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In our own words

The award ceremony of the AFSC Iowa Immigrant Voice Program Youth Video Contest Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

AFSC Iowa's Immigrant Voice Program gives young people the chance to tell their stories in their own way.  

I was honored to be part of the awards ceremony for this year's Youth Video Contest, held by AFSC Iowa's Immigrant Voice Program. The youth video contest was created with the idea of attracting young people, particularly those known as "Dreamers" (immigrants who came to this country as children and who are still undocumented or have received a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), to learn how to advocate on issues that affect them and their families as well as to share their stories of challenges and resilience in their own words and in their own way.

All of the videos submitted highlighted the stories of these amazing young people, and the efforts put forth by participants, volunteer presenters, and the panel of judges were full of energy, solidarity, loving hearts, and stories of pain and hope.

During my first years as a newcomer to Des Moines, I was asked numerous times to share with a variety of audiences about my life, why I have come to this country, and the challenges newcomers face as new arrivals to this state. More often than not, I felt like I was “naked” in front of a group of strangers and didn’t see the purpose of these presentations. More often than not, I felt that I was simply a form of entertainment and after deep reflection, I started refusing to share my story unless those requesting it would give me a clear and good explanation of what the objective was. If their explanation didn’t satisfy me, I refused to do it, and I became protective of those I worked with who were also responding to the same requests.


Above: A video by Fátima Calderón, who won first place in the AFSC Iowa Immigrant Voice Program Youth Video Contest. See more video entries

Still, I knew that without us sharing our stories, it is very unlikely that people would get over their fears of “the stranger” and see us like who we are: human beings like anyone else with aspirations, challenges, and triumphs. People who want to reunite with love ones, find a safe harbor, make a living through honest work, and ultimately become full citizens of the communities where we live.

However, there are plenty of barriers that get in the way of that. First-generation immigrants have to overcome so much that it is really exhausting just to make it day by day. Second-generation immigrants also face numerous challenges—from balancing the tensions between the culture of their parents and that of the country they now live in to finding their own identity as individuals as well as members of communities that may not view immigrants as part of the fabric of our society.

Through these videos, the participants are the narrators, the storytellers, and the main subjects of their stories; they share parts of their lives in their own words. The experience itself is empowering because very rarely are we the main characters of any story in the news or in politics or in research; we are usually the objects of those which is exploitative and often there are untold agendas behind them.

Our agenda here is clear: Give voice to the voiceless, give a space to those who are often marginalized from most media outlets, and tell their story in their own words to the extent and in the way they want to do it. Most importantly, empower them to become the best version of who they can be by virtue of being in a partnership where everyone’s input is considered.

It is only our own voice that honors the reality of our personal experiences and that of our youth video participants. I invite you to watch their videos with an open heart and an open mind to reflect and take action. Recognize your innate worth so you can recognize the innate worth of our fellow new Iowans. God bless us all!

About the Author

Sandra Sanchez, director of AFSC's Iowa Immigrants Voice Program, is an immigrant from Mexico and has lived in Iowa since 1991. She worked in the private sector in Mexico City for 11 years. Her immigrant experience prompted her to shift interests to social justice issues. Mrs.