(Photo source: Parks for New Portlanders - Portland Parks & Recreation)
By Sabina Urdes
More than 5,000 people came out to this year’s WALK with Refugees and Immigrants event on Sunday, August 19, presented by Portland Parks & Recreation’s ‘Parks for New Portlanders’ program, with support from 74 community partners.
Now in its second year, the event was a tremendous success, bringing together people from all over Portland -- some of whom have immigrated from all over world. Twice the number of community partners from the year prior joined forces this year, and there were also more people out on the walk, which went from Gateway Discovery Park to Knott Park.
But what made this year’s event special, according to community organizer Arlene Kimura, was more than just the numbers. “It’s a shift in public attitudes towards support for refugees and immigrants who now feel more comfortable coming out and participating,” Kimura notes.
Parks For New Portlanders Coordinator Event Som Subedi, who led the event’s creation, is a refugee himself. He arrived in Portland from a refugee camp in Nepal 10 years ago, with nothing but $10 and a plastic bag, after spending almost 20 years in a refugee camp. It’s why he has invested himself over the last decade in helping other immigrants feel welcomed here. Subedi says the walk is a way to bring together, in one place, faces that you don’t normally see together: people from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, faiths, and ideologies.
“When Portlanders come together this way, walking together and sharing stories, it makes a big impact in the lives of new Portlanders and new Americans. It shows the entire world that we are a welcoming and compassionate city,” says Subedi.
The WALK is so important to new immigrants and refugees, even a church and a mosque cancelled their services that day to be able to participate.
The event has also been gaining state and national recognition. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden published a message on Facebook sharing his support for the event, despite not being able to attend this year. He says a core American principle is that refugees and immigrants strengthen our country.
“My parents fled the Nazis so this is personal in my household, as it is for many Oregon families whose relatives first came here seeking a refuge from persecution and a brighter tomorrow,” the Senator wrote. “Simply put, America must stand up to hate and come together to support our immigrant and refugee neighbors and friends. Know that I stand with you today and every day in supporting this community!”
Another highlight of this year’s event was a donation of 174 backpacks and school supplies that were handed out to refugee and immigrant students at Knott Park, at the end of the walk. Steve Sieg, a former school teacher and organizing partner of the WALK, did an online fundraiser, asking for donations to “purchase backpacks and other necessary school supplies for newcomers.” According to the GoFundMe page, 22 people donated, and they raised $1,070, surpassing Sieg’s original goal of $1,000.
Kimura says this is a big deal. “Refugee and immigrant families picking up the backpacks shows that there is a great need in our community for help like this. It’s one of the reasons why it’s important to keep having this event.”
“What happens to immigrants and refugees in our city is really a reflection of our community. If we are welcoming and supportive of immigrants, then Portland is a good place to live and an example of what an integrated society looks like,” says Kimura.