Supporter Stories: Andi Hoelzel and Eleanor

Working with families, there have been a couple instances where we’ve been out in the community and I’ve felt nervous about interactions we’ve had with people. There was an incident with a family where we had gone ice skating and, at the end of our adventure, we turned in all our skates and there was a hockey game starting at the other end of the rink. The family was interested in the game because hockey was very new to them so we watched a little. Prior to the hockey game, they did the national anthem, and there was a gentleman with beers by him standing there very macho. He reached over to the father of my family as the national anthem began and took his hood off his head. I think he may have tried to engage him a little bit verbally first, but then just reached over and pulled his hood. So, I got closer and sort of nervously stood beside him thinking, “Ugh, what’s going to happen next.”

The father of the family didn’t understand the interaction. He'd literally been in the country for two weeks and he spoke very little English. He didn’t understand that this man was trying to tell him to take his hood off. I felt all this tension in my body, that I’d absolutely step in if it escalated.  Then the national anthem ended and the guy reached over and said, “Hey man, you can put your hood back on,” in this very aggressive way. It felt very much like he was looking to him like, “you’re not from here, you don’t belong here, and I’m going to show you that you need to abide by these cultural norms.”

I just grabbed the family and said, “okay, it’s time to go!”

There is some of that, and I worry. But, mostly people have been warm and ask a lot of questions and have concerns about how the families are adjusting.

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Andi volunteers at the IRC as a mentor and at Soft Landing Missoula

Photo and interview by Elliott Natz