Updated at at 3:52 p.m., April 29: Because of weather, the festival has been moved indoors to the Bourbon Theatre, 1415 O St. The citizenship ceremony will be held at 10:45 a.m. at the Van Brunt Visitors Center, 313 N. 13th St.
By Nicole Rauner
How well do you know your neighbors?
“A lot of people who have lived in Lincoln a long time may not have an awareness of the diversity of the community,” said Christa Yoakum, coordinator of the Nebraska Appleseed’s Nebraska Is Home program.
And that is why Yoakum and several others have been working on a new event to bring together Lincoln’s diverse community — from its newest members to long-time residents.
Lincoln Unites!, which will take place downtown on April 30, was the brainchild of the New American Task Force, Yoakum said. The task force is a network of organizations that are dedicated to supporting new Americans in the community by breaking down barriers and providing culturally competent support services, she said.
Task force members had noted a national trend of people being eligible for citizenship but not going through with the process. They wanted to find a way to make people feel comfortable getting their citizenship while demonstrating the community’s support.
As a result, the highlight of the event will be a naturalization ceremony, where refugees and immigrants will be sworn in to become U.S. citizens.
“Lincoln is a welcoming city,” Yoakum said, “And what says we want you in our community more than we want you to get your citizenship and become a full partner in this community?”
Organizers said the event’s theme — Many Faces. One Lincoln — recognizes people from all walks of life who are proud that Lincoln is an inclusive and welcoming community for its immigrant and refugee neighbors for generations.
Nebraska ranks fifth in the nation in refugee resettlement per capita, according to the U.S. Census. And for the past 18 years, half of the state’s refugees have settled in Lincoln. The city’s estimated 5,500 refugees came to Lincoln from more than 40 different countries.
Celebrating that diversity is what Lincoln Unites! is all about.
The event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Tower Square on 12th and P streets, will feature diverse activities as well. In addition to the naturalization ceremony, there will be a walk of unity, music, cultural booths and food trucks. Many organizations have come together to support the cause, Yoakum said. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Malone Center and Lux Center for the Arts are some of those contributing to the event.
Another group that decided to join forces is Fork in the Road, a Lincoln High School program run by English Language Learners and International Baccalaureate students to address how people can learn from one another across cultural barriers. They proposed a Fork in the Road Festival to be held during the week leading up to Lincoln Unites! That festival, at Lincoln High, will show feature films by the students and a fund-raising project to raise money for classrooms of refugee camps abroad.
Students in the group also will speak at Lincoln Unites! They will share their thoughts on topics such as what it is like to be different in a community and the importance of supporting all members of the community, said Elizabeth Yost, who founded the group.
“We have eight to 10 students right now writing stories about traveling and what it means to be international and refugees,” Yost said.
In addition to food and music, Lincoln Unites! will take on an official tone as Mayor Chris Beutler is scheduled to give a speech about Lincoln’s diversity and read a proclamation.
U.S. District Judge John Gerrard will swear in the new citizens. These new citizens can swear in, take the pledge, be individually recognized and welcomed to the community in a whole new way.
Organizers hope that the prominence of the ceremony will help encourage others to seek citizenship, Yoakum said. She noted the many benefits of citizenship, including being able to vote, traveling with a U.S. passport and being eligible for federal jobs.
In the end, the hope for Lincoln Unites! is that sharing art, music and cultural heritages of the many faces of Lincoln will help create one strong and vibrant community.
“My major goal would be individuals having the opportunities to interact and learn from one another,” Yost said. “Students, educators and communicators have opportunities to learn about each other from local issues and what’s affecting their lives.”