Inter-Asian Council hosts gala showcasing stories of immigrants at Hopkins

By KAREN WANG | April 12, 2018

COURTESY OF KAREN WANG The gala featured photos of student immigrants and snippets of interviews in which they shared their stories.

The Inter-Asian Council (IAC) hosted a gala for its Immigrants of Hopkins photo campaign on Wednesday in Mudd Atrium. The gala showcased photos and snippets of interviews from student immigrants and students with family members who are immigrants. 

Junior Evelyn Yeh, IAC vice president, stated that the campaign was inspired by the photojournal Humans of New York. IAC created the campaign in order to amplify conversations on immigration and immigrant visibility. 

“We wanted this project to be a way to enlighten people about the people who are affected by these issues, who are living on campus,” Yeh said. “We wanted to give them a platform to be able to tell their story.”

Sophomore Nicole Muehleisen said that she connected with one photo featuring a girl who speaks Portuguese with her father and Spanish with her mother.

“I speak Spanish with my mom and German with my dad,” Muehleisen said. “I relate to the idea of not knowing exactly where you fit in growing up in the United States. I think it’s really cool that this is happening because it’s not really something you usually talk about.”

Freshman Shauna Rosenau also empathized with many of the students. 

“It’s really cool but sad to see the different experiences that each person went through,” Rosenau said. “My mom had a really hard time getting here [and attaining] her citizenship. So reading some of these stories, I really feel for the people.”

Yeh believes that the campaign is important in changing negative views of immigration. She also hopes that the photos will help students realize that immigrants are not an isolated group. 

“People talk about [immigrants] as if they are people that they don’t really associate with, like they don’t know immigrants themselves,” Yeh said. “But we have immigrants on campus. We all know someone [who has an immigrant background], and we can’t just dehumanize them... You can’t just write them off as if they’re an entirely different group of people.”

Junior Kush Mansuria was an interviewee in the campaign. He decided to share his experiences as a second-generation Indian American because of his interest in knowing where people originated from.

“I’m someone who’s interested in how people came to where they are now, what their background was and what led them to where they are today,” Mansuria said. “I kind of just wanted to share my own story on how I got to where I am today, and through my story, to also share my parents’ story.”

Mansuria’s parents immigrated to the U.S. in the ‘90s and settled in Parsippany, N.J., a diverse immigrant community. 

He explained that there are many immigrants in Parsippany, making its community a diverse mixture of people and cultures. 

“It’s really nice to grow up in a neighborhood like this, because it promoted diversity,” he said. “When I came here, I didn’t realize how different life back home was to here, because some people grow up in very homogenous communities.”

According to Mansuria, being exposed to various backgrounds helped him become more appreciative of other cultures.

“Cultural differences are less noticed in such a diverse community, especially between eastern and western cultures,” Mansuria said. “For example, my friends would often bring food from home for lunch, and it’s something we would often share, so it was a really cool thing to have this community which was appreciative of different cultures.”

Mansuria additionally stated that growing up in the U.S. has helped him recognize the privileges he has had while simultaneously facilitating his appreciation of Indian traditions and cultures. 

“I can see the huge contrast in life [between America and India], so I’m able to appreciate the privileges that I have growing up in America,” Mansuria said. “At the same time I have a greater appreciation for my culture as well, because that’s something that’s harder to preserve when moving to America, because it’s something that gets lost in wanting to assimilate.”

However, Mansuria said that sometimes, his different cultural backgrounds clash. Alluding to the notion of a ‘Third Culture Kid’ — someone who is U.S.-born but has parents who are immigrants — Mansuria stated that he does not see himself as either completely American or completely Indian.

“A lot of times, certain values that are western or American aren’t the values that are from India,” Mansuria said. “This is something I’m trying to understand and navigate, because I see a clash of cultures at times, so it’s been difficult figuring out if I’m more Indian or more American and where I fit in on this spectrum.”

Freshman Isabel Rios-Pulgar immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela at the age of one, and she expressed similar sentiments about being a part of two cultures.

“Because I [grew up in] Miami, I’m very much Venezuelan in the sense that the culture’s still with me. I listen to the music. I know what’s going on back there. I watch the news there,” Rios-Pulgar said. “It’s nice because I get to call myself both and have the good values of both.”

Rios-Pulgar additionally emphasized that coming from an immigrant background does not make someone any less American and used this assertion to face discrimination. When people tell her to go back to where she came from, Rios-Pulgar said that she stands up for herself. 

“I say ‘this is my country, I don’t have to prove it to you,’” Rios-Pulgar said. “The easiest way is to just turn around and say ‘I’m as much American as you are.’ I feel like that’s the best way to change that discrimination.”

Being an immigrant has made Rios-Pulgar more aware of other countries’ plights — like her native Venezuela’s — and the importance in providing aid to them. 

“Being an immigrant, it’s that sense that we’re not the only country in this world. We need to help other countries that are going through crises,” Rios-Pulgar said. “To have that isolationist perspective, to put America first, is to not pay attention to the fact that all of these [immigrants] come from different countries.”

Yeh expressed that she hoped the campaign would foster a more empathetic view of immigrants and direct the conversation away from ignorance.

“It’s a difficult thing to take action, but the least you can do is to speak out whenever you hear someone being ignorant,” Yeh said. “You can’t really ask everyone to be an activist, but you’ve just got to pay attention to the people around you and empathize with them.”

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