"Welcome your neighbor" signs found in yards across East Lansing
A national movement to “welcome your neighbor” has made its way onto the streets of East Lansing.
Tri-color signs written in English, Spanish and Arabic that state, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” can be found stuck in residents' yards because of East Lansing resident and MSU English instructor Austin Kaufmann.
The idea to bring these signs to Mid-Michigan started with his mother, he said.
The first sign popped up at the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in August of 2015, “in the midst of a national dialogue that was strikingly negative about immigrants,” the website reads.
Interest in the signs increased rapidly, and Kaufmann’s mother gifted him a sign of his own around Christmas time. Finding admiration for the cause, he said he wished someone would bring the signs to his neck of the woods.
“(It’s) not going to happen unless somebody does it, so I just decided I would do it,” Kaufmann said.
Since January, when he initiated the sign distribution, approximately 600 signs have been purchased and dispersed.
“We want it to be about something that we’re for and not something that we’re against,” Kaufmann said.
The community, including East Lansing resident Melissa Lehti-Shiu, has rallied behind the cause.
Lehti-Shiu made the decision to take part in the movement after noticing the signs in the front yards of her neighbors. Her husband is an immigrant from Taiwan and they wanted to show support for other immigrants.
“I had gotten the feeling that there was a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment and it was important to me and my husband … to show people that we support them no matter where they come from,” Lehti-Shiu said.
Kaufmann utilized his connections through the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, and senior minister Rev. Kathryn Bert, to connect with the community and get the message out.
Bert brought several signs to hand out to her neighbors, and before she knew it, they speckled the street she calls home.
“I think this is our statement against intolerance and definitely in response to the election,” Bert said. “And concern about increasing intolerance, and the ban of course.”
She said the actions that have taken place, such as the travel ban of certain countries, have made immigrants not feel particularly welcome.
Generally speaking, Kaufmann said the response he received from his neighbors is overwhelmingly positive. Having lived in the neighborhood for five years, the signs have served as a catalyst for making connections with people he didn’t know before.
But the signs are not a political statement.
“We didn’t want it to be a red thing or a blue thing,” he said.
While he acknowledges there is no coincidence as to when the signs came out, and what was happening with the presidential election, the primary focus is that the signs represent a value that is being supported.
“People should, obviously, follow whatever path that they feel compelled to do, politically speaking, but I think on a neighborhood level — if you’re focusing so much on resistance — that becomes very antagonistic and not necessarily what anyone wants in terms of their own neighborhoods,” Kaufmann said.