SCC is honored to be recognized by Shelterforce this month as part of their Immigration series. Titled “Serving the Community, In Their Language,” this article discusses why language justice is critical for community-based organizations.
By Keli A. Tianga
Somerville Community Corporation was founded in 1969 without a specific immigrant focus, even though, located two miles northwest of Boston, the city of Somerville has always been a home to new immigrant populations. “One hundred years ago, it was Italian, Portuguese, and Greek; now we have immigrants from all over the world,” says SCC deputy director Meridith Levy. At the local high school, Levy says, over 50 languages are spoken in student’s homes. SCC’s mission to serve the lower-income population of Somerville has historically, and naturally, included the city’s new immigrants; and as the numbers of non-English speakers increase in the neighborhood, SCC’s language capability has had to grow along with it.
SCC isn’t alone. Immigrants to the United States bring with them skills, cultural traditions, and a multitude of languages. The 2011 Census recorded a total of 311 languages spoken beside English in U.S. households; and while all these languages help to enrich our societal tapestry, not speaking or understanding English is still a barrier to fully participating in society. At the same time, the oftentimes difficult realities for many low-income immigrants—which can include lack of decent housing, unemployment, and limited access to healthcare—fall squarely in the realm of what many community development organizations work on, and so honing their strategies for both communicating with and serving this frequently vulnerable population is a priority.