Dear editor,

Recently, my neighborhood of Woodlawn was chosen to house asylum seekers at a temporary shelter at 6420 S. University Ave. To my neighbors and my Chicago community who oppose this shelter, I’d like to share a different perspective: 

I am that immigrant you fear. My family fled Colombia in the ‘80s to escape the pillage of our private property. And with no less than three uncles executed on the same bridge as a warning, my mother believed our options were limited. Through the trauma, tears, and turmoil of immigrating to a foreign land with no resources and minimal support, we somehow, by grace, achieved the American Dream.

I am proud to be an American and of what I’ve professionally accomplished so far. But I have more pride in what I’ve been able to give back since becoming a U.S. Citizen. From working with the homeless in Dallas, raising money for people with disabilities with an organization called Ability Connection, and serving on numerous non-profit boards to help bring more minorities to the STEM fields, like my most recent appointment on Loyola University Chicago’s Advisory Board, to working with asylum seekers in Geneva through the World Economic Forum, and employing Southern Africans through Africa Culture Journeys, an initiative I helped launch with my husband in 2021, and much more. All these efforts, all I have wanted all these years, have been to give back, provide value, and “prove” my worthiness. In the words of Jay-Z in My 1st Song, “When I was born, it was sworn, I was never gon' be shit. Had to pull the opposite….” I yearn to give back to this country and others more than what has been shown to me. 

I risk a lot by sharing this with you as I know there will be no lack of vitriol thrown my way. But I’d like you to understand what happens when you give someone an opportunity. Also, I wonder, who can speak for these Asylum Speakers, who cannot speak for themselves, in one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives? I weep, thinking of their trauma and what lies ahead of them. I weep because I know the mountain of challenges, including the mental health problems they’ll undoubtedly encounter.

I don’t have all the details and probably far from all of the information on what’s happening with this but temporary shelter; what I do know is this: comments like let’s “place migrants in a part of the community where they won’t feel like strangers” to “it’s unfair…to provide all these resources for the immigrants, but we disregard the people that are already here.” are in line with comments made to justify Separate but Equal and Apartheid.

I wonder. Why do you fear me? Why do you fear us, immigrants? Just us being here demonstrates that we have the grit, perseverance, and determination to do more. Could you look at us as an opportunity to do things differently? Traditionally, people have treated immigrants the same way for a long time. And we don’t know if things could be working even better if we approached this differently, particularly since Asylum Seekers have a different background. A different perspective of looking at things than your typical non-migrant.

I admit that some concerns are valid. The Mayor’s Office fouled by not consulting or forewarning our Alderman. But then again, it’s not as if Governor Greg Abbott gave us any warning when he sent these people to our city during Christmas.

But let’s focus our efforts on the correct opponent. Because I can imagine those responsible for this are sitting back and laughing. Laughing at us for playing into their hand and laughing with delight at their power to ultimately control people. Let’s show them that NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) has a new meaning. Not in my backyard will I allow bigotry. Not in my backyard will I allow you to sow the seeds of discontent. Not in my backyard will I allow you to “win”. This is the message that we should send to those that think they can utilize human beings as pawns in their political games. That this time, it’s different. Because we are the South Side. We are One Chicago. And we will focus our efforts on fighting you instead of each other.

(Many of these words are lyrics from artist Lil Dicky in his song Professional Rapper)

Paola Andrea Gean

(6) comments


If anyone's interested, tomorrow (1/12) at 6pm at the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave there will be a meeting about using Wadsworth Elementary as a temp shelter for asylum seekers


For anyone interested: "A meeting with Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and city officials is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 12) at the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave."


I think what you are missing is the residents really are in fear of the resources in the community not being enough to handle auch a large group of people being placed in the area. If you are familiar with the area you would know that there are only 1 major grocery store Jewels, 1 aldies, and one save a lot in the area. Not to mention the crime aspect of placing non english speakers in a already crime riddled neighborhood. These people would be taken advantage of and exploited. It would be like dropping them in the middle of Hyde Park. The community feels they would be safer and have a better support group in a neighborhood that they can easily communicate with the people. See it was not a last minute placement of these immigrants, it was a thought out plan, which was not well thought out. They had been working in that school for months now, which mean they planned this movement for sometime. This was very disrespectful to the black and hispanic community. One thing I have not seen or heard from the spanish speaking community is outrage over why they were not given the resources to house the ones coming on that statement, I would love to hear from those alderman and state reps on the Mayors disrepect of their voters.


Thank you for sharing your perspective as it only enriches the conversation. I stand by my comments that this is NIMBYism and it's the exact result that Gov. Abbott desired.

My point here is to offer a reframing and different perspective - is there a way we could use this as an asset in lieu of viewing it as a liability?

I can only speak for myself here, but I can share my direct experience - putting them in what people deem a "Hispanic" neighborhood will still be a jarring experience for them. Additionally, there are residents in Woodlawn that can speak Spanish that can help. I raise my hand to lend support.

Regardless of where either of us stands on this, I respect you as my neighbor and hope to shake your hand tomorrow night Thursday Jan. 12 at 6pm at 6320 S. Dorchester (Apostolic Church of God)


Paola, I stand with you as a resident of Woodlawn. Segregation needs to end now and forever. If we don’t work together, we work against one another. Leaving the door open for the worse to happen, something we’re all experiencing now across Chicago. United we stand, divided we’re falling and failing.


Beautifully said - divided we fall! Let's turn our attention to the true opponent here, Gov. Greg Abbott. He's the one that used millions of dollars to bus human beings to frigid weather with no warning or planning.

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