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MUCC offers a safe and welcoming environment for all ages.

MUCC offers a safe and welcoming environment for all ages.

From left, Utica residents Asha and Hanifa Juma make cookies during a baking class at the Midtown Utica Community Center on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

People ask each other in Karen Naw May Wele Ha? in the Thai-Burmese border town where I grew as a child. This means, Have you had a meal yet? This replaces the American version of How are you? This is important to me because it shows that neighbors are willing to help each other even when food is scarce. If someone hadn’t eaten, they were invited to join the party for rice, vegetables, and meat. Lucky people might be able to get bamboo soup or fresh fish from a river.

Utica is a city that values diversity and has a long history of immigration. My family and I adapted slowly to American life after I arrived from Thailand.

From left, Utica residents Asha and Hanifa Juma make cookies during a baking class at the Midtown Utica Community Center on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Although it was difficult to navigate all the paperwork and systems, there were many teachers, staff, employers, and neighbors who helped me and my family in many ways. They showed appreciation for our cultural differences, and wanted to help us succeed. There were people who could be relied upon for comfort and support when our community members were sometimes discriminated against or subject to racism.

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