Gainesville, the first city in Florida to become a “welcoming city” in March 2016, will celebrate its designation this week.
This year’s Welcoming Week festivities began Monday evening and will last through Sunday night. This is the second year Gainesville has celebrated Welcome Week.
The events include a speech given by an immigration attorney on Tuesday night, a screening of “8 Borders, 8 Days” on Wednesday night at the Reitz Union and a speaking engagement Sunday night with Cindy Nelly, a nurse practitioner who has served overseas in war-torn countries, said Richard Macmaster, the president of Welcoming Gainesville and Alachua County.
Immigrants and refugees were celebrated on Monday at the Welcoming Week Proclamation. About 20 people gathered outside Gainesville City Hall at 5 p.m. and heard speeches from Mayor Lauren Poe, County Commissioner Ken Cornell, an immigrant student from Eastside High School and UF student leaders from Students Organize for Syria, Gators for Refugee Medical Relief and CHISPAS.
Welcoming Week is meant to embrace and thank foreign-born Alachua County residents for their contribution to the community, Poe said.
“We don’t care where you came from or how long you’ve been here, we’re just happy that you’re our neighbor,” he said.
Rebecca Prince, a 19-year-old UF health science sophomore, attended Monday’s event to represent Students Organize for Syria. As the treasurer of the club, she hopes to use Welcoming Week to raise awareness for the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“It’s so important that we recognize the people who are the most downtrodden right now in our point in history,” she said.
There was one woman in attendance who was vocally not celebrating Welcoming Week. As the event was coming to a close, she stepped forward to offer her criticism of the event and on immigration as a whole.
“They talk about the government is making war on the immigrant community, that’s not true,” she said. “They are enforcing the existing code of law regarding illegal aliens.”
The woman said she is not anti-immigrant or anti-diversity. She believes that many Americans are misinformed about immigration policies.
“The left wants to portray any sort of following the law as racist and bigoted and anti-immigrant,” she said.