Different Perspectives Through the Lens of Undocumented Immigrants | The American Word

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Different Perspectives Through the Lens of Undocumented Immigrants

Candace Reyes | 11/10/16 12:28pm
| Updated 11/10/16 12:28pm

Maia Lev /
American Word Magazine

The stories of immigrants have been overshadowed by politics because immigration is a controversial topic in the eyes of many Americans. The students and faculty at American University have come together in an attempt to share and express these stories in order to give value and importance to immigrants’ lives, which is sometimes not given enough.

It’s known that every person has his or her own story, but not everyone shares it. On Nov. 1, three brave young adults (two high schoolers and one college student) from Mexico and El Salvador visited American University to share and discuss their unique individual stories. They spoke about their experiences and challenges with adapting to a new environment and how especially hard it was being “different” (undocumented immigrants). These stories delve deeper into the lives of Latin Americans that most Americans don’t normally get to see or understand.

Daisy migrated from Mexico to the United States in 2010 when she was 12 years old for one primary reason: access to education. She was surrounded by gangs and violence in Mexico and even recalled a memory of someone breaking into her home in an attempt to kill her and her siblings. Daisy has the same exact dreams as American citizens do, and the only way she will be able to achieve them is by receiving a valuable education in the States. She has faced tremendous challenges, including trying to learn a new language and being placed in a school setting where she was constantly bullied and tormented. But, these experiences shaped her identity, values and goals. She expressed, “I know I’ll still be able to accomplish all my dreams and goals,” no matter the adversity she has faced and continues to face.

Karina, who is now a college student at Marymount University, migrated to the United States after being separated from her parents who migrated to the U.S. years before. She struggled to maintain relationships with her parents, especially after not knowing them most of her early years. Also struggling with a new atmosphere and environment, she faced hardships when kids continued to bully her for not being able to speak English. However, through it all, she was able to finish high school third in her class. But, she was limited when applying to college because she wasn’t an American citizen. “It’s just nine numbers that I don’t have,” she explained when talking about her limited access to higher education and scholarships because she didn’t have a social security number. Fortunately, she had the opportunity to apply to Marymount and accepted a $14,000 scholarship from the university.

Mauricio migrated from El Salvador to the United States when he was 15 years old to reunite with his mother, who migrated to the U.S. 10 years earlier. Moving was necessary for him because it meant that he could finally live without being surrounded by the gang violence, poverty and lack of education in El Salvador. The challenges Mauricio faced were frustrating for him because, unlike the American students surrounding him, he was denied from opportunities and benefits, job opportunities and higher education. But, this is what motivates Mauricio to do well in high school and strive for higher education. “You’re in a situation when you understand nothing. The only advice to give is [that] you have to be a fighter and you have to keep fighting,” Mauricio said.

These stories differ from the ones that are told through the lens of the day laborers featured in “Invisible Hands: Jornaleros,” a photography exhibit that was held at the Katzen Arts Center until Nov. 7. The main goal of this exhibit was to “encourage the viewer to observe those familiar spaces, those faces and those gestures in order to challenge our own perceptions of the photographer and the context where the photo was taken.”

The photos take you on the journey of a typical day in the lives of these Latin American laborers. The exhibit began with immigrants shoveling snow and waiting on street corners or in parking lots, and these photos gave the impression of a sense of unity in the community. They also displayed immigrants making business negotiations, painting or rebuilding houses, cleaning the insides of houses and cleaning windows of restaurants. They all had one goal in common, which was to put food on the table for their families. The gallery ended with more photos of laborers waiting on the corners for more job opportunities, but then transitioned to the immigrants going home to their families. This is important because it allowed viewers to realize that they have families too; immigrants work hard and want to provide for their families just as equally as American citizens. Through this, you can see the sacrifice and hard work that they suffer through everyday just to make sure that they can provide, because they know that if they were back in their homeland, they would not be able to.

These two powerful yet different platforms that express the stories of Latin American immigrants provide AU students with new, eye-opening perspectives about why it’s important to understand the severity of immigration and why people flee to America. While there are programs and reforms that are attempting to give undocumented immigrants the tools to live a fulfilling life, it isn’t enough. While people are aware of the issue and want change, activists must do something more than post on Facebook. They must make a phone call. They must go out and vote. They must make a change in order to give equal opportunity to the youth who have the same goal of becoming a lawyer, a doctor, an educator, something of importance in which they wouldn’t have the chance in their home countries.