Welcoming Neighbor Alliance

What is the Welcoming Neighbor Alliance?

Decades ago, refugee resettlement began in the borough of Whitehall. Now many of our resettled community members are actively buying homes and starting businesses. 

The Welcoming Neighbor Alliance is a curated digital collection of factual information about the local immigrant and refugee population.  It is a collaboration between Whitehall Public Library, South Hills Faith Movement, Literacy Pittsburgh and the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh dedicated to sharing responsive factual information, one neighbor at a time, with hope that that information would then be shared with others, creating a network of allies that welcome and support community diversity. 

Interested in learning more?

Our Community is changing. It has become more culturally diverse.

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  • People of color comprise more than 21% of the Jefferson area population according to the 2020 US Census compared to 13% in 2010.
  • More than 50% of Jefferson area municipalities experienced over 100% growth in residents of color between 2010 and 2020 including Whitehall.
  • We have community members representing the following countries and cultures in North Africa, south africa, the middle east, Nepal, China, south America, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Ubekistan, Turkey and Burma/Mynamar.
  • Over 30 languages are spoken in households in the District and students come from over 40 birth-countries.
  • The vast majority of our newest neighbors come from Bhutan or Nepal.

If you have neighbors from Bhutan or Nepal they are more than likely refugees or former refugees.

What is a refugee? Simply speaking, an immigrant is someone who chooses to move, and a refugee is someone who has been forced from their home. Refugees leave their home countries because it is dangerous for them to stay.

šIn the early 1990s, about 100,000 ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan were expelled or fled from the small Himalayan kingdom, leading to what Amnesty International has called “one of the most protracted and neglected refugee crises in the world.”

Religion: Bhutanese refugees are overwhelmingly Hindus with a small percentage of Buddhists and Christians. The Bhutanese rulers suppressed religious minorities and no Church exists in Bhutan. We estimate a few thousand of Christians in Bhutan who practice their faith in secret. As Hindus, we share the worship places (temples) with the bigger Hindu community from India in this County but Hindus in general do not worship in the temple regularly. They perform religious worship mostly in their homes, and some family religious events and gatherings are so big that our neighbors might feel uncomfortable.

Family: The Bhutanese prefer to live in large joint families though nuclear and single families are getting more common these days. You can see around that most of our homes have seniors, and members from three generations living together. The married sons have an obligation to take care of their aged parents in their own homes. However, due to changing times and environment, this tradition may change.

Lanugage & Literacy: Though we are Bhutanese, we speak our ethnic language, Nepali. Bhutan has its own official language known as Dzonkha. We have a large pre-literate population, especially middle-aged to seniors, who can neither write nor read in our own ethnic Nepali language. These are the groups that community organizations like BCAP, Literacy Pittsburgh and South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) work with, often in partnership with libraries.

Employment and Jobs: Although the majority of our community members are in entry-level jobs such as food packaging, house-keeping, commercial laundry, manufacturing and at nursing facilities, many have made their way up to supervisors, registered nurses, IT, teachers and non-profit human services workers. Many of our community members also work as care-givers for the aged or disabled members of their family. We are working hard and saving money to buy homes.

Home: We have pride in our homes and love having a yard for gardening. Our population came from an agrarian background, so having a backyard that supports vegetable gardening is very important. Similarly, growing flowers, especially marigolds is very much in our souls.

MYTH: Refugees Do Not Pay Taxes.

FACT: Refugees are subject to the same employment, property, sales, and other taxes as any U.S. citizen.

MYTH: Refugees Take Jobs from U.S. Workers.

FACT: Recent evidence by the U.S. Labor Department says “NO” to this myth. Refugees are not provided any special treatment when obtaining employment. They must apply and compete for jobs the same as any resident of the U.S.

 MYTH: Refugees Receive Special Money From the U.S. Government to Purchase Homes, Cars, and Other Items.

FACT: The U.S. Government does not provide refugees with money when they arrive in the U.S., however, there are minimal benefits available for emergency situations and the medically needy. Those refugees must apply for these benefits and meet income and resource standards to qualify for any assistance.

MYTH: Refugees come to the U.S. for Economic Reasons.

FACT: Refugees are individuals or families who have come to the U.S. because they were forced to flee their homeland, many times with little or no belongings, leaving family and friends behind and are unable to return.

MYTH: Refugees Do Not Contribute or Participate in Society.

FACT: Refugees contribute a great deal to this country through the sharing of their talents, skills, cultures and customs. History indicates that some of our most significant contributors to the U.S. have been refugees and immigrants.  And, as noted previously, refugees do pay taxes.

View the complete Welcoming Neighbor Alliance presentation here.