By Sandra Sanchez
On Saturday, May 14, I was honored to be part of the Awards Ceremony for this year’s Youth Video Contest. The youth video contest was created with the idea of attracting young people, particularly those known as Dreamers: immigrants who came to this country as children and who are still unauthorized or have a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA for short, to learn how to advocate for the issues that affect them and their families as well as to share their stories of incredible challenges and human resilience in their own words and in their own way via a short video.
All the entries showed amazing stories, and of course the three finalist videos earned the participants a modest scholarship sponsored by the AFSC Immigrants Voice Program in Des Moines. The effort put forth by the participants, the volunteer presenters, and the panel of judges was full of energy, solidarity, loving hearts, and stories of pain and hope.
During my first years as a newcomer to Des Moines, I was asked numerous times to share with a variety of audiences about my life, why I have come to this country, and the challenges newcomers face as new arrivals to this state. More often than not, I felt like I was getting myself “naked” in front of a group of strangers and didn’t see the purpose. More often than not I felt that I was being simply a form of entertainment and after deep reflection, I started refusing to share my story unless those requesting it would give me a clear and good explanation of what was the objective. If their explanation didn’t satisfy me, I refused to do it and I became protective of my constituents being exposed to the same.
Still, I knew and I know that without us sharing our stories it is very unlikely that people would get over their fears of “the stranger” and see us like who we are: human beings like anyone else with aspirations, challenges, and triumphs. We want to reunite with love ones, find a safe harbor, make a living through our honest work, and ultimately become full citizens of the communities where we live.
However, there are plenty of barriers to attain that. First-generation immigrants have to overcome so much that it is really exhausting just to make it day by day; second-generation immigrants also face numerous challenges regarding the tensions between the culture of their parents and that of the country where they were born; find their own identity not only as individuals but as members of society in the midst of communities who may or may not embrace demographic changes as a positive fact of the weaving fabric of our society.
Plenty of scholars, researchers, politicians, communicators, and others speak about us as objects of an issue. Through these videos the participants are the narrators, the story-tellers, and the main subjects of their stories; they share parts of their lives in their own words. The experience itself is empowering because very rarely are we the main character(s) of any story in the news or in politics or in research; we are usually the objects of those which is exploitative and often there are untold agendas behind them.
Our agenda here is clear: give voice to the voiceless, give a space to those who are often marginalized from most media outlets, and tell their story in their own words to the extent and in the way they want to do it. Most importantly, empowering them to become the best version of who they can be by virtue of being in a partnership where everyone’s input is considered. I entitled this blog “In Our Own Words” because it is only our own voice that honors the reality of our personal experiences and that of our youth video participants. I invite you to watch their videos with an open heart and an open mind to reflect and take action. Recognize your innate worth so you can recognize the innate worth of our fellow new Iowans. God bless us all!
Sandra Sanchez is the Iowa Immigrants Voice Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee