With the spires of Washington’s National Cathedral overhead, supporters of refugees gathered Saturday morning for the first of what organizers hope will become a regular event: a day of art, music and dance designed to “shift the narrative” about refugees in the United States.
Among the first to perform on the main stage were two Mexican-American teenagers from Baltimore, stomping to Mexican folk dances as their mother watched from the lawn, recording on her phone to send to their grandparents.
“I think everybody is a refugee, you know?” said Dalila, whose parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1970s. “Everybody’s trying to get away from a bad situation — if it’s war, hunger. … That’s why our parents came to this country.”
The One Journey Festival is supposed to do exactly that, said co-founder Wendy Chen: Create the feeling that “we are all one.”
Chen, herself an immigrant who came to the country at 12 years old from China, insisted the event wasn’t political, despite coming at a time when the Trump administration has made dramatic cuts to the refugee program.
Instead, those changes made since early 2017 ramped up enthusiasm among the 140 volunteers running information booths and art installations at Saturday’s event to draw attendees closer to what refugees experience, said Chen.
One Journey was founded in 2017 by two American immigrants who wanted to share with others the positive, welcoming reception they received as newcomers.
“This particular moment helped us gain the grass-roots recognition and support that we’re seeing today,” she added.
In 17 months, Trump’s Cabinet has carried out his repeated orders to limit travelers — including refugees — from coming to the U.S., dramatically lowering the number of refugees granted visas.
The president contends the need to protect national security justifies the travel bans, despite a lack of data to support the safety concerns regarding refugees.
Randy Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral — a church that has hosted funerals and memorials for several U.S. presidents — was pointed in his remarks to hundreds of attendees scattered across a leafy park in front of the sanctuary.
“When I hear people in this town say that refugees are some sort of danger, or threat to national security, or are unwelcome in our streets, I have one very clear message: That kind of thinking is as un-American as it is un-Christian,” Hollerith told the crowd, prompting cheers and applause.
Among the young families picnicking at the event was Urna Naranbat, a native of Mongolia; her partner, born in Vietnam; and their three U.S.-born daughters, ages 2, 4 and 6.
They came out to support a relative running one of the food trucks, which were selling items to spectators taking a break from watching dance troupes and a choir made up of former refugee girls.
Reasons for hope
In the last few years, Naranbat said, she and her partner had wondered more about how to discuss racism, bigotry and anti-immigrant attitudes with their girls.
“We have small kids. We’re like, ‘OK, what’s it going to be like for them?’ ” she said.
Events like One Journey, and the Women’s March in Washington in January 2017, let her mind take a break from worrying as much.
“You see that … there’s hope,” Naranbat said, watching her girls playing around a tree, all three oblivious to the speaker on the main stage talking about Afghan refugees as they made a new friend nearby.
“There’s going to be people who fight back,” she added. “So now, it’s like … hope.”