Immigrant voices are heard during panel

By Annette Quijada

East Los Angeles College’s Women and Gender Studies Program sponsored a panel discussion based on “A Migrants Story,” by Reyna Grande. 

The purpose of the panel was to create a safe space for  presenters to tell their migration story as well as share their struggles with identity and culture.

Panelists included ELAC sociology professor Renato Jimenez, author Alia Gabres, ELAC student Katya Alvarado and Iliana Perez, director of research and entrepreneurship with Immigrants Rising. 

This panel was inspired by award winning author Reyna Grande. In Grandes’ book, “A Distance Between Us,” she talks about her life before and after she migrated from Mexico to the United States as an undocumented child. 

Each panelist described their arrival to a different country and while their families goals were identical, each story was different. Gabres migrated from Saudi Arabia to Australia. Perez migrated with her family from Mexico to the Central Valley-California in 1995. 

Alvarado, although only being 4 years old, remembered her and her mothers journey to the U.S with the help of a “coyote,” referred to in the U.S as an “immigrant smuggler.” Professor Jimenez arrived in the U.S. in 1985 from Guatemala also with the help of a “coyote.” 

Alvarado talked about how difficult it was for her during her first year at ELAC. 

She had zero information about higher education and due to being a first generation student, she was navigating the system on her own. “It wasn’t until I encountered the Dream Resource Center when I finally felt known and seen.They helped me with my onboarding process. “

“The Dream Resource Center honestly brought me so many opportunities in higher education and community college.” 

Alvarado is currently a student ambassador at the DRC and has been able to speak at different task force meetings. 

She said being able to help the undocumented community is huge to her. 

Panelists were asked how they were able to transmit and preserve their own culture and identity while going through the process of migration. They all admitted to have struggled with trying to preserve their own culture while also trying to assimilate into a new one. Gabres said the stories her family told her growing up helped her stay in tune. On the other hand Jimenez said he never fully felt Guatemalan or fully American. But now as an adult he believes his identity is flourishing. One of the ways he keeps up with his culture is using his mother as a major source and having her write down her food recipes for instance. 

Words and phrases like “illegal aliens,” “wetbacks,“ and “criminals” words used in North America. impact undocumented people and their identity. Jimenez said, “When we look at the narratives and discourses that have been thrown out there to criminalize and demonize particular groups of people, I think it’s problematic if that continues.” 

Jimenez has been a victim of name calling specifically being called “mojado” or “wetback.” 

He believes it important to reappropriate terminology as a form of empowerment. In his process of empowering himself he now has tattooed “mojado” on his arm. 

He said, “I definitely think it’s important that we question, that we challenge those narratives, and we challenge those labels as much as we can make sure that we have a better perception surrounding these concepts.”

Gabres also mentions the normalization of the immigrant experience and recommends for people to sit back and reflect on the concept of migration. “There’s a lot of really beautiful things that can come out of (migration) and there’s also a lot of trauma and challenge.” 

A few resources that were recommended for others to look into were the books, “Haboba’s House,” by Alia Gabres as well as “In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty” by Mark Gonzalez.   Helpful websites to explore included and For undocumented students at ELAC the Dream Resource Center continues to provide support at (213)3942897.

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