Can we talk? Communication Cafe a chance to bridge cultural divides

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Preparing to sing the national anthem of the Congo.
FILE PHOTO: Manchester’s Congolese community celebrating Congolese Independence Day in June of 2014.

MANCHESTER, NH – On March 25 the community is invited to come together for conversation and coffee for the first Communication Cafe, organized as part of the Manchester Immigrant Integration Initiative.

The event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 508 Union St.

Organizers hope the evening will provide a chance for Manchester’s diverse immigrant population and existing residents to come together and bridge the cultural divides that naturally exist, by creating an opportunity to share life experiences and common ground.

Sue Corby, who has been an instructor for the past dozen years with English for New Americans, says the local Immigrant Integration Initiative mirrors a national initiative to help immigrants better integrate into the larger culture after they arrive.

“Many immigrants come to the U.S. with a high level of skills but they don’t get jobs commensurate with their skills, sometimes due to licensing problems or because they have to start working right away, so there’s no time to learn English adequately. Integrating economically is one thing. This Conversation Cafe is not related to that directly, but Manchester’s Immigration Integration Initiative is especially meant to help not only the economic, but also the social, and cultural integration process,” Corby says.

2014 Holiday Dinner at First Congregational Church hosted by English for New Americans.
2014 Holiday Dinner at First Congregational Church hosted by English for New Americans.

Many members of the city’s immigrant and refugee community have been working on their English language skills for several years, and are now ready to put them to the test.

Conversation Cafe is an attempt at providing the vehicle to accomplish that, Corby says.

According to the NH Department of Health and Human Services more than 7,500 refugees have made New Hampshire home over the past 30 years, arriving here from more than 30 nations.

Over the past 20 years Manchester has received 1,585 immigrants, more than any other New Hampshire city or town.

Refugees are eligible to start the naturalization process within five years after arrival in the U.S. Those first five years represent a huge adjustment period, and services such as Corby’s English for New Americans are part of the network of services in place to help smooth the transition for individuals and families.

Conversation Cafe has been made possible through an $11,000 Immigrant Integration Initiative Community-Based Planning grant issued in 2014. A total of $44,000 was awarded to four New Hampshire communities, including Manchester, Greater Laconia, Concord and Greater Nashua. The grants support a collaborative planning process aimed at helping advance the integration and inclusion of immigrants and refugees in New Hampshire.

“Across the United States, a growing number of cities and towns are recognizing the economic and social benefits of fostering a welcoming culture for new and diverse populations,” said Endowment for Health Program Director Kelly Laflamme, of the grants. “As New Hampshire’s communities diversify and our native population ages, we have an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on the infusion of youth, talent, energy, and innovation that immigrants bring to our state,” she said.

Corby says her students come from a range of countries and cultures, including Spanish-speaking countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Haiti, Dominican Republic,  African countries of South Sudan, Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, as well as students from Vietnam, Nepali, Bhutan, Bosnia, Iraq, Albania and Kosovo.

“What’s important about this Conversation Cafe? Really, it’s just a way to give people a chance to get to know each other.  As a receiving community I run into people out there all the time who tell me they’d like to know more about the immigrant community, and talk to them and learn more about who they are and where they’ve come from, but we don’t really have a vehicle to do that – well, until now,” says Corby. “This is an attempt to provide that, and break down barriers.”

Designated parking for Conversation Cafe will be in the lot on the corner of Union and Amherst streets. Contact Sue Corby at 361-2649 for more information.

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About Carol Robidoux 5783 Articles
Journalist and editor of, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.