Through Bryant University’s sixth annual "I Stand with Immigrants" panel, three Bryant students and alumna Manuela Duque '19, all of whom identify as immigrants, shared their stories, perspectives and advice on building a stronger, more global community.
Organized by Bryant’s chapter of the Association for Latino Professionals of America (ALFPA) and moderated by Tanialyz Almenas '22, ALFPA's President, the panel was part of a national campaign to empower immigrants and their allies to share their stories, demonstrate the benefits of immigration and drive positive action.
“I think it's important for these panels to exist so that Bryant students are exposed to some of the realities of life for the immigrants that come to our campus–the difficulties they’ve gone through and the triumphs that they’ve had,” says Senior Lecturer of Modern Language Patricia Gomez, a lead organizer for the panel each year, who notes that it has become an important annual tradition at the University. “Hearing real, authentic stories that are told in an authentic way enriches their knowledge and enriches who they are.”
The panelists spoke about their personal journeys, the challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve come to call Bryant their home, covering topics ranging from culture shock to the citizenship process. “It takes a lot of strength mentally and physically to leave a place that you feel comfortable in and travel to a whole different world–because every country is a different world,” reflects Duque who came to America from Colombia when she was 14 and recently earned her American citizenship. “The language is different. The food is different. People are different.”
"I think it's even more important now to use the word immigrant and to actually be proud of it, take strength in it, and use it to help us all grow. The USA was created for and by immigrants and people tend to forget that. All of us, coming from so many different countries, strengthen and bring beauty to this one.”
“The word ‘immigrant’ has such a negative connotation for so many, especially when you look at the media, the way that they portray it and the way that it's stereotyped,” she said. “I think one of the biggest challenges for me is making people understand that I am not an invader, I’m just someone who came from another place who’s here now, a place where I belong.”
For Alejandro Vaquerano ’23, whose parents came to America from El Salvador when they were 19, his experience meant finding a middle ground between his heritage and his peers. “It took me a really long time to find people I felt comfortable being myself around because I always felt like I was putting on a different version of myself for others because I wanted to fit in. I didn't want to lose any part of myself, but I still want to be an active member of my community,” he notes. "But I think with coming to college and becoming friends with people that are much more similar to me, I feel much more comfortable talking about where I come from.”
Ramon Luis Fille ’22, who came to America from the Philippines when he was a child suggested that, in turbulent times, it was important to remind the world of the many benefits immigration brings. “I think it's even more important now to use the word immigrant and to actually be proud of it, take strength in it, and use it to help us all grow,” he notes. “The USA was created for and by immigrants and people tend to forget that. All of us, coming from so many different countries, strengthen and bring beauty to this one.”
“Everyone in America has roots in their own countries and their own cultures. And everyone has their own story.”
“I'm proud to be Italian and I'm proud that I come from there,” said Sofia Vittori ’23, who comes from Rome, Italy. “And I’m happy to be here. I just have to remember who I am and not just become whoever people here want me to be. I can represent my country and be proud of that.”
Honoring each other’s cultures while building a caring community means supporting and working to understand one another, the panelists said. Duque credited Bryant’s Intercultural Center and 4MILE orientation program for multicultural students as especially helpful with her transition to college. “When I came to Bryant it was one of the first experiences I had to be immersed with people like me,” she says. “The first week of 4MILE was awesome. I think that was the best experience I ever had and I made connections that are still there today because of 4MILE.”
Building intercultural bonds, says Fille, is a something we all need to work on together, both on campus and beyond. “The word multicultural, doesn't just refer to the underrepresented groups, it means all of us. Everyone has their own culture they bring to the table,” he reminded the crowd.
“Bryant is a community committed to preparing the next generation of leaders and to be a leader in this day and age requires a really strong, muscular sense of empathy and appreciation for different cultures and different perspectives.”
“Everyone in America has roots in their own countries and their own cultures,” Duque added “And everyone has their own story.”
A brighter tomorrow
The panel, says Almenas, who also served as moderator, should serve as a catalyst for reflection and discussion. “I hope that everyone in the audience tonight goes home and thinks about their own culture and what they can bring to conversations. I also hope they take a moment to really consider and understand the challenges that others face,” she says. “Having conversations like this leads to future conversations.”
Events like "I Stand with Immigrants" are an important part of the fabric of Bryant’s community, notes Veronica McComb, Ph.D., the Dean of Bryant’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Bryant is a community committed to preparing the next generation of leaders and to be a leader in this day and age requires a really strong, muscular sense of empathy and appreciation for different cultures and different perspectives,” she says. “It's essential that we have panels like this so that we understand our community better; who we are and where we come from. To be able to connect with one another, we need to be able to have these kinds of conversations.”