Immigrants are more likely to be highly skilled, have advanced degrees, be entrepreneurs and earn more than the average American-born citizen, said Betsy Cohen. As director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, Cohen spoke on Jan. 29 in the Emerson Library about the organization’s work to bring more immigrants to St. Louis, and
the benefit of having more immigrants in the metropolitan area.
With different programs the Mosaic Project enacts, the project’s backers hope for St. Louis to have the fastest rate of immigration among metropolitan areas in the United States by 2020. However, Cohen said that numbers aren’t the only things that needed to change. Mosaic is also working to change attitudes towards immigrants in St. Louis.
“Foreign-born people come here and say ‘St. Louis people are helpful, but not welcoming,’” Cohen said. “And the welcoming part is key. People are complacent here, and they don’t always reach out.”
Cohen’s presentation was the first of four scheduled forums for the spring semester, as a part of the Holden Public Policy Forum’s event, Pizza & Politics. Former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden moderates each forum, and said he was enthusiastic about The Mosaic Project’s work.
“I firmly believe immigrants add so much value to your community, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of energetic entrepreneurism that creates thriving communities,” Holden said.
Although changing attitudes is a long process, The Mosaic Project combats this complacency by encouraging professionals in St. Louis to participate in their programs that connect them with immigrants.
Another goal of The Mosaic Project, accomplished through outreach with university leaders, is to attract and retain international students to St. Louis. A few of the 20 audience members said universities need to better educate young people about how immigrants can benefit a community. Jimmy Halaz, a Webster University graduate student and Mosaic Project intern, said it’s easier to accept and to meet people from different backgrounds at a school like Webster.
Learning about other communities and supporting their businesses, Cohen said, are two big ways that students can understand the benefit of having more immigrants in St. Louis. However, she said she hopes to have globally-minded universities such as Webster find better ways to participate in The Mosaic Project’s push for immigration growth.
“Oftentimes, likes go along with likes, and people only hang out with those in their cluster of people. So the question is, ‘can you bridge out and share a coffee or tea with someone that you normally wouldn’t?’” Cohen said.