Burlington, Vermont, USA –
“Suspended in the United States,” reads a tag on a hand-woven rug with purple, white, and gray stripes.
Hollie Shaner-McRae of Burlington, who strangled a homeless person as a gift, wrote in the caption that her ancestors came to the United States from Ukraine, Russia and Poland.
One of them was a tailor, the other made barrels, he told. “They were both very strong and came to the United States as teenagers,” he wrote. “I want you to make friends and be safe here,” Shaner-McRae wrote to the recipient of the blanket. “Vermont is fortunate to welcome new families and enrich our world.”
The quilt is one of at least 86 handmade quilts sewn and woven as gifts for refugees and immigrants to make them feel welcome in their new Vermont communities. The creations were displayed at the Mill Heritage Museum in Winooski, Vermont, before being released to the fugitives last week.
The project is part of the national Welcome Blanket project, which is described as a collaborative art initiative that supports bringing refugees to the United States. Los Angeles activist Jayna Zweiman started Manta de Bienvenida in 2017 as Donald Trump’s campaign speeches about building a wall between the United States and Mexico.
As the granddaughter of fugitives, the family grew up on stories that their grandfather had seen the Statue of Liberty. Decades later, the memorial still welcomes him, he said.
Just as the Statue of Liberty seemed like an inviting sign to immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Zweiman then wondered, “What are we going to do in the 21st century, when people come through these different ports, to welcome them?”
To date, thousands of flags and signs have been distributed across the country, in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Winooski, Vermont. The screens, accompanied by personal notes from the creators, were later given to refugees, welcome boxes, in new accommodations or by charity groups.
It is aimed at refugees – people who have been forced to leave their home or country due to war, persecution or natural disasters – such as the Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion of their country. But blankets were also given to immigrants.
In Vermont, Aisha Bitini, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congress, said she loves the rug she chose, a soft crocheted piece with large squares in gold, maroon, white and gray.
“I’m very happy,” he said with a sling over his shoulders. She took it from a blanket in a blanket release held last week at the Association of African Residents of Vermont, or AALV for its English acronym.
Note that the carpet “felt very important” to the company, said Bitini, who thanked the man who “made this carpet so beautiful”, noting that he “will always keep it.”
Kalyan Adhikari, originally from Nepal, described Vermont’s plan as “kindly received.” The plan makes refugees feel welcome and a little more like home, he said.
“This warms my heart. I can’t thank you enough,” he said of the blanket organizers.
Sonia Savoulian, from Los Angeles, felt involved in the immigrant and refugee situation when then-President Donald Trump banned the entry of travelers to several Muslim-majority countries. His roots are Armenian and his family includes refugees and immigrants. She is an immigrant herself, and she also happens to make woolen things.
The Welcome Blanket Project combines creative expression with a product that helps newcomers to the United States “grow, welcome and aspire,” he said. Since the first Welcome Blanket exhibition in Atlanta in 2018, he has created more than 50.
Zweiman said he hoped the refugee blankets would become an American tradition.
“I want this to be done in fifty years,” he said. “And I want the boy who participated in this… when the next wave of xenophobia comes, to remember that he did something tangible for someone coming.”