VSA/SCIA event aims to show diversity of refugee experiences

In an effort to encourage compassion and camaraderie between immigrants and refugees, the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) and the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy (SCIA) recently hosted a three-speaker panel followed by dialogue with the audience. The Immigration and Refugee Panel, held on Monday, April 3 in Carey Auditorium, featured student speakers Alyssa Ngo, Libby Heredia, and Gargi Purohit. The event, a collaboration between VSA and SCIA, was designed as a follow-up to Migrant Monologues, an annual SCIA event similar to the popular, monologue-centered Show Some Skin.

During the panel, each speaker discussed a personal story in the context of the immigrant and refugee experience. Questions and comments from the audience followed these emotional, and occasionally tearful, talks. During the round of questions, the speakers emphasized that no one should feel hesitant to act as an ally of immigrants and refugees. Speakers also discussed the difficulty of explaining their stories to those who might not empathize; the need to “educate” classmates on immigration was described as “exhausting.” The dialogue, though often serious and heavy, had its positive moments: Purohit expressed gratitude for her ability to attend Notre Dame despite her undocumented status, and Heredia stressed that despite the difficulties of the immigrant experience, the support of her friends helps her feel that she is “not alone.”

The Rover spoke to Ngo (VSA president in addition to speaker), and Adriana Cantos (SCIA vice president), on the collaboration between the two clubs and the goals behind both Migrant Monologues and Monday’s panel. Both Ngo and Cantos emphasized the role that post-election acts of hatred played in the planning of both events. Cantos, for example, cited “hurtful language” and microaggressions, while Ngo discussed recent acts of vandalism carried out against minority students. Ngo described a widespread unawareness of campus climate in the context of immigration issues, especially among non-minority students. “People who don’t face these issuesthey are kind of under this impression that Notre Dame is such a nice, friendly community,” said Ngo. Minorities, Ngo continued, experience incidents indicative of prejudice “a lot more often than people would want to think.”

Of her club’s event itself, Ngo stated, “What I really want to focus on in this panel is that I think that when people talk about these things, they’re like, ‘Of course you’re Latina, of course you support immigration.’ … But I don’t think they understand specifically what it is about our lives that leads us to have these opinions … Things happen that make you see why things should be this way.”

SCIA performed Migrant Monologues with a similar goal: to encourage discussion of immigration issues and to expand students’ ideas of what constitutes the immigration experience. “We just really want to have discussion out therepeople talking about these different perspectives,” says Cantos of her club’s event.

Both Ngo and Cantos spoke of the similar challenges associated with the planning of such personal, story-centered events. “It’s a complicated issueI think it’s hard to get people. They have their stories, but to sit on a student panel … and talk about yourself that way can be challenging for some,” said Ngo. “[P]eople think ‘Oh, my story is not that unique. It’s like the typical refugee experience, and the typical immigration experience. Like, what is the typical experience?’”

“A lot of people do have a lot of good stories, and they kind of assume everyone else will write a story, and then no one writes a story,” said Cantos of Migrant Monologues. “But we got a pretty decent amount of submissions this year. I’m just hoping next year, more people will decide to share.”

“For the panel, what I really want people to see are the small details and the intricacies that go into each and every part of experiences in these lives,” Ngo stated. “People assume that if they know this one part about you, then they know the whole story … there is no typical experience.”

Alison O’Neil is a freshman biological sciences major. In her free time, she enjoys watching rabbits and squirrels and searching for her silver-and-black Razor scooter, which is still missing. Contact aoneil1@nd.edu with any information on the scooter’s whereabouts.