Partner Highlight: Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota

Where do you call home? Is it defined by where you were born? Where your family lives? Where you’ve spent most of your life? If you’ve read my first blog post or know me personally, you may know I constantly question how identities are connected and transformed by where we call “home.” I’ve moved 7 different times and attended 3 different high schools, so where I call home is a complicated question. However, I’ve always taken for granted the choice my family and I had in making this decision to move. For many people being forced from their homes due to violence, lack of job opportunities, or war, this isn’t the case. Still, having agency and control over one’s life can come from other areas, which is something I learned about in a recent conversation.

I had the opportunity to talk with Karin Blythe, the Refugee Services Program Manager and Resettlement Supervisor at Lutheran Social Service of MN. LSS began partnering with UniteCloud because of the organizations’ shared missions and ability to collaborate on community events, such as Welcoming America and Green Card Voices. 

Much of our talk was eye-opening as we discussed her work as well as the various communities with humanitarian statuses who have created new homes in Central Minnesota. However, after talking with Blythe one word in particular stuck out to me: choice

Before our conversation I didn’t know much about people with humanitarian statuses in the St. Cloud area. I also didn’t know that “refugee” is often misused to categorize many different groups with some type of humanitarian status. In reality, those who have a humanitarian status include asylum seekers, those with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), human trafficking victims, along with refugees. 

Additionally, Blythe explained that many people assume (as I did) that these communities exist in Central Minnesota because people were placed there without being able to have a say in the decision. But the truth is that with a humanitarian status choose to come to Central Minnesota after being originally settled somewhere else in the US, often because of its more rural setting, which can be more comfortable and livable than a bustling city like Minneapolis. Once in the United States, people can reclaim themselves and their power to choose, which is such a vital and emotional part of arriving in what will become their new home.

I believe it is essential to understand this aspect of choice. Due to a lack of awareness or prejudice, refugees, asylum seekers, SIVs, and trafficking victims are often depicted as pitiable and helpless, which in reality robs people of their humanness and relatability. Instead, these groups become “othered,” often leading to untruthful stereotypes and fear. While we cannot ignore and forget the unimaginable challenges and complexities that humanitarian resettlement situations create, we also can’t forget the humanity in these situations either. 

Many people who come to the United States due to dire situations have lost agency over a most basic and human thing: being able to decide where home is, and more importantly, whether to stay or go “home.” That is, they have been forced to give up their home with no real choice in the matter. 

So, instead of holding on to choices they hold on to hope, because during this time of resettlement choice is replaced by hope, as the alternative is certain death. The choice instead is that of choosing life and choosing hope, wherever that may be. However, once in the United States people can reclaim themselves and their power to choose, which is such a vital and emotional part of arriving in what will become their new home.

So often the terms “refugee” and “immigrants” create an otherness that disconnects what so many of these issues really deal with: humans. Importantly, it also involves a human desire we all share, which is the ability to have options and ultimately choose what makes us most happy, healthy, and safe.