By Setota Hailemariam
During times when it seems like disparaging talk on the news of “illegals,” “terrorists” or “aliens” is inescapable, it is important now more than ever to uplift the stories of immigrants, and show that they belong in this country — a country that once claimed to welcome the huddled masses, but is now sadly losing sight of that creed.
Muslim Alliance for Social Change president and senior math and philosophy majors Sarah Eshera alluded to this in her speech that introduced the organization’s event, Untold Stories: The Immigrant Experience on Oct. 19.
“We must center these experiences,” she said. She went on to explain that she started the advocacy group after noting the absence of a coalition for Muslim students on campus, an absence greatly noticeable especially after the election of Trump last year.
Eshera then introduced the first performer, sophomore computer science major Nimo Hired, co-president of the newly-founded Somali Student Association on campus.
Reading the poem “Home” by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, Hired delivered a moving performance that reminded the audience to consider the struggles immigrants have to face when leaving their place of birth.
“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” was a particularly impactful line.
Nadiya Rizkia, who graduated from this university last year with a degree in psychology, gave another evocative presentation as she shared her story of immigrating to the U.S. from Indonesia and her family’s financial struggle afterwards.
She mentioned that her mother earned a degree in computer engineering back home, but can’t use it here because she doesn’t have papers and is treated like she’s unintelligent at work.
Experiences like this are truly the untold stories: the aftermath of moving to a new country and how drastically different life becomes for you and your family.
After a performance from African Dance troupe Diazporic and a brief intermission, the show continued with another story from sophomore information systems major at Montgomery College, Aziz Ahmed, also from Somalia. He spoke about learning to embrace his culture, in spite of the media’s negative portrayal of Somalia as solely a violent country.
Perhaps the highlight of the night, though, was the spoken word performance by student Naeem Baig who closed the show. In the self-written piece, Baig questions his previously unwavering loyalty to America, citing the ignorant stereotypes about Muslims that our society promotes. “Took the S out of ‘slaughter,’ now it’s all funny business,” he passionately emoted.
Beruk Mehari, 19, from Silver Spring, Maryland, recognized the importance of the event. “I feel as though the biggest cure to ignorance is informing people, and the best way to do it is by planting seeds in the minds of the youth, in the hopes of … breeding a whole new generation in the future that isn’t ignorant, but is aware of the problems in this world and goes about them by fixing it with love.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of UMD Muslim Alliance for Social Change’s Facebook.
Setota Hailemariam is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.