Refugees Seek "Good Life" in Grand Island


Overcoming a civil war that has torn his homeland in half, Angelo Ungery held back tears, as those listening did the same.

"Life is hard," he said.

That's a contrast to life in Sudan, which was good before the war. They didn't have Walmart, or jobs, but didn't know better.

In Nebraska, they've found an unlikely place to call home. They're drawn, as generations of immigrants have been, by prospects of a better life.

Carlos Barcenas, Multicultural Coalition director said, "It's amazing how much history we have in Grand Island, very diverse."

Twenty-five percent of the city's population is Hispanic. Most Latin American immigrants come here for economic reasons.

New waves of immigrants, though, come with different experiences, because most are escaping not simply poverty but political unrest. And the community has to learn again how to serve its newest residents.

Barcenas said, "We want to know their needs, know where they hurt, how we can help, so I think that's a key component to building a good community.'

The Multicultural Coalition stands in the gap. Thursday they hosted their annual one-day conference in Grand Island, with a number of sessions. Many focused on newcomers to the community, like the Sudanese and also Karen people of Burma.

"They come to us and we just want to facilitate the discussion," Barcenas said.

Angelo has a smile that lights up the room, even at the JBS Swift packing plant, to the suspicion of his bosses.

"They think maybe I was taking drugs," he said with a laugh, explaining he would sing as he worked the line. "They couldn't believe but something in me made me sing and laugh which is Jesus Christ."

It was an expression of faith that could have gotten him killed in Sudan. He explained the south is mainly Christian, and the north mostly Muslim. The south declared its independence last year.

Now he's married with his second child on the way next month, and working towards his degree.

"I'm really thankful to be in the greatest country in the world, in the best state of all," he said.

Among the challenge with the Sudanese -- they speak a variety of tribal languages and schools lack interpreters plus many women are illiterate in their native languages.

But they hope by sharing their story at conferences like this to build good relationships.