Tampa, USF welcome refugees


National Welcoming Week was presented to both welcome refugees and also expose USF students to cultural diversities and customs. 

The festival took place Saturday at the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Amphitheater and included tables representing foreign countries, performances and cultural aspects such as traditional foods.  

For Albanian dancer Matina Metana, who arrived to the U.S. at 10 months old, the festival was a celebration of her heritage. She performed two traditional dances at the event, representing two different Albanian towns through music, dance and dress. 

Metana’s bright red gown signified the city of Korce, located in southern Albania, with the dance and music also representing Korce. 

“We want people to see our culture,” Metana said. 

The performance was one of many ways in which multiple countries were represented. A fashion show encompassing both traditional and current dress of countries from the fair also used visual representation to help students become culturally enriched. 

“A lot of times you will meet somebody from a different country, but you won’t be able to put a face to that country. Through the fashion show you really got to see that,” said Jessie Rowe, who attended the event.

Hillsborough County recently became the first refugee Welcoming County in Florida. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida has over 178,000 refugees as of June, making it the largest refugee-populated state in the U.S. 

11,000 refugees have populated Tampa Bay in the past five years with the majority living in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. According to Vice Provost of USF World Roger Brindley, USF strives for students to be “glocal” by being globally conscious members just as they are local members of the community. 

“I want all of our students to be humanists … I want (students) to understand the world a little bit more each day,” Brindley said.

USF Honors College students experienced firsthand this enhancement through volunteering for the festival as the Honors College partnered with the Department of Children and Families for a personal connection. At the event, Honors College Dean Charles Adams recognized the students who come from refugee families for the support and hard work. 

“Virtually all Americans are refugees or immigrants in some way in our past … and I want to honor their hard work and honor the effort (of) their families,” Adams said. “We want to make them know that they are welcome here and that they can make a home here and that there future is here.” 

While the event focused on the future of Tampa Bay and its refugees, Metana focused on keeping her Albanian roots in addition to her U.S. lifestyle. 

“I am really proud to be Albanian and to know my language, music and culture so well because most people would forget it,” she said. “I am happy I can keep that going.”