Since its foundation in 2013, Green Card Voices (a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota) has been sharing immigration stories of high school students from Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota, and most recently, Fargo.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, three of the students featured in “Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a Fargo High School” shared their experiences moving to the United States in a reading at the Weber Reading Room in North Dakota State’s main library.
Beginning the reading was Muhend Abakar, a freshman at NDSU majoring in computer science from Nyala, Sudan. At the age of four, Abakar moved to Egypt where he lived until he moved to the United States in 2012.
Abakar, reading from his essay, described growing up in Egypt, his surprise at the resources American students had and that Americans played soccer.
So far, Abakar’s experience in Fargo has been a pleasant one.
“Fargo is pretty welcoming,” he said. “I’ve been visiting different states and it’s not the same. Here in Fargo, you get to know the people and they welcome you.”
After Abakar, Marai Castillo Fonseca, a sophomore at South High School in Fargo, shared the story of her move from San Miguel, Mexico.
Castillo Fonseca moved to the area with her mother and step-father. At first, she didn’t believe when her step-father told her they were leaving.
“I didn’t know what Fargo was or whether or not it even existed,” she read. “I thought it was a joke because he had lived in Mexico for a long time. I asked him again, but he was serious.”
Her first worry was that her cat, Meeno, and her dog, Moley, were going to be left in Mexico. Luckily, both accompanied the family to the States. When she first arrived in the U.S., Castillo Fonseca visited PetSmart to prepare for the impending arrival of her four-legged friends.
Roshika Nepal followed Castillo Fonseca. Like Castillo Fonseca, Nepal is a sophomore at South High School. She was born in Timai camp, a refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal, where she lived for eight years before she moved to the U.S.
“Starting school in Fargo was like a whole new world,” Nepal described in her essay. “I felt like I was the only Nepalese person in the whole school. I was in third grade at the time, and there were a few Nepali students, but they were in first grade and kindergarten. So, it was kind of difficult. I didn’t understand what people were saying because they spoke so fast. I’m getting used to America now. I’m feeling more comfortable here.”
Green Card Voices’ main purpose is to “build bridges and empathy” between residents of a community and recent immigrants.
Tea Rozman Clark, executive director and co-founder of Green Card Voices, said at the reading that the project started when she realized “immigrants and refugees should tell their own stories.” Rozman Clark is an immigrant herself, moving from Yugoslavia to Eau Claire, Wisconsin when she was young.
“(The project) does show that it’s not just good, but just really essential, because in order for communities to become more inclusive and welcoming of immigrants and refugees, you need to have this exchange happening,” Rozman Clark told The Spectrum. “These stories from immigrants and refugees are able to explain where they came from, what their culture is like, and how they can contribute and what their interests are and their hobbies are and all those things. The receiving communities can see the similarities and the commonalities and say that, ‘Oh, they’re not that different from us.’ Although they do look different from us, they too can be Fargoans or North Dakotans.”
The students featured in the Fargo version of the “Green Card Youth Voices” series were all students of Leah Juelke, an English language teacher at South High School. Her class was already working on a project entitled “Journey to America” when they heard about Green Card Voices. In total, 32 of Juelke’s students participated in the book.
“I asked students if they were interested in telling their stories,” Juelke said at the reading. As more students told their friends, the word spread an soon there was a waiting list for students who wanted to participate.
“We were supposed to have 30 (students), but we ended up with 32 from 22 different countries,” said Rozman Clark.
Green Card Voices plans on building their series to include all 50 states and even wants to grow internationally. Already, plans are in place for “Green Card Youth Voices” in Colorado and Georgia.
They also hope to create new series, starting with “Green Card Entrepreneur Voices” being published in May 2018.
“Ultimately, knowing who you are and knowing how to tell your story is a really important part of leadership projection,” said Rozman Clark. “It’s especially important for immigrants to have personal advocacy or advocating for students that come after them. It’s just really important that these stories are shared. Then the audience understand better where they’re coming from.”
“People used to think refugees are bad, and we were able to change other people’s minds,” Nepal said. “I can’t say that we changed everyone’s minds, but we changed some.”
In addition to readings, Green Card Voices also has videos of each interview on their website and a traveling exhibition. Currently, the exhibition is on display at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota in Fargo.
The reading was also part of Welcoming Fargo-Moorhead, a weeklong event that plans events to welcome immigrants and refugees in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. In total, there are 24 events in this year’s Welcoming F-M, and 500 events nationally.
For more information on Green Card Voices, visit their website at www.greencardvoices.com. The book is available for purchase at the NDSU Bookstore and at Barnes & Noble in Fargo, in addition to online at the Green Card Voices website and on Amazon. To learn more about Welcoming F-M, including upcoming events, visit their website at www.welcomingfm.org.