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Sabine couldn’t stomach American food. In her native Haiti, milk was served warm and food didn’t come in cans. Miriam, born in Nairobi, was shunned by Americans with black skin because she had a Kenyan accent. And a 4-year-old Arturo Gonzales remembers crossing the Rio Grande in the dead of night. The river water was so cold.
The tales told are of the many people who come to America. Some knowingly. Some as children simply following in their parents’ footsteps. The stories are not glamorous, but they tell of the arrival of new Americans. Even as current political sentiment would slam the nation’s borders closed, there are stories to be told of hope and freedom waiting in America. But these also are stories of loss, fear and alienation.
International House provided a forum Monday for “Storyology,” a program featuring about a half dozen videos created by locally based refugees and immigrants. About 50 people were on hand to watch the three- to four-minute films, which were made possible courtesy of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker-affiliated organization that includes people of various faiths who describe themselves as committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service.
“There is very little positive news about immigration in our country,” said Lori Fernald Khamala of the AFSC’s Greensboro-based Immigrant Services Committee. She was joined Monday by Kali Ferguson, her friend since third grade. Khamala and Ferguson, herself a storyteller and cultural educator, helped identify and organize the participants, who also had to learn the technology required to tell their stories on video.
“When you see stories about immigration, you don’t see these stories,” Ferguson said. “We are so much more than what we see on Channel 10.”
The stories are difficult to watch. Parents tell an Indian boy he and his family are going on “vacation," and it isn't until years later he discovers they had been forced from their village because of their religious and political affiliations. A Vietnamese girl recalls crossing leech-infested waters to get to Cambodia, where she and her family were eventually rescued by United Nations and transported to America.
Miriam Adega, now a student at Central Piedmont Community College, remembers traveling to Israel and Turkey, where she was welcomed and lauded for her distinctive skin color and speech patterns. In America, she has learned that even people of color find her somehow “different.” And yet she lives each day with a certain solace in familiar themes: “We must be the change we want to see in the world,” she says, “by treating others as we would like to be treated.”
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