Portuguese delegation visits Austin to exchange ideas on being a welcoming community

Published 5:30 pm Thursday, March 23, 2023

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On Wednesday and Thursday, the community Austin hosted a three-person delegation from Portugal to meet with community representatives of how Austin has created a welcoming community.

The visit was part of a project titled “Participatory Local Plans for Integration of Migrants: Learning from best practices and building bridges between U.S. and Portugal.” The project is supported by the Department of State and Austin was one of five communities in the United States the delegation visited and was by far the smallest.

“It’s impressive though that they think enough of our efforts to include us,” said Austin City Administrator Craig Clark.

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Austin was selected thanks to its inclusion in Welcoming America, which was able to get Austin on the list of cities that included San Jose, San Antonio, Dallas and Lincoln,/Lancaster County, Nebraska. 

The reason to include Austin was in part due to parallels with much of Portugal, which is home to a large number of migrants and immigrants.

“They have a lot of small communities in Portugal and challenges there as well that they wanted a smaller community,” Clark said.

Miguel Silva Graça, coordinator for the project, spoke to the parallels Thursday morning when making a stop at MacPhail Center for Music where the delegation heard about inclusion efforts in Austin Public Schools.

“Portugal is a very small country,” Graça said. “Ten million people, the size of Indiana, but we have a strong presence of migrants and refugees. About 6%, 7% of the general population, but in the rural areas it’s much higher. Sometimes 30% to 40%. We are in Austin to see how you do this integration of migrants and refugees, because we know you have some best practices here, mainly in rural areas. We want to learn more about integration.

Graça was joined by Claudia Pires, coordinator of the Office of Support to Local Policies for the Integration of Migrants, and Abdourahamane Diaby, president of the Association of Refugees in Portugal.

Together, the trio spent a tight schedule visiting businesses and schools throughout Austin on the mission of improving its plans to be a welcoming country.

“In fact, we are here to know about your welcoming places, but we do have welcoming plans back in Portugal too,” Graça said. “We’ve had them since 2014. After a 10-year cycle we are looking at them and seeing what we can improve.”

During a visit to Riverland Community College, the delegation learned how the school welcomes and helps guide students from other cultures while at the same time ensuring that their own culture isn’t dismissed. 

“We were just really honored to have them come to Riverland and to see what we are doing from an education standpoint to create opportunities for immigrants and migrants,” Heiny said.

Heiny said that one of the most heartening things to come out of the delegation’s visit to Riverland was that Austin has been and continues to be on the right track when it comes to being a welcoming community.

“At least to me what was so affirming is that Austin is doing good work,” Heiny said. “More needs to be done, but we have worked intentionally to create structures and processes … so many people are working to create opportunities for immigrants in Austin.”