Improving K-12 Education

Embracing Denver’s Newcomers: Finding the Human in a Liminal Space

Photo caption: This family from Venezuela has given their permission for this photo to be shared. They have been supported by Vive Wellness, Papagayo, and DK Foundation.

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For the past two years, there has been a major immigration influx to Denver, Chicago, and New York City due to the crisis at the Texas border.  On street corners around Denver, you now have car window washers, children and families selling flowers, and downtown there are many newcomers asking for help on the streets.   To date more than 40,000 people have arrived in Denver on buses, sometimes in the middle of the night.   The influx has the city’s systems working overtime to house, clothe, and feed people after months long journeys.   Both the newcomers and those serving them are sitting in a liminal space.

Liminal is from the Latin word ‘limen’, which means threshold.  A liminal space is a time of transition, of waiting, and not knowing the future. The newcomers you see around the city have fled countries in economic and political turmoil, and are now certainly in this liminal, confusing space.  They could be former police, lawyers, doctors, and hard working individuals who have experienced harrowing journeys to reach safety. Now they’re navigating a new system seeking to fulfill basic human needs: shelter, food, and employment.  We need to embrace their stories with compassion, understanding, and a desire to help.  

In March 2024, the Donnell-Kay Foundation gathered nearly 70 people to hear from five families that made this trek across Central America and Mexico to come to the United States.  We heard the hope, the pain, and the desire to work come through each individual who gave us a face and name to the statistics we hear daily on the news.   One family spoke of finding “angels” along their way to the United States- from a person who gave them a free bus ticket across Panama, to a family that helped them cross a harrowing river in Mexico when they had been robbed of all their money- this trek required an immense amount of courage.  We also heard of the tireless efforts of nonprofits like Vive Wellness and Papagayo that serve as shelter managers, educators for migrants, navigators of complicated social systems, and mental health workers for thousands of people with teams of only 10-20 employees.  

The result has furthered many grassroots efforts to fill in the gaping holes of our immigration system.   There are groups connecting newcomers to jobs, individuals acting as navigators of our systems to help families find shelter and food, and many discussions of how the newcomers will shape and change the city of Denver for years to come.  

Although many Coloradans have seen the humanity in the newcomers to the state, there are many unanswered questions for their future here while existing in this liminal space.  Some of these questions are: 

  • How are we seeing the human in one another and welcoming others without judgment?
  • Beyond the city’s new asylum seekers program, how will we (as a community) feed, house, and help connect jobs to newcomers? 
  • How will we support our teachers and schools who have been placed on the front lines and must adapt to language barriers and gaps in formal schooling, to ensure these children receive the best education? 
  • What mental health services are in place to handle the trauma that many newcomers have faced on their route to Denver?  
  • How can we connect newcomers to sustainable, living wages and housing?  

As we are almost to the summer solstice, the efforts across the city to serve this population have been very grassroots.   As our newcomers sit in a liminal space and our systems to serve them are in a liminal space, I wonder how we can all come together to see the humanity in one another, conjoin efforts, and ensure a stable transition is in place for a population of people that will continue to affect our city for generations to come.  For now, our call to action is to continue to support nonprofits serving our city’s newcomers and volunteer with grassroots efforts to see the human in each newcomer that arrives in our city.  

 


Written By: Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is an educational entrepreneur, novice farmer, and mother to two DPS children. She believes that education can be...

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