting moments of my professional life so far. All three weeks of it.

Let me just explain to you what WRAPS is. In short- I had absolutely no idea. I came across a reference to it in the immigrant/refugee brief I had been updating earlier this week and basically it had some information on refugee numbers but there was no real citation, no further information provided, and no reason to believe any of the data was real. Clint was also stumped.

Fast forward a few days after countless professional emails that all received very cryptic responses, calls that led straight to answering machines which automatically hung up on you, and going through about three “deep focus” playlists on spotify (some to a greater effect than others) all of my problems were solved when I casually mentioned something about the problem to Sam. Which honestly I don’t know why that wasn’t the first thing I thought to do. But of course he just dug into his infinite fountain of knowledge and BRIA bubbled to the top. So I googled it and it gave the provided number a try.

“Hi my name is Deandra Fike and I’m working with PPG on an ongoing Language Access initiative in which I think some of your data may be helpful. Could I request the number of refugees that have been relocated to Erie County over the past few years?”

“Honey, all you have to do is email us and we’ll send you anything you’d like to know.”

Yeah, okay, lady.

So knowing what I do about the bureaucracy I sent them a cursory email requesting numbers of refugees for Buffalo and Erie county not really expecting all that much to happen and immediately dismissed the idea that I would receive any helpful response. I happen to check my email a few hours later and what do I find but the HOLY GRAIL OF REFUGEE DATA. I kid you not there was a list of every refugee that has ever entered Buffalo, Erie County, Upstate New York, New York State, and the U.S. in total separated by individual year dating back to 2001. INDIVIDUAL YEAR. THAT IS HUGE. I scroll down to find that they also have already compiled EVERY POSSIBLE GRAPH I COULD EVER HAVE CLUMSILY TRIED TO MAKE. They compared every region, displayed percentages, and mother of god there were line graphs galore. At this point I could weep with joy but I continue to scroll down to find that they also provided the number of refugees resettled in the surrounding counties as well, individually listed by ethnicity and primary language spoken, you know just in case I had some sort of data base I was trying to amass and decide which additional areas to include based on the refugee populations that lived there- OH WAIT. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I AM DOING. THAT EXACT THING. At this point a stray tear or two may have escaped, but there were no witnesses to confirm and I was too far in shock to notice.

In short, please everyone bow down to WRAPS and the lives it has saved today.

I am now on the verge of finishing the revision process of the Immigrants, Refugees, and Languages spoken brief and have therefore been tasked with the new project of creating my own brief which defines immigrants, refugees, and asylees, including processes they have to go through in order to receive a green card, citizenship, etc. Kinda boring right? Wrong- oh man you, my friend, are so wrong. The different hoops these people have to jump through to obtain the same basic privileges we, as fortune would have it, lucky Americans get simply because of the soil under our laboring mothers’ feet are incredible. Wading through the red tape and priority levels assigned to these different “categories” of people made me realize why a brief like this was so necessary. The brief is basically to aid government, non-profit, or other organizations’ staff in understanding what some of the people they are serving have to go through. Even what the words we throw around so often, such as immigrant, refugee, and alien (…seriously? Apparently non-citizens are easy to spot because they’re green and four feet tall), technically mean. Two weeks ago I told you I would do anything to get out of the office, and while that is still somewhat true these briefs have been my own personal elixir of life and WRAPS (hallelujah) the spoon to take it with.

Hopefully I will get to be out in the field a bit more in the upcoming weeks, but I also couldn’t complain if I sat in here with my peanut butter and carrots and munched my way through eight hours of data. Well, okay not too much.

But my research has also brought me to the question of reliability. Obviously this is me, a Caucasian female sitting in an office high above the streets of Buffalo sipping on her Maple-honey iced coffee (highly recommend- 10/10 would buy again), writing information about the cultures and experiences of these refugees. There is absolutely zero firsthand experience going on here. Luckily representatives from many of the groups we are discussing took the time to give personal interviews and review documents which related to their ethnicity, but it kind of brought me back to last Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration when I was trying to drum up support for Open Buffalo’s Black Lives Matter initiative. At some point I was asked point blank by a middle aged black woman, “why do you care?”. Of course, I had kind of expected it, but still found myself stammering my way through a speech about how this affects my friends, the system which governs me, and the overall concept of social justice for which I have dedicated my educational pathway and hopefully future career. There’s a quote that was on one of those motivational posters you find hanging around English classrooms that you kind of zone out on halfway through the fourth time you’re reading Shakespeare, and it said something along the lines of this:

“First they came for the communists
And I did not speak out because
I was not a communist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out because
I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out because
I was not a Jew

And when they finally came for me
There was no one left
To speak”

And that’s always kind of stuck with me. On the one hand, no, I don’t want to fall into the trap of “white-washing” the struggles a culture has been through. History is written by the victors and all that. But on the otherhand… do you really want to fight this alone?

Democracy is founded on the concept of pleasing the majority. That’s all well and good but then what happens when you’re not the majority? The entire basis of this government has stacked the odds against you. And if each of us crusades for our own cause alone, in the minority we are going to stay. I suppose it just comes down to the thin line of when have you gone too far?

Juneteenth, I’m frankly embarrassed to say, was the first time I experienced a feeling of…otherness. I had this sense of uneasiness deep in the pit of my stomach that I knew came from the fact that I felt different. Like an alien. Green and small in the sea of people around me. This was despite the fact that I had been welcomed, treated with nothing but kindness, and knew I was under no threat. Imagine if I hadn’t. I think one of the many arguments people belonging to majority categories often make is- “well, I don’t even notice race anymore. By perpetually bringing it up you’re just keeping the attention on these issues instead of just letting them die”, and I think this comes from never being in a situation where you are the one feeling this sense of different-ness. No, some people are lucky enough to live in a place where they wouldn’t notice it if it wasn’t them. Where nothing blatantly discriminatory occurs- no vandalism, threats, refusals of service, etc. It becomes something pretty easy to ignore, I think. Unless it’s you.