The Ricker Laundromat and grocery store in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where management was quick to take down a sign put up by employees ordering Burmese community not to enter the store. (AAP Photo courtesy of Annette T. Meadows)
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Fort Wayne, IN (March 14, 2010) – The Burmese Advocacy Center of Fort Wayne, Indiana has responded to an incident that reportedly occurred at an Anderson, Indiana grocery store – Ricker Oil last week.
The store management posted a formal apology posted on its web site www.rickers.net) on March 9, 2010.
Jay Ricker, spokesman, stated: “It has come to the attention of Ricker Oil that on March 5th, 2010, an employee at one of our facilities in Fort Wayne, Indiana responded in an unfortunate way to a situation the employee found both alarming and dangerous, not only to our facilities, but to our other valued patrons and employees.
“Once we learned of the actions of our employee, we responded swiftly to rectify the situation. The signage in question was removed and we are exploring appropriate disciplinary action for the employee involved. It is policy of Ricker Oil to welcome all patrons to its facilities. We apologize for any offense the actions of our employee may have caused. We are committed to maintaining positive relationship with all member of the community.”
The sign was reportedly placed in the neighboring laundrymat doorway, which is also owned by Ricker Oil. The two buildings are next to each other but not joined.
Desiree Koger-Gustafson, an immigration attorney with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in the same Fort Wayne building run by the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation which houses the Burmese Advocacy Center, acts as a legal advocate for the refugees. She contacted Rickers with a letter reminding them of the civil right violations when she said the sign was brought to her attention.
Koger-Gustafson said the letter simply explained the civil rights violations that occurred and demanded the store explain its actions and apologize or face legal action. She said the store reacted immediately with an apology – adding that employees chose to resolve a cultural issue in the wrong manner.
She said the best course action for people that encounter difficulty with people of another culture is to contact a nonprofit organization that serves their community to overcome barriers and deal with specific problems.
The Burmese Advocacy Center (www.burmeseadvocacycenter.org) is a not-for-profit corporation that advocates for the diverse ethnic groups originating from Burma. Fort Wayne reportedly has the highest population of Burmese refugees at around 5,000, comparable to New York and Texas. Minnesota has around 1,500 mostly Karen refugees of Burma in Minnesota.
The BAC released a statement in part to let the community know that it exists to work as a liaison with the community to resolve problems stemming from cultural and language barriers.
“They didn’t contact the center, which is literally a couple blocks away,” said Koger-Gustafson, adding that it would have helped resolve a problem with a few people without excluding an entire community.
She said the city is getting leaders together to create a forum to begin a process of communicating cultural awareness issues of new Americans as well as the concerns of the local community.
The BAC made it known that the unfortunate incident of a local business posting a sign banning Burmese peoples from the premises is discrimination and a violation of federal, state and local law to target an entire community based on its race and national origin.
The BAC accepted the official apology from the business owner involved after the sign was quickly removed, it stated in a press release.
“Though the BAC does not speak for all Burmese people, for its own part, it accepts the apology in the spirit in which it was given,” it read. “The BAC also understands that this event arose out of a lack of understanding and an inability of the parties to communicate with one another.”
BAC noted that the Burmese people have been coming to Fort Wayne since the early 1990’s. The first wave of immigrants fled political persecution and sought asylum in the United States. More recently, refugees fleeing both political and religious persecution have arrived in Fort Wayne.
BAC states that after spending many years in refugee camps along the Thailand border, where they were afforded no formal education or employment opportunities, many struggle to learn English and are as yet unfamiliar with the broader American culture. They face difficult integration challenges with barriers existing between the Burmese and the Fort Wayne businesses and broader community.
“The BAC urges individuals or businesses who encounter difficulties in dealing with Burmese people not to give into discriminatory attitudes that may sometimes arise due to cultural and linguistic barriers,” it added. “Individuals and businesses wishing assistance in understanding and communicating with Burmese people are encouraged to contact the BAC or another appropriate organization or agency for assistance.”