Since 1975, the United States has welcomed over 3 million refugees according to the U.S. Department of State’s Refugee Processing Center. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. Washington state is one of the top ten resettlement states and since 2010, the state has brought in 16,504 refugees from 46 countries. In the city of Tacoma, the Tacoma Refugee Choir Project is embracing refugees with open arms.
The choir is a non-auditioned group founded by Erin Guinup in 2016. Erin partnered with the Tacoma Community House, a 107-year old organization committed to welcoming refugees and immigrants, on a pilot project in September 2016. The project culminated in a performance for Citizenship Day at which nearly 100 new American citizens were sworn in. In January of this year, she began weekly choir rehearsals at Tacoma Community College. Erin says, “Music is powerful. It has the ability to reach across the lines that divide us and bring us together. When we sing, we are a multitude of voices coming together in harmony. The Tacoma Refugee Choir Project is more than a choir— it is a community of friends.” The group strives to maintain a non-partisan stance and welcomes refugees, immigrants and those who wish to show solidarity. Many of the songs chosen for the chorus are translated and sung in a variety of languages including Kurdish, Arabic, Korean and Cambodian. The choir is actively building relationships with other community organizations and will collaborate with a local middle school choir in June.
Guinup says, “In this time where fear, helplessness and hopelessness are so pervasive, I have come to believe that our work as musicians is increasingly critical. Musicians are uniquely equipped to build bridges and help people empathize and communicate about complex issues. Music is often said to be the international language, and it has the potential to help us understand one another, stand with each other in times of need, and begin to resolve some of the conflicts facing our world today.” Learn more about the project and the stories of the refugees by watching the recent news story and by visiting the group's website.