This year Class Action, a campus organization aimed at discussing class-related issues, collaborated with International Club (I-Club) to give I-Fair 2016 a stronger focus on global social issues, with a particular emphasis on immigration.
“I-Club emailed us over break and said that they were hoping for this theme travel to get more clubs involved that were not typically I-Fair involved clubs. They reached out to us and wondered if we could give a perspective of more socioeconomic factors in travel,” said sophomore Yeomin Kim, acting Class Action President.
“We were talking about [immigration] when we were coming up with the theme. We knew it was going to be travel, but not just touristy travel. It’s travel when you don’t want to travel or are forced into traveling,” said sophomore Monica Weller, one of the I-Fair organizers. “In light of Syrian and other refugee crises, we wanted to make sure [such groups] were represented.”
The result was two events during I-Week: Immigration Stories, a panel in which individuals shared their stories of immigrating to the U.S., and a presentation on the history of immigration in America. Kim hopes these events will raise awareness for immigration-related issues and the ways these issues affect the world.
“I was at I-Fair last year, and it was a lot more cultural showcasing and not very political or politically charged at all,” Kim said. “There’s a lot of rhetoric being thrown around on immigration. I think it’s good to have a chance to put all of that into context.”
Held on Tuesday, Jan. 26 in the Ferris Lounge, the Immigration Stories panel brought an array of perspectives on immigration from individuals who have experienced it firsthand. Participants included Ado Tshiamala, representing the Democratic Republic of Congo, Huong Hua, representing Vietnam, Elias Shammas, representing Syria, and junior Sebastian Llavaneras, representing Venezuela.
While Immigration Stories focused primarily on the sharing of the panelists’ experiences, the event also included discussion on the ethical implications of immigration and an opportunity for audience members to engage with questions.
During the panel, Llavaneras, who immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela at the age of 15, shared his personal story of nationalizing and acclimating to American culture.
“It was not a very tough transition. I came into my grandma’s home so I had a place to stay. I came here legally and with papers and everything,” Llavaneras recounted. “I think probably the toughest thing was learning the language. I didn’t know any of the language when I came here.”
Llavaneras hopes the event shed light on the nature of immigration and dissipated any misconceptions people had about immigrants, partly immigrants from Latin American countries.
“Immigration is a really big thing in America because people emigrate from everywhere to here,” Llavaneras said. “It might be interesting for other people to see a different perspective, especially because there’s a stigma that everyone who comes from Latin America comes illegally.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 27, Class Action followed Immigration Stories with a talk on the history of immigration in the United States. The presentation included discussions on the facts and misconceptions that surround immigration and a breakdown of how different ethnic groups have been politically discriminated against throughout American history. In organizing the event, the members of Class Action wanted to paint a comprehensive picture of immigration’s evolution in American culture.
“[Organizing the event] was very research intensive,” said sophomore Nate Bamberg-Johnson, acting Class Action secretary. “We probably spent about 15 hours just looking into different immigration events throughout the history of the U.S. from colonization up until the ‘60s. [We researched] stats, different ordinances, legislations that have really limited our capacity to take in people from other nations.”
While the primary role of these two events was to raise awareness by highlighting different perspectives on a relevant issue, members of Class Action, the I-Fair organizers and event participants also saw the new events as a way to commemorate the diversity at Knox and in the United States at large.
“When you come here [Knox], you are aware that there are a lot of nationalities here, you’re aware that there are a lot of different cultures, but it doesn’t really sink in until you’re in Kresge and you see all those flags,” Llavaneras said.