Buffalo Without Borders and Refugee Comfort Zones

Came across an article promoting a refugee cultural event in Buffalo, NY called “Buffalo Without Borders”.  The article appeared recently in Buffalo Rising a kind of online city guide.  First, I applaud the author for trying to encourage the general populace of that city to get out and get to know a bit more about their newest neighbors – the thousands of refugees that call that cold city home.  I’ve been to Buffalo several times and can attest that there has been a significant refugee population there for a long time.  But, there was one line in the article that I think ought to be challenged a bit.  The author writes: “This past summer was the first time that I saw some of the Burmese population starting to explore Elmwood Avenue, and that was a welcome sign that meant that they were beginning to explore outside of their comfort zones.”  I take issue with the notion that people who have been forcibly and violently removed from their country, have lived for years in refugee camps, and have been rather unwillingly resettled in some of the worst, crime-ridden neighborhoods of freezing Buffalo, NY are just “beginning to explore outside their comfort zones”.  What comfort zones?  Their bed-bug infested apartments?  The public aid office?  The crummy job only the lucky ones get to work?  Beyond this, Burmese refugees have been in Buffalo since at least 2007.  The notion that they haven’t visited downtown Buffalo yet is incredulous.  The significance of the author’s statement lies in the fact that this past summer was the first time he noticed them there.  It wasn’t the first time they were there. 

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