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Roots Excluded From Soil

I carry a pain—a pain I do not fully understand, the trauma of my ancestors. I find it difficult to talk about the struggle of my parents immigrating to the U.S. and the consequences that have rippled to my generation, mostly because they have done what they can to shelter me from this dark time in their lives. Only recently have I come to understand more about how the environmental conditions, including extreme poverty, high crime, drugs, violence, and corruption, led my family to flee to a foreign country. As a child of two immigrant parents, I was extremely fortunate to have been granted citizenship as a birthright in the United States.

Reality presented itself to me abroad when the first baby born in Vel Marí (a refugee center in Sardinia, Italy) was born to immigrant parents but was not granted the same citizen status and fighting chance that I had been. Italian law dictates that citizenship can only be considered after proof of five years of residency. I cannot help but wonder what her life would be like growing up on soils that fight her existence—will she ever truly understand the extent of the battles her parents and she will have and will continue to face? How do you heal a wound you do not understand or cannot even see?

This project was an opportunity for University of Washington students and Vel Marí refugees to exchange their stories with each other. It became a platform for us to explain who we are and where we are from; a chance for us to introduce our world through our own eyes. For the first time in my life I sat down and truly reflected on my family’s experiences immigrating to the U.S. and their continuous struggle with hard labor jobs, language barriers, navigating foreign healthcare systems, and constant discrimination. All of these challenges were reflected in the “Where I’m From” story exchange of people who have also fled war, extreme poverty, death, and corruption.

There is power in understanding the importance of individual storytelling, but there is even greater power in being your own storyteller, setting your own context, and painting your own pictures of how you see yourself. In order to counteract the dominant narratives surrounding immigrants and refugees, people need to tell their own stories. My hope is not to be a voice for marginalized communities but rather share my platform and to connect my story to those with whom, I have come to realize, I share more with than I originally thought.

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