A Perspective on Refugee Resettlement from a “Local White Girl”

Lacey Barke

Below is a statement on refugee resettlement from the Spur Editor- In- Chief, Lacey Barke. In the speech, which was presented at SMSU’s Refugee Resettlement informative session on Jan. 27th, Barke discussed the impact of those who have come to Marshall as refugees and immigrants. The speech is a part of an ongoing series covering refugee resettlement in Lyon County.

I want to start off by thanking Muna for her amazing contributions to this event and for her inspiring words- I didn’t fix her speech, I just did some editing. It’s like putting a Cadillac through the car wash, you know? It didn’t need anything but some polish to help it shine. I also want to thank everyone else who is helping to facilitate this impactful event for our students on campus, and lastly, thank you to those students who were called by some force within them to arrive at this event today. You didn’t have to be here, but showing up displays the willingness to learn- being receptive to conversations like we are having today is the first step towards enacting positive changes within our Marshall community, and throughout our world. 

Here are some things that I most definitely am not. I am not a refugee- I can never truly understand the brevity of the situation or the emotional and physical implications that come with a process like immigrating to a place completely foreign to me. I cannot possibly understand how it feels to call someplace “home” when the brothers and sisters I’m living with seem to want to treat me like an unwanted step sibling at best, or a pest infestation that needs to be “dealt with” at worst. I am not someone who identifies as any race or ethnicity other than white. I don’t know what it’s like to walk into a room and to be judged by the color of my skin, the food I eat, or the religion I devote myself to. 

Here is something that I am, however. I am a young woman who grew up in Southwest Minnesota. Has anybody here heard of the town of Arco? Yeah, that’s what I thought. The US Census of 2017 articulated that 70 people live there, and as far as I can remember, all of them are white. I am a young woman who had the privilege of attending a public high-school. I went to high-school at RTR in Tyler, Minnesota, and when I walked down the hallways or sat in class, most of the faces that looked back at me looked a lot like my own. In the communities I grew up in, I didn’t know much about what diversity meant. The most I got to experience people who weren’t like me was on television or social media, and we all know how reliable of an image those white majority TV execs portray. 

Then I earned the privilege of attending college at our wonderful Southwest Minnesota State University as a full-time student during my senior year of high school, and I have lived in Marshall and have been attending SMSU ever since. Moving to Marshall and going to school at SMSU altered how I view the world permanently, and for the better. 

When I walked through the hallways of SMSU as a freshman, our slogan was “where you belong.” I remember feeling like I was out of place and didn’t belong because of my young age. I also remember seeing so many people that were different than me. I got to walk down the hallways and experience different languages, clothing, and complections. I look back and reflect on how ludicrous it was for me to assume that I felt out of place in a community that was so open to so many different kinds of vibrant people. The amount of diversity I experienced rocked my world. I wanted to learn more about my friends and the people who I love and continue to appreciate having as peers and colleagues. Hearing my peers talk in class about what it was like in their home countries and about their different family traditions and heritage was mesmerizing. I remember going back home and sharing with my family how amazing of a place my college is because of them. I also remember seeing my peers cry because some professors made derogatory comments towards them because of where they were from. I also remember hearing racist remarks about our student population by community members in coffee shops and other local businesses. 

Something I often hear is, “It’s because of those damn migrant people.” I am absolutely baffled when people have this narrow perspective. I want to tell them, “Yeah, you’re right. It is because of those migrant people. It’s because of these wonderful people who have had to overcome insurmountable hardships in order to be here that we are a thriving and increasingly diverse community. It is because of refugees that I am able to begin to understand what being Muslim is like for some. It is because of refugees that I can appreciate world perspectives other than my own. Diversity makes us stronger people, and our strength as a community lies within those who decide to call SMSU and Marshall home. 

The opening line of SMSU’s mission statement reads as follows:

“ Southwest Minnesota State University prepares students to meet the complex challenges of this century as engaged citizens in their local and global communities.”  

Let us embody what our university represents, and live up to our full potential as individuals and more importantly as a community by not only supporting our neighbors who are refugees and immigrants but by welcoming them. I know that because of their presence in our Marshall community, I am prepared to meet complex challenges as an engaged citizen with a wider understanding of the world. I am a better woman because of them, and I am grateful. Thank you.