Chuck Haga: At the Global Friends picnic, come and make a gesture in favor of “the unity of America”
The recent election of Marina Kojic-Zepackic as Chairman of the Board of Global Friends is an important milestone in the non-profit agency’s work to welcome and feed international refugees who have fled war, famine and natural disasters and ended up here.
“This is the best place to start over,” she told them.
Marina and her husband Marko Kojic arrived in Grand Forks in 1996, a quarter of a century ago, from war-torn Bosnia. She had been a teacher there, and soon after arriving here she started working in a school – in the dining hall. Soon she became a paraprofessional, helping out in classrooms. In 2003, the year she became a U.S. citizen, she graduated with a degree in education from UND. A year later, she began teaching in the Head Start program at Lewis & Clark Elementary School.
âI feel very lucky, and this – working with Global Friends – is my way of repaying all the support we’ve received,â she said this week.
âI found the community of Grand Forks so nice. When you are a refugee, you don’t have the language and you miss your country. For me, to be able to come here and become a teacher again – I didn’t think I would ever be able to do that.
The Picnic, one of the victims of the pandemic last year, began about 15 years ago as a way to bring refugees and people from the wider community together, to see each other as moms and dads, children and elders, not just âthemâ or âthese peopleâ. From 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday at University Park there will be music and tours and free food including a special taste of South East Europe – kifla, a cheese roll preferred by the people of this region. part of the world.
Full Disclosure: I have volunteered with Global Friends for years, and when I was on the board about five years ago, I suggested that every year we invite one of the established ethnic groups into the region to serve as honorary hosts.
We started with the Norwegians. (Hey, that was my idea.) And the Norwegian-Americans came with a big flag and a few ladies were wearing traditional bunads and we included sardines and goat cheese on our picnic assortment. The following year, the local Native American community brought tribal flags, dancing, history, and wild rice. The Swedish community followed, then the Germans from Russia. It’s a way of saying to people recently separated from their homes in Somalia, Bhutan and other besieged countries: âSee how proud we are of our roots? You don’t have to give up everything you come from, everything you are, to be a part of us.
And this year, play the role of honorary hosts: the people of the Grand Forks region of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, once refugees themselves, but who have now been a part of us for over two decades.
âIt’s such a beautiful country,â Marina said of her new country. âI will tell new refugees that you have to be open to learn new things. Ask if you don’t understand and someone will help you. You can have a good life here.
It is also an opportunity for the long-time inhabitants of these cities to make a gesture towards “the unity of America” ââof which the former president George W. Bush evoked last Saturday, the rapprochement of which he was. witness in the days following the September 11 attacks. .
Those days seem far away, he said in his speech at the Flight 93 memorial service in rural Pennsylvania. “A malicious force seems at work in our common life which turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures.”
He recounted how he saw on that gloomy day 20 years ago “millions of people instinctively grab a neighbor’s hand,” rallying to each other. âThis is the America I know,â he said.
We may have substantial differences on pressing public issues, including some of Bush’s consequent decisions as president, but he appealed to our best angels with some of his closing statements:
âAt a time when religious bigotry could have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. This is the nation that I know.
âAt a time when nativism could have sparked hatred and violence against people perceived as foreigners, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome of immigrants and refugees. This is the nation that I know.
That was in 2001. But, âIt’s not just nostalgia; this is the truest version of ourselves, âsaid Bush. “This is what we have been – and what we can be again.”
So come and enjoy kifla on Sunday. Meet some of your new neighbors. Young people, fluent in Nepali or Somali and English, will be happy to translate.
Chuck Haga had a long career with the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at [email protected]