YLA Alumni Support Immigrant and Refugee Youth in Portland

*Written by WorldOregon Young Leaders in Action (YLA) Alumni from Youth Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees

Immigration has been a hot topic in the local and global political theatre for quite a while.

On a local level, Oregon is one of seven sanctuary states in the nation, making it a somewhat safer place for immigrants and refugees. On a federal level, there is heated discourse about what to do about immigrants/refugees, especially those who arrive in the U.S. illegally or as asylum-seekers. On a global level, we must examine the causes that inform an individual or group of peoples’ decision to migrate. This includes political instability, violence, religious persecution, environmental factors, and more.

Nations of origin for refugees who resettled in Oregon, Jan. 2002 -- Jan. 2017

Through the Young Leaders in Action program (YLA), we had several amazing opportunities which helped us expand our range of knowledge in international affairs, starting at a local level. We also met and were inspired by youth leaders from all over the world— Iraq, West Africa, Columbia, and Peru--who we met through WorldOregon's International Visitor Program



Meeting with local and international organizations gave us ideas of how we could make a positive and lasting difference. YLA was designed for us to rise out of our comfort zones and take initiative to make change. Additionally, we participated in workshops that taught us to build important skills such as leadership and cross-cultural communication. The program was very conscientious about letting us develop personal leadership styles through a specially designed workshop and giving us exposure to situations which called for leadership.

As young leaders, we felt the need to create positive and long-lasting change. Our action project was to found an organization, Youth Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees (YAIR). We met with many youth who were immigrants or refugees and facilitated workshops that involved story exchange, often bringing together people with very different backgrounds. In this way, we helped others hear perspectives from cultures they may not have known about.

On June 9, we successfully held our first event, called Cultural Connections: Celebrating Immigrant and Refugee Art and Stories, at New Expressive Works, which involved storytelling, a community mural, podcasting, cultural performances, and lovely Syrian food. The event was designed to share the stories of immigrants and refugees, often unheard by many, to create a unique cross-cultural exchange.



All of us have a connection to immigrants and refugees. Though we may have different specific reasons for joining the group, all of us wish to create positive and lasting change. Storytelling is a method of dialogue that requires listening. Change cannot happen without listening and empathetic exchange, and storytelling is a medium of expression which accomplishes this.



The way that we managed to come together as a group was a very surprising and heartwarming experience. We work really well together as a group, and it was extremely satisfying to work with people who are passionate about the same cause to accomplish something. The same passion drives us to sustain our project post-YLA. Currently, YAIR is producing a podcast series with Portland Meet Portland, designed to capture and share immigrant/refugee stories.



Without YLA, we wouldn’t have had the platform to create such an organization or courage to step out of our comfort zones. We wouldn’t have found so many people that were passionate about the same issues and were able to work well with each other. We wouldn’t have learned how to network, a skill needed as we get older and get ready to go to college.

In the near future, YAIR hopes to connect with Portland Public Schools and Reynolds High School students for more story exchanges, bi-monthly meetings, and podcasts. We would also like to partner with the City of Portland to hold more events and increase multicultural visibility within Portland.

You can stay updated by following us on social media (Instagram: @youthadvocatespdx) and checking out our website: youthadvocatespdx.org.

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