Arlington forum looks at immigration successes, challenges

The success stories, and challenges, of assimilating successive waves of immigrants into local life were dissected and discussed Sept. 23 at Wakefield High School.

“We Are All Arlington,” a forum that combined panel discussions with performing arts and public dialogue, looked at how community leaders have chosen to provide a welcoming environment over the past 40 years, and the ramifications of all the new arrivals.

“We have had some challenges; it has not been smooth all along,” former County Board member Walter Tejada acknowledged at the celebration, which was sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, county government and school system, and other groups.

But, he said, the effort to welcome immigrants from Asia, Central and South America, Africa and elsewhere was helped by the fact that many Arlington residents have traveled extensively and are aware of the world around them.

“They’ve experienced people who look different, who have accents . . . and not seeing people so much as strangers,” said Tejada, who was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. as a young teen. He was the first Latino to chair a county government in Virginia history.

While assimilating immigrants hasn’t always been easy, Arlington has done it better than most communities, said Angela Marie Kelly, senior vice president of the Center for American Progress.

“The decision was: We’re going to welcome people,” Kelly said. “I wish that there were 100,000 Arlingtons in this country.”

Arlington has responded to challenges “in a number of different ways,” said School Board member Emma Violand-Sánchez, who served as master of ceremonies for the forum, which drew about 125 people.

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