The city of Clarkston has a celebration planned for July Fourth, complete with a community pool party, hot dogs on the grill and sparklers for the kids.
It sounds like a scene from thousands of small towns across the country, but the holiday has a particular poignancy for many of the 13,000 residents in the small Georgia city, 31.8 percent of whom were not born in the U.S.
The celebration will mark a joyous day for people like Maryam Ahmad Jan, 29, a single mother who escaped a dangerous situation in her native Afghanistan with her young son and daughter in February to settle in the town located just east of Atlanta.
The fear she felt getting off the plane with her children has been replaced by hope for a better future.
“Compared to the past, living in America is much different,” Jan told TODAY through an interpreter. “I see my children. I see smiles on their faces. I see lots of changes in my daily life. I see them happy, and I’m extremely happy.”
Clarkston has become what mayor Ted Terry calls the “Ellis Island of the South,” a destination for international refugees that packs 40 nationalities speaking 60 languages into the town’s 1.4 square miles.
Amid angry rhetoric about immigration policies in America, Terry, 35, believes Clarkston shines as an example of how a diverse group of people can live together and make it work.