Hearing Refugees' Voices: When She Sings, Her Voice Carries Far

Pihcintu photo

Refugees are still coming, or trying to. On Thursday, three resettlement organizations filed a lawsuit in Maryland seeking to block Trump's latest racist move to keep brown people from our pristine shores by allowing local officials to reject them; advocates argue the new order, coupled with the lowest cap on refugee numbers since 1980, would keep thousands of refugees from being reunited with families or relocated in new communities. At the other, more big-hearted end of the spectrum, Portland announced that up to 70 more asylum-seeking families from Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo will arrive here Friday from Texas after being released en masse. They will join thousands of asylum seekers already here, and 450 newcomers we gladly housed, fed and welcomed this summer thanks to an outpouring of support - almost $1 million in donations, homes offered by host families, expanded access to General Assistance by our new Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, and other acts of mercy.

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The latest arrivals may face a harder time - it's winter, only daytime shelter is available, people are scrambling to find coats, boots, hats etc - but Portland has long risen to the task of welcoming the stranger. Emblematic of that generosity is our Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, a safe space where over 300 refugee girls and young women from 22 countries have found their voice, sung and flourished, with 100% graduating from high school and 85% going on to college. Their name reflects their mission: Pihcintu is from the Passamaquoddy, one of Maine's native tribes, meaning, "When she sings, her voice carries far.” Their youth also reflects global demographics: Half of the world's roughly 70 million refugees are children. This week, in honor of World Children’s Day by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Pihcintu released a new song of hope. “Somewhere,” an anthem for universal tolerance, is gorgeously, plaintively sung by Shy, an 11-year-old from Namibia, who also sang at Mills' inauguration. She is joined by the 33 members of the chorus, singing for a future that once seemed improbable. “If we believe, we can achieve," they sing. "We can be anything on Earth we want to be.”

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