Somalis in Greeley Make Progress, Still Face Challenges

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    somali woman

    Photo by deepchi1

    Last November we mentioned an article in the Westword that outlined the problems Somali refugees in Greeley have encountered in integrating with the local community and maintaining religious practices while working at the JBS meat packing plant. Over 100 Somalis were fired at the plant last year during labor disputes.

    In the past week several articles in the Greeley tribune and one in the Denver Post have highlighted how some small progress has been made, but tensions still persist. In recent years JBS has hired a large number of Somalis as well as some Eritreans and other Africans. Because many came to the US as refugees, their legal work status is much easier for employees to determine as opposed to Mexican and South American workers, many of whom have more complicated immigration processes.

    An article in the Greeley Tribune quotes Raul Garcia, a longtime worker in the meat packing plant, citing tensions around religious practices:

    “(Somalis) get off the table whenever they want to go and pray,” Garcia said. “If we do the same we got in trouble with our supervisor. Logically, the Latino worker complains about this. We think they are lazy, nonproductive people. … In some cases, there have been fights.”

    The article goes on to detail a couple of the confrontations, including the attack of Azmera Gebregirgs, a 26-year-old from Eritrea:

    …he was jumped by two Latinos when he left a downtown bar late at night.

    “They said, ‘Hey man, do you have a cell phone?’ ” he said. “I said, ‘What?’ and then bam, bam, bam to the side of the head.”

    But these incidents do not represent a complete picture of Latino-African relations at JBS. Where a common language is found in English, friendships have developed between the groups.

    Maryan Muse, a Somali refugee and eight-month JBS employee, said she has several Latino friends. They are friendly to each other at work but don’t socialize outside the plant. Establishing friendships is easier for Muse, one of a handful of Somali representatives in the United Food and Commercial Workers union, because she speaks proficient English.

    The irony of Latinos lamenting the loss of jobs due to newly arriving populations is not lost on Gerardo Lucero, owner of Los Comales Taqueiria and Los Comales Tortilleria.

    Lucero … has been around Greeley long enough to remember when it was a largely German enclave. Over time, Latinos arrived, planted roots and started businesses.

    An article by Bruce Finley in the Denver Post mentions how, like their Latino predecessors, Somalis in Greeley have started businesses and taken up professions beyond the meat packing plant. Two African markets and a restaurant have opened up in Greeley, and Somalis are pursuing professions such as banking and pharmacy. Salado Abdille, 60, explains that Somalis want what most people want for their children:

    “We want them to graduate from high school, then university,” Abdille said. “We want them to work at nice jobs, not the meat plant. Like computer engineering. We want them to be successful.”

    Somali men find “Greeley is a good place to fit in,” said Abdirizak Dahir, 21, a Wells Fargo banker who moved from San Diego. “You do have a lot of setbacks, but a lot of people here have a good heart.”

    Further reading:

    Somali refugees take up new roots in Greeley by Bruce Finley, The Denver Post

    Ramadan redux in Greeley: JBS, East Africans search for common ground by Chris Casey, The Greeley Tribune

    Ramadan redux: Friction remains between workers by Chris Casey and Yesenia Robles, The Greeley Tribune

    Greeley store, Doof’s, focus is on African products by Chris Casey, The Greeley Tribune

    3 COMMENTS

    1. There is a "Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Families" Initiative in Greeley (one of 19 sites all across Colorado involved in this initiative) called "Realizing Our Community" that is doing great work behind the scenes to help integrate all communities in Greeley – the coordinator of this project is Maria Sanchez and can be reached at maria.sanches@unco.edu with any suggestions or for more information!

      • Thanks Megan, that seems like a great resource. For those of us who hadn't heard of the initiative before, I found a letter to the Greeley Tribune that details a bit of what it's about. Their mission statement: "We exist to create an environment that promotes and sustains a diverse and vibrant community."

        "In order to achieve the goal the mission statement outlines, the board has established three priorities: education, language and community relations. The education committee will focus on supporting community efforts to increase graduation rates and decrease truancy for all students in the Greeley-Evans school district. The language committee will focus on encouraging English proficiency among residents as a way of promoting integration within our community. The community relations committee will focus on promoting dialogue and interaction between all members of the community."

        http://www.greeleytribune.com/article/20080512/RE

      • Thanks Megan, that seems like a great resource. For those of us who hadn't heard of the initiative before, I found a letter to the Greeley Tribune that details a bit of what it's about. Their mission statement: "We exist to create an environment that promotes and sustains a diverse and vibrant community."

        "In order to achieve the goal the mission statement outlines, the board has established three priorities: education, language and community relations. The education committee will focus on supporting community efforts to increase graduation rates and decrease truancy for all students in the Greeley-Evans school district. The language committee will focus on encouraging English proficiency among residents as a way of promoting integration within our community. The community relations committee will focus on promoting dialogue and interaction between all members of the community."

        http://www.greeleytribune.com/article/20080512/RE

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