COVID-19 has impacted nearly everyone in some capacity or another, and the area’s immigrant population is no exception.
The Refugee Development Center in Lansing has made it their daily mission to provide support for Lansing refugees, even now, extending their arms out digitally if they have to. The organization aims to cultivate a welcoming, thriving community in collaboration with refugees and newcomers – providing support, engagement and education since 2002. According to their website, “when refugees come to America, they usually have little money, few contacts, and a limited understanding of America’s vast and complex culture.”
The Center will be hosting an online fundraiser on Thursday, June 18 from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m., in partnership with The Robin Theatre and The Poetry Room. The event, ‘RDC x ThePoetryRoom: Where I’m From’ hosted by Masaki Takahashi and Ana Holguin will feature a lineup of poets, speakers, and students sharing their stories – some of them detailing their experiences from immigrant backgrounds. Poetry Room host Masaki Takahashi, a Michigan State University graduate, said the showcase’s talent lineup is “hand-picked due to what they represent, and the strength of their work.”
The event’s proceeds will raise money to continue providing English for Speakers of Other Language classes, youth mentorship programs, after school tutoring, early literacy workshops, and community education.
The lineup includes pieces and stories from Ana Holguin, Suban Nur Cooley, Guillermo Delgado, Tamoha Siddiqui, Emdash (aka Emily Lu Gao), Masaki Takahashi, and the main feature, Karla Cordero. Most of the showcase talent has previously shared their work during The Poetry Room themed events, held monthly at the Robin Theatre in Lansing’s REO Town. The series of poetry open mic nights promote diversity and various experiences through spoken word.
“Karla Cordero is the main feature of the event. Emdash is from California, so she hasn’t been to The Robin Theatre, but has done our open mic virtually … she is the one who suggested Karla Cordero (a descendant of the Chichimeca people from northern Mexico) when I told her about the event. Karla’s work really fit the theme, and I reached out to her. Karla is really accomplished, and recently put out a full-length book with Not A Cult Media.”
“This event is curated from top to bottom,” Takahashi said. “Every person on the lineup is super talented and special. This event has an incredible message, and there are only so many people who can share these types of experiences. Each person here is rich within their stories to share.”
Youth Mentoring Coordinator at the Refugee Development Center, Ana Holguin, was the mastermind behind the upcoming digital fundraiser. She had set up a teen group mentorship event featuring writing, performing and expression – in partnership with Dylan Rogers (The Robin Theatre) and Masaki Takahashi (The Poetry Room). Holguin saw growth in students after the workshop, and continued the partnership. After a Zoom meeting between the involved parties and Erika Brown-Binion, director of the Refugee Development Center, the event was officially scheduled. Holguin looks forward to this week’s virtual event, one that will help many families in real life.
“After COVID-19 hit, the Refugee Development Center (RDC) has been doing its best to make sure that our community is well-informed about precautions and care,” Holguin said. “We’ve also been helping folks get on unemployment, and it’s been a struggle for many families. A number of households require assistance with immediate needs like money for groceries and rent – all the funds raised from the poetry event will go to this cause. Beyond that, it is World Refugee Awareness week, and we want people to celebrate our amazing Lansing refugees. It’s a great chance for us to listen to the voices of immigrants and people of color amidst all the sadness and upheaval we are working through as a country.”
Holguin said the event featuring unique and powerful survivors is especially relevant right now, given the current state of affairs. “It’s a very important time for white people and people of privilege to be quieter and let other folks take the mic,” she said. “So, people can get in some entertainment while they get schooled on what it’s like to be an immigrant, a refugee, a mixed kid, whatever. Even if it feels like COVID is less prevalent, it’s still here, and the economic ramifications are ongoing. Our families do need this help, so the fundraiser is of import.”
One such uncut story you’ll hear in the digital poetry event is from Poetry Room host and first-generation immigrant, Masaki himself. “I have been through so much, and these are the untold stories and unheard stories of America,” he said. “This is what it’s really like to live at a disadvantage, and how hard you have to work for some kind of resemblance of equal opportunity.”
Another special guest storyteller is one of the students from the RDC, Zhara Dijibrine. “I’ve learned so much from her about speaking up for myself, and my friends, and what’s right,” Holguin said. “She’s a brilliant writer and thinker, and her heart is so sensitive and strong.”
The virtual fundraiser will take place live via Zoom, and is ‘pay what you can.’ “We have done streams like this, and it seems like it may happen for a while to keep our audience safe,” Takahashi said of the monthly Poetry Room events. “We love them, and appreciate their support. As much as we would love to do this in person with everyone, the general public’s safety was a priority, but because it is a virtual event, we were able to bring in out-of-state talent.”
The event (linked here) is scheduled to run about an hour and a half, but the stories and lessons you’ll hear are likely to “last forever in your hearts though,” Takahashi said.