A Review: Immigration Stories from St. Scholastica Faculty – by Matthew Breeze. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
From Professor Liang, NSR Editor-in-Chief: Thanks to Office of International Programs Director Alison Champeaux and student assistant Eleni Birhane for organizing this panel discussion.
The College of Saint Scholastica Office of International Programs sponsored a recent event at CSS during which three professors who immigrated to the U.S. shared their stories, advice, and general information about the immigration process. True stories about immigrants are hard to find in our current political environment. Both sides of the political spectrum use immigrant stories as a form of propaganda. The lack of real stories or true information leads many of us to be ignorant of what is really going on with immigration, luckily CSS is fortunate enough to have a few professors who are themselves immigrants and who were willing to speak about their experiences.
Each of the three professors spoke eloquently and intelligently, each with their own style and flair, but each professor spoke well to the audience of mostly students. There were many students at this event, surprisingly few faculty were in attendance. Some classes encourages students to come and watch and it appeared that quite a few students came because of general interest. All of the speakers are professors, and they all had varied experiences in their immigration stories and process. Professor Chaparadza is from Zimbabwe, Professor Alwan is from Iraq, and Professor Liang is from Taiwan. One professor came to the U.S. with his family as a child in 1978, one came in 2003 after a teacher told him there would be more opportunities for getting into a Ph.D program, and one came in 1978 to study medicine, but ended up studying civil engineering.
The talk was moderated by Office of International Programs Director Alison Champeaux ,who kept the discussion moving and asked questions of the three professors before the discussion was opened up to student questions. The moderator’s questions included “How American do you feel? How do you stay connected to your cultural identity? What do you see for the next generation? Where do you see our biggest need or what is the biggest driver to change immigration laws in the U.S.?”
The speakers had differing ideas about how American they feel. A common thread however was that after this last election they all felt more excluded from their Americanness. That as of late it is impossible not to feel conscious of that fact that some may not view them as American. In a way that currently it is common to feel ‘othered’ within the United States, even after living, working, and raising a family for years or decades in the U.S. Even after becoming U.S. citizens they now feel as though there is not a lot of room for flexibility in defining what being an American is. Being an American is “tricky” as one speaker said. Now it is even more tricky than it has been in the past.
Although each of the speakers is a professor, pays taxes, gives back to the community and probably knows more about the American system of government than the average student, let alone citizen, they now feel ostracized in their own country. The United States really is their country, they consider themselves American and have the legal status to be so. Yet discrimination rears its ugly head, whether openly or subtly.
They told stories of how long and arduous the process of becoming a citizen is, that it is very expensive, costing thousands of dollars and years. One speaker said that it took him 13 long years to get his sister into the U.S, even after he signed all the paperwork saying he would pay for all of her expenses, including living expenses once here. The sheer amount of time that the process takes to go through is astonishing to someone like me who is not familiar with it.
When asked what needs the most changing in the U.S. in terms of immigration legislation the three speakers all made good points, all different, but related, to each other. The first said that the U.S. needs to focus on brains, possibly copying the system in the United Kingdom where an individual earns certain numbers of points for skills and when a certain threshold is reached they are in. The second speakers said a points system is a good idea, but that more than that these laws and decisions need to be made with reason and not with emotion and anger. Decisions need to be based on a reasonable reality more than they are today. The last speaker said that what needs to change is one word, simplify. The process needs to be more simple because the complexity and length and expense almost forces, or at least encourages, people to do things illegally.
All three agreed that there needs to be more education on the immigration system and about what immigrants are actually like and looking for in the U.S. They all agreed that the average American student should know more, be taught more, about immigration and immigrants in America today so that propaganda from both sides of the political aisle is not taken as fact.
At the end of the talk one student asked what advice the three professor would have for the average white American male in terms of these issues. The professors thought this was an excellent question and their answers, all detailed and specific in their own ways, I will summarize as not being afraid to ask questions. That we cannot come to understand one another if we do not ask questions. Considerate thoughtful questions are needed for all sides to get to know each other and to better understand issues around immigration and immigrants themselves.
Fortunately St. Scholastica and the CSS Office of International Programs was able to hold an event where those kinds of questions could be asked and discussed. Immigrant stories are important, especially today, and the whole country could probably use a few more events like this one.
Matthew serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
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