Separately, we speak many different languages. But today, we all speak one language. That language is soccer.
Those remarks (more or less accurate) were part of the welcome to the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Redeemer Cup by main sponsor Chobani‘s CEO Hamdi Ulukaya. Ulukaya was one of the speakers getting the waiting teams and crowd pumped up and ready for the 3rd annual Redeemer Cup Soccer Tournament.
Saturday June 2nd at Proctor Park in Utica began rainy and cold, but it seems as though the excitement for the Redeemer Cup burned it away. Upon arriving to the festivities I found over a dozen different brightly colored shirts milling around and getting organized, with team names on the back representing ethnic refugee groups and refugee community organizations such as the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees and Redeemer Church. At about 10:30 the procession of teams began – truly a sight to see. Each group marched through the crowd lead by a flag and sign holder. The signs signified the ethnic group, followed by the world American – i.e. “Polish American” or “Iraqi American” – as Redeemer Church’s Pastor Rick Andrews said, no matter where we come from, we are all Americans now. Each team that processed by was bursting with pride, but as the groups assembled there was a lot of interaction with the other groups.
Finally, the whistle blew and soccer began. Games continued on four fields throughout Saturday and into Sunday, with lots of friendly competition. Many members of both the refugee and local community came to support their friends and neighbors. Sunday’s final game came down to the Bosnian American team vs Liberian American, with Bosnian ultimately coming out on top!
Check out a preview of Starting Over’s photos below:
The Utica Firefly was started in May 2011 by Geoff Storm and Ryan Miller to explore the art of storytelling, focusing on Central New York and culture and themes close to the heart of our community. A main portion of Firefly is the live event which has been hosted by local coffehouse/venue Tramontane Cafe, although it also includes recording stories of local interest.
The second Firefly event on October 13, 2011 has held in conjunction with the UNSPOKEN Human Rights Festival. The Firefly UNSPOKEN event featured stories of refugees, resettlement, human rights, equal rights, terrible stories, happy stories, and stories that made me want to laugh and cry. One different feature of this particular Firefly were that non-locals participated; filmmakers and participants of the festival shared their stories as well.
Deb Fowler, who teaches ESL classes in Massachusetts, shared the poignant story of her Burmese student Bawi. Bawi wanted nothing more than to attend school in Burma, but because of extremely poor living conditions and the high cost of education, could only attend school sporadically. Then Bawi’s village was overcome with Burmese soldiers and Bawi was threatened and tortured. Bawi escaped to Malaysia where he had to live in desperate conditions and work to survive. Bawi sent most of his money back to cousins in Burma to provide for education so they did not have to struggle as he did. Deb wraps up her story with this anecdote:
Last May, in a small village in Chin State, Burma, there was a graduating class of six. Five of those were Bawi’s cousins.
Bawi was able to start a new life for himself in Malaysia, and now is finally getting the education he desired in America.
Sunday, April 15th was the last of a three day celebration of the Cambodian New Year Celebration. Some of the Starting Over team members went as a way to get the project jump started.
We arrived at the Khmer Buddhist Temple of Utica at 10am to an already packed house, with carloads of families arriving by the minute. Most carried in trays and trays of food. We snapped some photos of the amazing architecture before making our way inside. It was clear that we were outsiders, as if our hesitation didn’t give us away. However, we were greeted with smiles, nods and wishes of Happy New Year.
The celebration started with traditions of donations to the Temple and the monks by the community. Each donation meant cleansing and good karma!
There was a period of prayer time. Then came the feast! The monks ate until they were full, then the remainder was shared among community members who sat in small groups on the floor. We were welcomed into a circle and shared some delicious food. Fresh fruit, traditional noodle dishes, meats and more. We were able to speak with people about their experiences in Utica, many of whom were happy to share their stories.
Paul Yin, for one, really enjoys living in Utica. He’s happy, because Utica is a place he could afford to get his own house to fix up. He looks forward to spending the rest of his life here. He says about the Cambodian community in Utica…
The community is small, but we try to bring more business to the city. I hope the city will grow up… In the future, I hope more people will move into the city
Starting Over’s visit to the Cambodian New Year at the Khmer Buddhist Temple was very inspiring. The community was extremely welcoming and genuinely happy to celebrate with us, their new guests. I look forward to working with the community members more as this project evolves!
Check out a sneak peek of the Cambodian New Year in this video preview from The Utica Firefly