Telling stories missing from the immigration debate

All too often, when immigration issues are discussed, there is an empty chair at the table. The people at the center of the debate are unseen and unheard.

In AFSC’s San Francisco office, Pablo Paredes is working with immigrant youth to change that. “We have to tell their story and not hide it. A movement has to be led by those most affected,” he argues. By making their stories visible, they can humanize and inform the immigration debate.

67 Sueños, the youth-led collective that he helped establish, has led marches, organized walkouts, met with legislators, and held community events to bring attention to the realities facing undocumented youth.

They have also made videos and created two highly visible murals, making the statement, “We are not afraid and we are not alone.” The murals depict the struggles and dreams of migrant people—underlined by their strength and perseverance.

The group actively challenges the stereotype that immigrant youth are either gang members or valedictorians. They point out that the vast majority (67 percent by some estimates—hence 67 Sueños) have needs not addressed by solutions like the DREAM Act, which focuses on collegebound honors students. One goal of 67 Sueños is to bring the voices and realities of these youth into the local and national dialogue.

In North Carolina, through AFSC’s Storyology project, Lori Fernald Khamala coordinates workshops to help immigrants of all ages create short, digital stories about their lives.

“The workshops build capacity,” she says. “The skills that are learned—storytelling, writing, editing, and use of technology— can be used to tell their stories well into the future.”

The workshops also create a community of many cultures, as participants work together to create and refine their stories.

“I got an opportunity to share my own story and my own feelings,” says Krishna Phuyel from Bhutan, “and to collaborate with my international friends, Mexican and African. I learned their stories, their own feelings and experiences.”

“There are so many people out there who by listening to your story can relate,” notes Kurma Murrain from Colombia. “The experience they had is not so bad because it also happens to another person.” The stories are screened widely for the general public, in schools and with community groups.

Esthela Torres from Ecuador wants non-immigrants to get a better understanding of the immigrant experience. “We are coming to the United States to do something. That is what’s important for us—do something. Not only for us, for this country, too.”

“Every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States had to struggle,” says Jose Vasquez, “but three or four generations after, they are against immigration. They forgot their past. So maybe we need to go back and revisit history and whatever we did back then to make sure that immigrants had the same opportunities as the rest of the people, let’s do that again. It’s that simple.”

Watch stories from Storyology, 67 Sueños, and other AFSC projects.