In a climate of politicians calling for restrictions on refugees coming into the U.S., square stickers popping up in stores across the Twin Cities area are saying the opposite: "Refugees welcome."
A campaign started by a Minneapolis- and Brooklyn-based team has sparked the spread of stickers depicting a family carrying baggage, along with those words. In the past few weeks, businesses and residents have snatched up close to 10,000 stickers to display in places local, such as Glam Doll Donuts in Minneapolis, and international, such as Spotify's Stockholm offices.
"When it comes to people who have just literally lost everything, isn't the right reaction just pure compassion?" said Veda Partalo, one of the founders of the sticker campaign and a refugee from Bosnia.
She saw backlash targeted toward refugees on a Facebook post she made near Thanksgiving — a user called refugees rats and said many "real Americans" don't want them — and was inspired to take action. Partalo, who is now an advertising freelancer in New York City, teamed up to create the stickers with Mike Davis and Wes Winship of the Minneapolis design, publishing and print shop Burlesque of North America. They found immediate interest from businesses near and far.
"There's a lot of people in America who disagree with the Donald Trumps of the world, but they don't necessarily vocalize it," she said.
Davis designed the sticker and opted for a stripped-down approach, saying he was hoping to make it as universal as possible. He didn't want to specify any gender or garment choices that would exclude any groups of refugees.
His wife's family came to the U.S. as refugees from Laos, he said. "We want people to ask questions and talk about this topic instead of just jumping to conclusions," he said.
A warmer welcome
After early reports that a Syrian refugee could be among those behind the November attacks in Paris — reports that have not been confirmed — more than half of U.S. governors asked to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees into their states until security concerns could be addressed. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton was not one of them.
The Facebook post Partalo made near Thanksgiving hit home for her. The holiday was her family's 19th anniversary of coming to the U.S.
She wondered how bad it must be for a recent refugee if she was getting nasty comments after being in the country since the late 1990s. Instead of feeling like an outsider, she found a warm welcome in Minneapolis when she was new to the country.
Partalo didn't expect the reaction to the stickers to be so overwhelming. The group had run out of 2,500 stickers in 24 hours, she said.
Sameh Wadi, chef at World Street Kitchen, said he found out about the stickers from his friend Davis and put the sticker up with a personal emphasis: His father was a refugee.
He said he thinks refugees can be portrayed as villains in the media but that campaigns like the stickers are helping to change the conversation.
Reactions of reaching out
Businesses that reached out to the team for stickers within the first 24 hours included Common Roots Cafe in Minneapolis, Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles in St. Paul and the Rochester Public Library, Partalo said. The stickers have spread nationally and internationally, to places like the University of Michigan and VH1 in New York.
Wadi said the sticker's reception at his Lyndale Avenue restaurant, which attracts a globally aware customer base, has been positive.
Amy Kuretsky, who owns Amy K Acupuncture in Minneapolis, put up a sticker. She also posted a picture of it on Instagram, where reception on the whole has been supportive, minus a couple of people leaving negative comments.
Partalo's hope is that through the sticker campaign, alternative points of view can be represented.
"We can play a role in how well someone adapts to our society," she said. "That's not just up to the person who comes, it's up to the community to welcome them in."
The stickers are available at http://burlesquedesign.com/products/refugees-welcome-sticker-set.