Immigrant Voices sheds light on incredible diversity of immigrant experiences in United States

The Equity and Justice Council hosted an Immigrant Voices forum as one of their first big events after revamping from the Multicultural Leadership Board on Nov. 29 in Jones Auditorium.

The “TED-talk” style of the event, which included four planned speakers and one impromptu, aspired to humanize the experiences of immigrants in the United States, a sentiment best summed up by speaker Tania Mejia: “When we tell our stories, we share our humanity.”

Mejia, the Communications Director of JOLT Texas, a local nonprofit that registers Latinos to vote, was the final speaker of the night and the only non-St. Edward’s student to share her story.

In addition to Mejia, two officers from the African Student Organization, seniors Caroline Ikpea and Gamuchirayi Marikano, shared their experiences of emigrating from Nigeria and Zimbabwe, respectively. Senior Norma Itzel Salas, a first-generation American with Mexican parents, spoke Wednesday night, as well as Josue Damian-Martinez, a DACA recipient and Peer Minister for Social Justice at Campus Ministry.

The diversity of the forum’s speakers mirrored the incredible variety of immigrant experiences in the United States, where foreign-born immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for approximately 27 percent of the total population. In 2015 alone, the United States granted permanent legal residency to 1.36 million immigrants, and almost 900,000 international students enrolled in US colleges and universities. Just at St. Edward’s, 329 international students enrolled in the Fall 2016 semester.

As one of those students, Ikpea stated that her main motive for moving to the United States was to get a better education. In Nigeria, where the largest industry is oil production, she stated that there are limited opportunities for graduates, despite a “large population of very talented people,” which causes many Nigerians to aspire to receive an education in the United States. Ikpea said that many Nigerians, herself included, believe that “the United States will definitely have this opportunity for them to explore their talents.”

Ikpea ended her 15 minutes by explaining that she wants to go back to Nigeria after attaining a doctorate., in order to help her native country achieve greater prosperity and offer more opportunities.

Salas, the second speaker of the night, said that much of her appreciation for the difficulty of the Mexican-American immigrant experience comes from her parents’ stories and her work at the UT Law Clinic.

“Being an immigrant in the United States is not easy. Seeking asylum in the United States is not easy. Building a wall is not going to solve it,” Salas said.

Marikano used her 15 minutes to relate the story of a trip she took last summer to Zimbabwe, the purpose of which was to “reclaim what I lost in my immigration to the United States” several years prior.

Marikano detailed the trip in order to shed light on what she considers to be an underrepresented aspect of the immigrant experience: going back home. She said that she actually felt “least Zimbabwean when I was in Zimbabwe” because of the way people there referred to her as “the American” and the language barrier that presented itself; however, this was only a “logistical challenge” that she was able to overcome and connect with her family and homeland.

Damian-Martinez, who is a DACA recipient, related the story of his childhood and challenges that came along with his experiences, along with explaining how the actions of the current administration have affected his life and those close to him.

“We often throw around this word ‘dreamers’,” he said. “But the word dreamers should really be applied to the parents.”