Love Your Neighbor Manchester Kicks Off

MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester mayor Ted Gatsas joined the kickoff dinner for local coalition “Love Your Neighbor – Manchester” last Wednesday night at Unitarian Universalist Church on Union Street.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas (R) and Honore Murenzi.

“It’s a great idea to get together,” said Gatsas to the group, “in case there is a problem to rally around that problem to make sure we can fix it.”

The Manchester division of the “Love Your Neighbor” coalition was formed in September to promote unity among Manchester’s residents and create a safe, supportive, and respectful city.

The organization is a spinoff of the original “Love Your Neighbor” coalition, formed in Concord in 2012 after a string of hate crimes was committed against immigrant residents of New Hampshire’s capital city.

Concord resident Honore Murenzi organized the first Love Your Neighbor rallies in response to the graffiti messages that were found scrawled on the external walls of three separate homes in 2011 and again in 2012. The last “Love Your Neighbor” rally, held outside one of the victimized houses on Thompson Street in Concord, brought together several hundred neighbors, officials, and members of the public to voice their support of the family inside the home.

“The graffiti on the house was impactful,” said Peter Cook of Cook Associates in Hooksett, who describes himself as active and involved in diversity work throughout the state. “But what was more impactful was the reaction.”

The alleged perpetrator of the graffiti attacks, 43-year old Randall “Raynard” Stevens, was arrested in October and is currently being held on home confinement in Pembroke.

Due in large part to the “Love Your Neighbor” rallies in response to Stevens’ alleged crimes, many have seen the incident as one of unity and community building for Concord. “In the midst of danger, the community did not react in a divisive fashion. Instead, Concord identified an opportunity and responded with positive messaging and openness for learning,” wrote Concord Police Chief John Duval in a Concord Monitor editorial on October 20.

This summer, Murenzi approached the AmeriCorps VISTA Project in Manchester with the proposal to expand Concord’s “Love Your Neighbor” campaign to new cities. “He had this idea that it would spread to other cities and be a movement,” said Kerri Makinen, an AmeriCorps volunteer and one of the main organizers of the event.

“Manchester is very lucky that they have not had an incident like Concord had that was racially motivated,” said Kristen Treacy, who works for Manchester’s Department of Health and Community Policing Division. “The hope is that if we form a coalition, that will never happen.

“For me, one of the big pushes in my work is to get residents to talk to each other. If you know your neighbors, if you trust them, if you have a relationship with them, the likelihood of having a violent interaction with them significantly decreases.”

Attendees help themselves to the potluck dinner.

Attendees dig in to the potluck dinner.

The coalition is also intended to provide support in the instance of any sort of hate crime or event of prejudice against the community. “We want to be able to respond quickly if anything happens,” said Makinen.

Members from a number of Manchester organizations attended the potluck on Wednesday, including representatives from New American Africans, Welcoming New Hampshire, and the Congolese Community of New Hampshire.

The bulk of the outreach work has fallen on the shoulders of Makinen, who was surprised at how effective word of mouth and personal invitations through email was at reaching the right people. On Monday, during her walk home, Makinen spotted the flyers she had printed up pinned to a bulletin board through a basement window.

“We all just invited people that we work with, people we know, people we see. And that was how this group came together tonight,” said Treacy.

When it was time to dig into the banquet table full of food, every chair was filled.

On January 20, Love Your Neighbor Manchester will host a breakfast open to the community in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. More information about Love Your Neighbor Manchester can be found on their Facebook page.

Arrest Made Two Years after Anti-Immigrant Graffiti Incidents in New Hampshire

In 2011, three racially-fueled acts of vandalism in Concord, New Hampshire left the community shaken. More than two years later, dogged police work exposed the criminal.

Forty-two-year-old Raymond “Raynard” Stevens, of Pembroke, New Hampshire, was arrested on October 15th. He is being held responsible for four acts of graffiti left between 2011 and 2012 in Concord. The houses that were targeted had racist and anti-immigrant messages scrawled on the homes’ walls with black marker. One of the families, a Somali family living on Perley Street, moved to Texas after the incident.

A poster that was created by students in Concord after hate-filled graffiti was left on the homes of our refugee families.

A poster was created by students for a “Love Your Neighbor” rally, held after hate-filled graffiti was left on the homes of four refugee families in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo: Tory Starr)

After Concord police were stymied from lack of evidence, a single detective continued to look for paperwork that matched the unique handwriting on the houses. After searching through hundreds of records, the investigator found a handwritten gun permit from Stevens that matched the unique “B” found on the graffiti from 2011.

The arrest has made the entire community of Concord breathe a little easier. “It rocked our community,”  said Concord police Chief John Duval of the 2011-2012 incidents, in an interview for PRI’s The World. Duval detailed how the community rallied around the targeted families after each incidence. “People came out of the woodwork to express their dissatisfaction with this type of behavior and their resolve to be active about speaking about it in a positive way.”

For the complete story on Stevens’ arrest, read Jeremy Blackman’s piece for the Concord Monitor here.

Fifty Refugees to be Resettled in Nashua, New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Union Leader is reporting that 50 refugees will be resettled in Nashua in the next few weeks, an addition to the 200 refugees currently being resettled in Manchester.

Tensions between the two cities, as well as the resettlement agency, the International Institute of New Hampshire (IINH), are evident in the piece. Paul Feely’s article also gives some context around the numbers of refugees in the Granite State:

The Queen City has been the top resettlement location for refugees in New Hampshire. Between 2002 and 2009, Manchester received 1,807 of the state’s 2,966 new refugees, about 60 percent, while Nashua, the state’s second-largest city, received 70 refugees over the same time. Concord and Laconia each received 778 and 260, respectively.

No more information about the ancestry of the 50 refugees was given.

Parenting in a Foreign Society: An African American Immigrant Struggles to Reconcile Two Cultures

The World Bank estimated in 2010 that the US was the fifth most popular destination for African immigrants. If you factor in the fact that Africa’s working age population is projected to double by 2050, there are many indications that the African immigrant experience in the United States is not a temporary one.

Many Congolese immigrants that I’ve spoken to have told me of their problems disciplining or harnessing their children once they are exposed to American culture. The differences in parenting, I’ve discovered, are not just limited to the Congolese immigrant and refugee experience, but are indicative of the African immigrant experience as a whole.

This audio piece tells the story of one Burundian parent from New Hampshire and his struggle with the question: How do you discipline your kids in a completely foreign environment?

Samba Halkose, Student Liaison

Here’s an article by the Nashua Telegraph’s Michael Brindley that profiles Samba Halkose, a woman I met a few weeks ago in Manchester, New Hampshire. Although the article, which is from late 2009, uses Halkose’s story to drive home a … Continue reading

Capitaine Kabongo: New Leadership for the Congolese Community in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. – More than 175 Congolese immigrants and refugees packed function room on Maple Street on January 27 to vote for the next president of the Congolese Community of New Hampshire.

The turnout was larger than expected, a promising sign for the election organizers and president elect, Capitaine Kabongo. Kabongo beat his fellow candidate, Stany Nepa, 55 votes to 22.

Over 100 members of the Congolese community in New Hampshire gathered for the vote.

Over 100 members of the Congolese community in New Hampshire gathered for the vote.

The strong interest in the election meant an investment in the future of the organization to its leadership. “It’s gotten bigger. There are more and more people showing interest,” says Victor Mbuyi, the organization’s Secretary.

The Congolese Community of New Hampshire, now in its third year, offers services, educational opportunities, and support for immigrants from the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo after government-funded services lapse (refugees get six months of government hand-holding, immigrants get nothing).

President-elect Capitaine Kabongo addresses the community.

President-elect Capitaine Kabongo addresses the community.

One of the biggest challenges to the Congolese immigrant community in New Hampshire, according to the organization’s leadership, is the lack of knowledge of local laws and customs. “They don’t integrate into society,” says Mbuyi. “You live in America, but you don’t know the laws. You don’t know how to move ahead in your life.”

Congolese immigrants “live in the American culture but they behave according to the African culture,” says Leonard Lekin, one of three board members on the Congolese Community of New Hampshire.

Because of this, education for community members is the number one priority for the organization and for the new president-elect Kabongo.

CCNH board members discuss how the vote will proceed.

CCNH board members discuss how the vote will proceed.

Kabongo, who came to the United States from the Congo in 2001, worked four jobs in New York before moving to New Hampshire in 2005. He has been involved with the Congolese Community of New Hampshire since its inception in 2009, a fact that won him many votes, according to Mbuyi.

One way Kabongo hopes to educate the community is through educational seminars, and he has already identified his first topic: life insurance. “We want all our people to have life insurance,” says Kabongo. He hopes to partner with a bank or insurance company to bring them to a meeting to teach the advantages of and options for choosing a policy. “It’s my responsibility to tell people from my community that life insurance is important,” he says.

More opportunities for educating the community come from within the group’s leadership. Mbuyi, who commutes to Boston every day to work as a fund manager at State Street, hopes to give a presentation soon about 401(k)s, and wants to work with people individually to go through their finances.

In the past, the organization has had increased success in getting outside speakers to come talk to the group. In 2012, a representative from the office of New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen came to explain to the community what they could expect from the Senator’s office.

Despite these speakers and educational opportunities, a lot of Congolese are “missing a lot of information” says Kabongo. “We are together, but sometimes we are not all on the same page.”

To combat this, Kabongo is renewing focus on social meetings. He hopes to organize parties, during which he will share a certain message to the attendees – whether it is about life insurance, taxes, trash pickup days, or something else entirely.

CCNH Secretary Victor Mbuyi registers members to vote.

CCNH Secretary Victor Mbuyi registers members to vote.

Kabongo wants work with and take advantage of the American holiday calendar. For example, for Fathers Day he plans to organize a soccer game where parents play against the community’s youth. This will give parents who work all the time the chance to enjoy themselves, Kabongo explains.

These social and educational opportunities are all to help the immigrant community better understand the American way of life. Kabongo feels that the biggest challenge is pushing his constituents to explore on their own. He feels that if you put the Congolese community into society, the gap in understanding that exists currently will disappear.

Kabongo’s goal for the Congolese to integrate themselves more in American society faces its biggest challenge when it comes to language. Little effort had been made thus far to encourage English use; all three hours of the election proceedings occurred in French, the official language of the Congo.

Kabongo, who speaks, English, French, German, Hebrew, as well as the four indigenous languages of the DRC: Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba, hopes to use his language skills to be as clear as possible with all members of the New Hampshire Congolese community and to encourage them all to increase their English language skills.

The names of CCNH members are called upon one at a time to vote.

The names of CCNH members are called upon one at a time to vote.

Kabongo, who works full time at Easter Sales in Manchester, will manage his two-year term with the help of a dedicated core board of advisors like Victor Mbuyi. With 10- to 12-hour workdays and two to three hours of commuting each day, Mbuyi has only weekends to focus on his work with the organization. He plans to call every person who registered during the elections – over 150 names – to come into the office and talk.

Kabongo displays a similar doggedness when it comes to his work with the organization. “I can preach… tell them how we can advance in this country,” he says. “Together, we can do something really incredible.”

Refugee Arrival Numbers

Thanks to Lisa Raffonelli at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, I’ve found a great new resource on the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center website. The site maps refugee arrivals by state and by country of origin. From this I found that in December 2012, two refugees from the DRC arrived in New Hampshire.

Ms. Raffonelli also pointed me toward the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s database of refugee arrivals, where I learned that in fiscal year 2012, 48 refugees from the DRC arrived in Connecticut, 67 refugees arrived in Massachusetts, 42 arrived in New Hampshire, and eight arrived in Maine.

Why is it so hard to find this Diaspora?

Immigration in America has never been more contentious a topic. The recent protest culture that has emerged from the Occupy movement and student-fueled immigrant rights campaigns such as the DREAMers have forced politicians’ hand on the issue of immigration reform. On the dawn of Barack Obama’s second term in office, it appears as if immigration reform for this country will finally be tackled.

Perhaps to capitalize on the political opportunity or perhaps because people are finally listening, significant attention has been granted to the challenges and troubles of immigrants in America.

In this context, I’ve decided to focus on a specific group of immigrants in America, that of the Congolese, a Diaspora population seemingly poised to expand dramatically in the next few years due to renewed fighting between the government and a group of rebels known as M23 in their native DRC.

So why is it so hard to track down this community in my own backyard?

National Data

The U.S. Census, indisputably the most comprehensive source of population and demographic information in the country, has only the most general statistics on Congolese in America. From the Census’ “American Factfinder” website I was able to find that as of 2010, 11,000 Congolese-Americans lived in the United States. Eric Newberger, lead researcher at the American Community Survey, says this number has a large margin of error. The number could be as small as 9,400 or as large as 12,600.

Newberger did, however, help me understand just how “new” the Congolese Diaspora was: of the total in America with Congolese ancestry, a full 80 percent were foreign born. This means that only 2 out of 10 Congolese Americans have been born in the United States – the rest have immigrated here this generation.

Census information from 2000 substantiates this idea. According to this census, 3,886 people in the United States claimed ancestry of the Congo or the DRC (however, this number is skewed as 3,886 claimed DRC ancestry and 1,602 claimed ancestry from Zaire. It was only in this current Census that the two were combined into one ancestry group), meaning the majority have come since the 2000 Census was administered.

Despite the relatively small population of 11,000, the recent events in the DRC point to an increase in refugees and overall Congolese-American population in the near future. Fronteras claims that in 2010 alone over 3,000 Congolese refugees arrived in America, and Senior Resettlement Officer of UNHCR, Larry Yungk, estimates that this number will grow by 10 to 20 percent over the next two to three years.

State Populations

Apart from the national statistics from the American Community Survey, I have been unable to find a source that specifies the Congolese population of individual states. “The Congolese population in the U.S. is too small to be broken out separately,” explains Michelle Mittelstadt, the Director of Communications for the Migration Policy Institute, in an email. Instead, the Census breaks down the populations by state into ancestral categories such as Eastern Africa, Northern Africa, Western Africa, and Middle / Southern Africa.

Both the Congo and the DRC, of which Diaspora would be considered to be Congolese, are located in this latter category. (Also in this category: “Middle Africa” includes Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe. “Southern Africa” includes Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland.)

The American Community Survey has data for this “Middle / Southern Africa” category for the year 2011. Of the total 172,922 in the country, 5,821 were from Massachusetts, 3,099 from Connecticut, 799 from Rhode Island, 779 from New Hampshire, 350 from Vermont and 184 from Maine.

If the proportions stay consistent across states (and the 11,000 Congolese refugees consistently equal 6.36 percent of the total Middle/Southern Africa population), the populations in each New England state would equal: 370 in Massachusetts, 197 in Connecticut, 51 in Rhode Island, 50 in New Hampshire, 22 in Vermont and 12 in Maine. There are flaws to this logic, as I know from my reporting in New Hampshire that there are over 150 Congolese-Americans in New Hampshire alone.

Social Characteristics

The statistics that the 11,000 Congolese ancestry number came from in the Census provided very useful social data. Here is what I know about the Congolese American population as of 2010:

  • 58.8 percent live in a house with children under 18 years old
  • The population of those aged 65 and older is only 0.8 percent of the entire population
  • The average household size is 3.83 people
  • 5,463 are enrolled in school
  • 2,181 of the total population are elementary school aged (grades 1-8)
  • 10,831 have been in the U.S. for over one year (only 997 came over from abroad)
  • 1,980 entered before 2000 (22.4 percent of total population)
  • 2,088 are born in the U.S. and 8,820 are born outside the US (foreign born)
  • 1,221 are naturalized U.S. citizens

These statistics are fascinating, and bring up a lot of questions I will dive into for my future reporting. Fully half of the entire Diaspora population is enrolled in school of some kind, the majority in elementary school. How does this imbalance play out in Congolese communities? Is there a focus on services for the well-being and education of children, considering almost 20 percent are aged 6 to 13? What are the differences between the population that have been here since 2000 (22 percent of the total) and those that have arrived after 2009 (less than 10 percent)? What are the differences between the attitudes and lifestyle of the naturalized population (11 percent) and those not naturalized (89 percent)?

In the coming months I hope to fill in the gaps of knowledge about the U.S.-Congolese Diaspora and, along the way, do my best to answer some of these questions.

Congolese Community of New Hampshire Elections

On Sunday, the Congolese Community of New Hampshire held their election for president of the organization. The two candidates were Capitaine Kabongo and Nepa Stani. Kabongo, a student at the University of Phoenix, won the election and will serve for two years.

New Hampshire’s Immigration Story

Here’s an awesome series from NHPR looking at the state of Immigration in New Hampshire.

The series, which took place over nine months in 2012, includes wonderful voices such as Eva Castillo, Coordinator for The New Hampshire Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees; Augustin Ntabaganyimana, Director of Resettlement services for Lutheran Social Services of New Hampshire; Salaam Ode, a medical and legal interpreter and translator in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts; Amadou Hamady, coordinator of the Refugee School Impact Program administered by the International Institute of New Hampshire; and Dawn Higgins, director of cross cultural communication at the New Hampshire Technical Institute.

Some of my favorite stories in the series:
Is New Hampshire Putting Skilled Immigrants to Good Use?
Socrates Exchange: Who is American?
Teaching Refugee Students: Challenges and Rewards
New Hampshire’s Immigration Story: Culture Clashes
The Economics of Immigration in the Granite State
Traumatized Refugees Struggle to Make New Hampshire Home
New Hampshire’s Immigration Story: What We’ve Learned