New Americans Finding a Community
During the month of September, we celebrate Welcoming Week, where we are highlighting our immigrant-focused programming at Chinatown YMCA in San Francisco, California. To learn more about the New American Welcome Center, our high school Bank of America Student Leader, Ryan Saechao, had time to reflect on his own personal immigrant story this summer, and dove deeper into Chinatown YMCA's program offerings.
A New Life in America
Imagine you are dropped in a new city with no idea what to expect. You don’t know how things are run, you don’t know the social norms and maybe you don’t know the language. This is the experience for many newcomers and families in America. Many individuals struggle to adjust because they lack resources and support.
New American Welcome Center
The Chinatown YMCA’s New American Welcome Center provides services and resources for new Americans that are adjusting to the U.S. culture and environment. The Chinatown YMCA has always been a place for immigrants, a place for new arrivals to create bonds and build community. Six days a week, people can come to drop-in hours for help with the translation of paperwork or bills, finding housing and much more.
Making Space for Families
As a Bank of America Student Leader working at the YMCA this summer, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Chinatown Y’s programming and talk to a variety of participants about their stories. One individual shared their experience of living in a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) with their family (part of Chinatown YMCA's social service offerings). They stated that you had one room and everything else was shared. They shared bathrooms, the kitchen, and the hallways. Living in such a small space, their kids weren’t able to play outside or have a place where they could be creative and find their hobbies.
They said that the only place where they could let their kids be kids was at the Y, which provided space and programming for kids to have fun and get opportunities.
The SRO program offers a bi-weekly dinner, which is so necessary for the families. Families typically eat on the edge of their bunk beds in their small single room occupancy home, but coming to the YMCA allows them to enjoy a traditional Chinese meal every week, in a fun and festive atmosphere with their family and friends.
A Personal Connection
I know firsthand what it is like to struggle as an immigrant. My parents come from a small village in the mountains of Laos and they came to America to escape the Secret War. They came with only their clothes, photos and identity. Not knowing much English, they had to learn through life experiences and interacting with Americans in their daily lives. Through these experiences, they gained some understanding, but there are still difficulties comprehending things. Growing up, my siblings and I had to translate paperwork and help explain American culture to my parents since there weren’t resources like the New American Welcome Center for us.
When parents struggle to balance work and time with their kids, or parents don’t know how to help kids with school work, students are left to figure things out on their own. The ripple effect of the lack of resources for newcomers can lead to students neglecting school.
The NAWC is a crucial resource in a community like Chinatown. Many newcomers come to America to achieve the American dream, but due to the lack of support and resources, many struggle to succeed. The Chinatown YMCA has become a safe place where people can feel comfortable asking for and receiving help. Like many other immigrants and first-generation kids, this struggle resonates with those that experience it. Providing resources and support for individuals is vital in community spaces like Chinatown YMCA, and the New American Welcome Center does an amazing job at the services they provide for immigrant community members.