Interview by Julia Aguillon
Article by Jackie Velez

In honor of World Refugee Day, Jen Yáñez-Alaniz, the co-director of Cielo Unity in Action and Saghar Roshan, the director of the reception and placement program at Catholic Charities Refugee Office of San Antonio, recently organized the event, Poetry Declaration, hosted by the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).
World Refugee Day is a celebration designated by the United Nations in recognition of the honor, strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees worldwide. The occasion is celebrated annually around June 20th. This year, the event welcomed a poetry declaration, a day to bring together a community of poets and artists locally and globally.
“Art is one way to express your feelings,” said Roshan.
Yáñez-Alaniz, an educator and poet, and Roshan, also a poet, reached out to artists in the city to help with the poetry event. The poetry declaration highlighted the importance of the immigration issue through the expression of words.
“Art in of itself is a way to be expressive, to let down certain barriers and have a way to say what we need to say no matter our experiences,” said Yáñez-Alaniz. “It built up this platform where not only was the art presented, but community came together in such a strong way
The community was strong, indeed in support of the occasion. A total of 13 different languages, including English were represented at the event.
Yáñez-Alaniz and Roshan each played a significant role at the World Refugee Day event. Yáñez-Alaniz pitched the idea to Tino Gallegos, the City of San Antonio Immigration Liaison. Yáñez-Alaniz wanted to bring together organizations who work together and advocate for refugees and immigrant issues, to celebrate a city-wide poetry event.
Roshan’s role in the event was to manage the people presenting their poetry, herself included. Roshan has experienced persecution in her own country and understands the need to express those feelings through poetry.
“It’s one way to express my pain, my feelings, and share what I have to give from my whole heart to give to the whole world,” said Roshan.
What’s interesting about Roshan’s presentation is that she ended up winning first prize for her poetry. Roshan’s only objective for the poetry declaration was to give a voice to the refugees.
“My poem was in Farsi, it wasn’t in English,” said Roshan.
The event brought so much diversity and inclusion as well as a plethora of information to the community. Guests learned about various agencies that provide support services to refugees and immigrants as well as poet activists and other supporters. The end result was a fantastic event that was well-received.
“I think that we were in a position where we really needed to hear these stories told in the perspective of the people who have the experiences,” said Yáñez-Alaniz. “I think that right now our country is in a state of healing and repairing any kind of damaging rhetoric that we may have been told about refugees and immigrants and the migration story.”
Poetry Declaration for Refugee Day is not a one time event. Yáñez-Alaniz is hopeful that Catholic Charities event, International Refugee Night coming in September, will have components of the Poetry Declaration presentations. Yáñez-Alaniz and Roshan are also in search of a venue to present the Poetry Declaration during Dream Week in January.
“The idea is that we continue to share this conversation through poetry and art throughout the year,” said Yáñez-Alaniz. “
For more information on the upcoming events, please visit:
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