Immigrants Can Help to Revitalize Inner Cities in the 21st Century

By Cyril D. Loum

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Cyril D. Loum is the Executive Director of Caring Ministries, Inc. (CMI). He has been actively involved in working with the development of the St. Louis community since the beginning of 2011, after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In 2011, he served as a Federal Intern for the First District of St. Louis while attaining his second bachelor’s in Communication. In 2014, Cyril proceeded to earn a Master of Arts in Legal Studies and became a certified paralegal.

In recent years, many immigrants and refugees have been moving to the United States to be part of the American Dream. The American Dream that “every U.S. citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative” has changed our communities, especially our inner cities. Our inner cities now have large concentrations of immigrants who contribute to the success of many of the most economically vibrant U.S. cities. In response to this trend, Caring Ministries, Inc. (CMI) was established to reinforce the positive trends of immigrant influxes to revamp inner-city communities.

The process of establishing strong communities with immigrants and Americans starts with building strong relationships with various neighborhood leaders. Immigrants need to have conversations about the safety of neighborhoods and school systems. Other issues that the immigrant population faces are the necessary demands from extended family members living abroad and the fragmented family unit.

To build vibrant immigrant communities, you need a holistic approach that addresses social, spiritual, physical and economic needs. For immigrants, the social aspects include tight-knit neighborhood associations. Immigrants see these neighborhoods as a kind of extended family, which they can depend on for assistance in times of need. This social aspect helps the families relate to their community, while giving them the opportunity to build new relationships. Often coming out of an oral tradition, immigrants understand intuitively the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

One of the ways these bonds are established is through shared faith. Regardless of origin country, immigrants entering the U.S. usually identify themselves as spiritual people. When dealing with the immigrant population, one difference from Americans is that they are open to talking about their faith. As we work on these communities, we have noticed that the sentimental feelings of spirituality within the immigrant population and community developers can build a sense of trust.

Next, when dealing with the physical nature of neighborhoods, we need to build communities where shopping centers and bus lines are in close in proximity to homes. This is important because most immigrants are accustomed to having local community grocery stores, schools, places of worship, parks, and other community amenities close to their homes. Many immigrants moving to the U.S. were already homeowners. The housing culture of immigrants is based on the idea that homeownership enables families to pass on tangible resources to the next generation. Immigrants are not commonly accustomed to apartments. Perhaps this is the cause of minor ghettos in St. Louis. Nevertheless, homeownership is difficult for immigrants in the United States, because they use a different method of homeownership from their country of origin. In the U.S., we use financing through banking institutions, and the approval of financing is based on credit scores. In their country of origin, immigrants often used the sole capital of an individual to either build or purchase their homes. However, when given the opportunity in the U.S., immigrants want to become homeowners.

Economically, immigrants want to live in communities where the job market is strong and homes are inexpensive. These two specifics give immigrants the opportunity to achieve the American Dream by using their willingness to work hard to achieve the necessary things that make them comfortable. Jobs are very important to this population. They are willing to put in the time and effort once their financial needs are met. Immigrants are generally frugal in their financial lifestyle. In fact, this population believes in saving and helping people in need, who then can turn around and assist them some day. Immigrants might be seen as a demographic that is struggling financially, but once acquainted with the financial system, they become some of the most financially secure people in our society. This is why some of the most vibrant inner cities are highly populated by immigrants.

I encourage individuals working in community development to think about immigrants as a valuable resource for building vibrant communities.

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.