First, second generation students share immigration stories

This story was originally published in the Oct. 27 issue of Fourth Estate.

Mason students came together on Oct. 13 to participate and watch the fourth annual Immigration Monologues. The event included students of various immigrant backgrounds sharing their own experiences as first and second-generation students in the United States, as well as their parents’ experiences.

“These stories need to be heard because immigrant stories are important and serve as a reminder of the obstacles families have overcome just to make it within the United States,” said Rodrigo Velasquez, public relations chair of Mason DREAMers, one of the organizations involved in organizing the event. “At Mason, this event is a reminder that immigrants, and people of different backgrounds, are not just statistics at this university. We all have unique, individual stories that are full of courage, growth and resilience. “

Immigration Monologues began with host Jonathan Jayes-Green, administrative director of Governor Martin O’Malley’s Commissions on Hispanic and Caribbean Affairs, sharing his own story of being an undocumented student in the United States, as well as the other difficulties that he faced growing up.

“Graduating high school, I started to understand what “undocumented” meant, when every college application I filled out kept asking me for a 9-digit social security number,” Jayes-Green said. “The one that I didn’t have. And even though I got into many colleges, it was only my community college that was able to give me an opportunity to go to school…Even when I was at Montgomery College, I was very grateful for that opportunity, because in my mind, I was struggling, I was hustling to pay that sacrifice that my mom made back.”

According to Velasquez, a significant portion of Mason’s student population is of immigrant background, with the either the students or their parents being immigrants. Vice President of University Life Rose Pascarell agreed, saying that Mason does have more first and second-generation immigrants than other schools in Virginia.

“It is part of the dynamic that makes Mason such an amazing community,” Pascarell said. “And yes, I agree that the diversity of our students in some ways reflects the diversity of the surrounding community and we probably do have a higher proportion of immigrants as a result.”

Student performances ranged from their own stories of dealing with racism and stereotyping, their parents’ stories of their journeys to the United States, and traditional dance numbers.

Sophomore Brandon Juarez-Lopez performed an original poem as well as his story of emigrating from Guatemala and adjusting to growing up in the United States.

“I don’t remember a single thing about my country, yet I love it so much,” Juarez-Lopez said. “I remember in elementary school being different, being looked down upon because I could not speak English. I remember one day my parents were about to get deported while I was in elementary school…how we were lucky. And I started to use that as an opportunity to get the most out of my education because my parents sacrificed their lives so that I could have a better one.”

Mason students have many varying stories of immigration that weren’t featured at the Immigration Monologues. Many students and their parents have fled poverty in search of a better life, while others still have fled catastrophic war and political strife. Senior Yama Azadzoi’s parents left Afghanistan in order to escape the violence that came along with the Soviet occupation. Azadzoi says that he spoke primarily Farsi as a young child, but switched to speaking English with his parents as he grew up.

“Even though life was actually natural and beautiful in Afghanistan, [my mother] believes that America has given her opportunities which she always dreamed about,” Azadzoi said. “They always say that you will miss what you lose, or what you have left behind, and it is only natural for her to think that life was real there but easier here. Life may have become more difficult as they moved here, but they were able to achieve things and build their own lives here in America.”

Azadzoi says that the thought of being one of the first in his family to attend college in America was daunting at first.

“College just seemed like the next step in my life, and it made my mom extremely proud,” Azadzoi said. “I know to this day she dreams of going to college, but my dad had kept here from attending any college; he is still predominately ‘Afghan.’ I dream of getting a decent job after college and simply putting my mom through a college bachelor’s degree, no matter what her age is.”

Senior Amina Almusawi left Iraq for Syria with her parents in the 1990s in order to escape political strife and war, after which they moved to the United States in 1998.

“We left Iraq due to the unstable situation there of course. War and violence wasn’t a good place to raise kids,” Almusawi said. “Syria was a nice place to live for a few years but my parents wanted a better life for us. They wanted us to receive the best education and to live life freely without any restrictions from outside forces such as the government. Living in third world countries wasn’t easy.”

Almusawi says that her parents made sure to speak both Arabic and English with her at home in order to combine both cultures. In Iraq, she says, her mother worked in business while her father was an engineer, so she did not experience any difficulty with attending college as a first-generation immigrant.

“There’s nothing difficult about being a first generation American and attending college,” Almusawi said. “If anything is difficult then that is a personal problem within myself, nothing due to not being raised here my whole life.”

Senior Naila Rafique also said that her parents raised her with a hybrid of both American culture and her own heritage.

“My parents still to this day say, ‘Never forget your roots, and more importantly where you came from,’” Almusawi said. “The language and culture are of great importance to both my parents and my family as a whole. To be frank, I find great pride in the fact that I can speak my language with no ‘American accent,’ where in comparison to others born in the U.S. that speak little to nothing of their ‘native’ language.”

Featured photos courtesy of the Mason Dreamers.