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The Welcome Project

February 28, 2012

Just a couple of days back I got in touch with a community-based organization called The Welcome Project, which caters to the immigrant community in Somerville.

The mission of the organization as stated on their website is to build “the collective power of Somerville immigrants to participate in and shape community decisions.”

The organization achieves their mission via various programs “that strengthen the capacity of immigrant youth, adults and families to advocate for themselves and influence schools, government, and other institutions.”

It began operating in 1987 and continues to serve the growing immigrant population of Somerville.

Among the various programs they organize to empower the immigrant community ‘YUM: A taste of Immigrant City’ is one.

I had to write an article about the YUM event and it provided me with the chance to speak with Warren Goldstein-Gelb, the executive director of the project.

“We try to have a range of [immigrant-run] restaurants: some are earlier generation of immigrants like Italian restaurants and also newer immigrant groups such as Brazilian or Mexican,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “Some of these businesses are struggling. One thing that the YUM card does is to help these people directly when they shop there. It also brings people from outside the city to the restaurants.”

“Another reason we wanted to this was to point out to very one in the city to highlight the role and the contributions that immigrant families are making,” he added.

He hopes that the April 25 event — where all the participating restaurants will come together — at the Armory on Highland Avenue will make the people of Somerville appreciate the rich cultural diversity of the city.

“It’s about creating an understanding and appreciation among every one in the city about some of the values of the multi-cultural diversity of the city,” Goldstein-Gelb said.

Students from the Tufts University have also contributed to the YUM project. As part of an undergraduate course called Urban Borderlands, 10 students interviewed about 40 immigrant-run restaurants in Somerville and wrote blog posts about their survey.

There are about 100 immigrant-run restaurants in Somerville.

“It is an Anthropology class where students learn to design and conduct field work in the community,” said Prof. Deborah Pacini Hernandez. “I have always wanted the student research to contribute to a community need. This is where I have connected with a community partner; one this [academic] year was with The Welcome Project.”

“Last year I have worked with Somerville Community Corporation around the issue of the coming of the green line and the potential impact of the green line on immigrant businesses,” she said.

Numerous students from the university have worked as interns and summer fellows at the Welcome Project, she added.

Talking about some of the problems faced by these immigrant-run restaurants Hernandez said: “The downside of the diversity is that it makes it harder for business owners to organize into a business community…there are language and cultural differences.”

It is hard for them to get a liquor license; get adequate parking and also difficult for them to spread the word about their business outside their own community, Hernandez added.

Read the student blog posts, now up on The Welcome Project website, to learn more about these immigrant-run restaurants.

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