Bloomington affirms support of immigrant communities

Citing diversity as one of the city’s greatest strengths, members of the Bloomington Board of Education and the Bloomington City Council approved a joint statement in support of the city’s immigrant communities.

The two governmental bodies hold joint meetings periodically, and during a May 30 meeting the board and council endorsed the statement outlining the city and school district’s commitments to engaging diverse communities, making services accessible and equitable to all, treating all with dignity and advocating for civil liberties, human rights, freedoms and interests.

“We’ve heard what our community is feeling and also what they want done,” said Elizabeth Tolzmann, the assistant city manager.

Tolzmann detailed the context of the joint statement, explaining it was drafted through many community conversations and outreach efforts of both the city and school district.

The statement drew praise from immigrants who live and work in the community.

Ricardo Perez, a community health worker for Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People in Bloomington, is an immigrant from Mexico who lives in Richfield. He described the effort of the city and school district as historic in a quiet, meaningful way. The message behind the statement is that, “We matter, that our concerns matter. That our dreams, that our needs are real and that they matter to you.”

As a nearly 13-year resident of Minnesota, Perez said it’s an important time to speak about his experience as an immigrant, noting he has witnessed political unrest within the city’s immigrant communities.

Hodan Hassan is a 20-year Bloomington resident who spoke of the efforts the Muslim community makes to help educate the community. That effort includes engaging Muslim children in reaching out to their neighbors and classmates in a positive manner, she said.

Hassan said it is obvious to everyone she meets that she is Muslim because of the clothing she wears, and she worries about the harassment young Muslim girls are subjected because they wear hijabs to school. She encouraged the school district to increase its outreach to the community about its support for immigrant communities.

Mayor Gene Winstead noted that the discussion and joint statement is a continuation of the “One Bloomington” theme he professed during the annual state of the city address in the spring. He said the message of the joint statement doesn’t need fanfare, rather it needs to be consistently delivered, and that’s what he is looking to see happen.

The board and council didn’t discuss specific steps they would take in support of the immigrant communities. The statement notes that the community is invited to participate in ongoing community conversation on immigration and equity, work together to achieve human rights and dignity for all, and learn more about neighbors of all cultures.

Tolzmann outlined several efforts the city could spearhead, such as holding forums to help educate immigrants about their rights, including legal rights and human rights, and facilitating community conversations, including conversations with representatives of the police department. The city can also improve its outreach regarding resources available to immigrant populations, including community resources, legal resources and mental health resources.

School Boardmember Nelly Korman, an immigrant who has lived in Minnesota for 18 years, called the statement a first step toward providing change in the community, but cautioned that there is “still a lot that needs to be done.” The push for “One Bloomington” needs to go beyond words, and the statement in support of the immigrant communities within the city was overdue, she said.

Board Chairman Ric Oliva talked about being the son of an immigrant who came to the United States to play professional baseball. He talked about the inequities his father experienced as an immigrant in the 1960s and called the joint statement the logical next step in support of immigrant populations in America.

Although change is something that people often resist, it has been happening in Bloomington despite the resistance, Winstead noted.

A copy of the joint statement is available online in English, Spanish and Somali at tr.im/statement.