More than 200 people crowded into the main hall of Northway Mall in Anchorage on Saturday afternoon to show their support for Anchorage’s refugee community. The event was organized by #WeAreAnchorage in response to vandalism aimed at Sudanese refugees.
People streamed past tables with Thai food, cotton candy, and even Passover potato pancakes, filling their plates and chatting while performers danced in the center of the mall. Tenth grader LouMei Gutsch decided to attend after hearing that “Go home” and “Leave” were scrawled on the Sudanese men’s cars.
“We should be friendly Americans. We should be welcoming all of the other people from foreign countries and stuff,” she said. “So I thought it was good to come here to welcome and show because actions are louder than words.”
But Gutsch says people need to be welcoming year round. “Well I include everybody, I don’t leave anyone out because that’s not cool. So I invite people who are, like, from a different country who don’t speak English very well. I talk to them and say ‘Hey, sit we me at lunch.’ And we talk and we have fun and I have a new friend.”
Mohamed is a Somali refugee who attended the event with a friend. Like other refugees, he is not willing to give his full name. Mohamed grew up in Kenya, earned a university degree, and arrived in Anchorage two years ago. He says the majority of people treat him fairly but not all, and he’s afraid that speaking up about his past could make it worse.
“They kind of give a different reaction when they hear my accent. They feel like ‘Oh, he should not be doing this kind of stuff. He should not be telling me what to do.’ They feel like they shouldn’t have to listen to what I’m saying.”
But Mohamed says the size of the gathering sends a strong message: acts of intolerance are not acceptable.
“It shows me that they’re bold and they came out and this is not right. Which is a good thing to see. I’m impressed.”
Some community leaders are considering making the potluck a monthly gathering. The event was attended by local and statewide leaders, including Alaska’s First Lady, Donna Walker.