Editor’s note: “Green Card Voices” is a multi-media project that captures the individuality of the immigration experience via digital storytelling, books, public speaking and traveling exhibits that chronicle the stories of children and youth who came to America as immigrants or refugees.
Recently, Hamida Dakane, a VISTA volunteer with LSSND and a native of Kenya, brought a group of young contributors from “Green Card Voices” to the community of McVille, N.D.(population 336) to share their stories. Here are her thoughts on the experience:
When we speak only of the tragedy, and nothing of the resilience of the people, we shade them as helpless victims. Calling them voiceless when they have voices reinforces the narrative that they are pathetic and can do nothing. Recently, a group of students from “Green Card Voices” demonstrated that they have a voice, just by the way they engaged an audience of McVille, ND, residents through their stories.
In their stories, they try not to dwell on the shortcomings of their upbringing so much, although the image of a dewy-eyed 10- or 12 year-old kid surrounded by the type of violence that most adults only catch glimpses of on their televisions or computers is enough to waver even the toughest of hearts. Explaining to people that life was never easy, regardless of how young they were. They were left to figure out things that most grownups would have no idea how to handle. Many conceal pain and sorrow in it. It’s a way of showing resilience and optimism. But attaining that level of understanding itself is part of maturity. I was amazed by how these young students were coping with life’s difficulties. It makes me think that tough times pass like bad dreams. On the other hand, it reminded me that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way, we can always give it meaning. We can transform it into something of value, which these students are doing in small towns across North Dakota by sharing their “Green Card Voices” stories, which warmed the hearts of the great community of McVille residents.
The students used their stories to facilitate diversity, conversation and cultural integration by simply making time to engage with people different from them. Listening to each other and answering their questions enhanced understanding of each other and our lives through awareness. This trip was making use of local place and people for cultural learning that is rooted in the local community and to build a sense of connection to people and promoting growth while seeing the speakers as real human beings.
Students shared not only their stories but also their talent. Divine and Alien sang a gospel song called “Asante Mungu wangu,” which means “thank you my god or lord,” and Badal danced a modified Indian dance, which the people of McVille loved so much, they asked if he could go back and do it again and again.
Students reflected on the trip and the community at large, saying McVille was the best, seconded by their trip to Minot. They enjoyed the place and the people – especially the people, they were welcoming and engaging.
I feel so proud to share this because we are in a MOMENT where the call to be YOURSELF couldn't be any stronger. No matter who you are or where you come from, each of us has something to offer that can only come through US. And as much as we know this, we still battle with fear and doubt. As you read this, let these beautiful souls inspire you.